In the 2015 federal budget, the Harper government announced additional funding of $13.4 million over five years and $2.8 million in ongoing funding for the Canadian honours system.

The objective was to enhance inclusivity by increasing Order of Canada nominations from “under-represented sectors,” such as business, and regions, particularly the West.

The funding was prompted by an Ottawa Citizen analysis that showed only 26 per cent of recipients since the Order’s creation in 1967 came from the West, compared to its 31 per cent share of the population.

In contrast, Atlantic Canada, with 11 per cent of the population, had double the representation in recipients. The study also highlighted a growing proportion of awards going to individuals in the arts, while the share for business professionals had decreased.

Nine years later, has the desired shift occurred? Did the change in government later in 2015 influence the outcomes?

I evaluated that question by delving into an analysis of more than 2,000 Order of Canada appointments made between 2013 and 2023, examining regional, background and employment-equity perspectives.

Approximately three per cent of appointments are companions (the highest rank), 22 per cent are officers and nearly three-quarters are members (the lowest rank).

It is crucial to distinguish award and recognition programs from employer-employment equity initiatives and political appointments.

Employers, whether private or public sector, have considerable levers to increase diversity. Governments have considerable latitude in their appointments, as seen in the increased representation of women, racialized minorities and Indigenous Peoples under the Trudeau government.

Award and recognition programs, however, can’t do much more than encourage more nominations from underrepresented groups.

Diversity

Figure 1 explores diversity through a lens of gender, racialized minority and Indigenous perspectives, comparing the average percentage of the awards given from 2013-17 and 2018-23 with the data from 2023.

There are fluctuations between the years for all groups, but the percentages of racialized minorities and Indigenous Peoples have trended upward, with a significant leap in 2023.

Racialized minorities, however, are still notably underrepresented relative to their population share, while the representation of Indigenous Peoples surpasses their demographic proportion.

Within the appointments of racialized minorities, women constitute 30 per cent, reflecting an increase to 32 from 27 per cent between 2013-17 and 2018-23.

In terms of Indigenous appointments, there is near gender parity but with a slight decline in the percentage of Indigenous women appointed, dropping to 45 from 52 per cent over the same period.

Rank comparisons

Figure 2 presents a comparison of representation by rank. The proportion of women among companions declined notably between these two periods, whereas their representation among officers increased, along with a decrease in members.

In the case of racialized minorities, the share of companions decreased, but their representation among officers and members increased. Similarly, a shift is observed among Indigenous officers and members, marked by a significant increase in the number of Indigenous companions.

Traditional employment analysis involves assessing levels or ranks in Order of Canada terms and their corresponding representation. The conventional expectation is to observe higher representation at more junior levels, compared to senior positions. However, this general trend holds true only for women.

In contrast, there is a reversal of this pattern for Indigenous Peoples while racialized minority officers exhibit a higher percentage than members. This indicates a deliberate and conscious effort to appoint Indigenous Peoples to the more senior ranks, as illustrated in Table 1.

Promotions to the companion level constitute 43 per cent of all recipients. However, only 4.7 per cent of officer appointments are promotions from the member level.

Regional representation

Figure 3 examines the regional balance. British Columbia appointments increased from 11.3 per cent (2013-17) to 13.3 per cent (2018-23), and Prairie appointments rose from 12.1 per cent to 14.7 per cent.

Conversely, Ontario appointments declined from 46.3 per cent to 43 per cent, and Quebec appointments decreased from 21.4 per cent to 19.7 per cent.

In 2023, British Columbia appointments exceeded B.C.’s share of the population, while the Prairies remained underrepresented. Quebec underrepresentation increased, while both Ontario and Atlantic Canada saw an increase in overrepresentation.

The North was slightly underrepresented. Recipients who spent part of their careers abroad accounted for slightly more than three per cent of all recipients.

Background of recipients

Figure 4 explores the diversity of backgrounds among Order of Canada recipients. Generally, backgrounds in the arts, health, business and public service dominate, with notable representation from individuals with academic, activist and scientific backgrounds.

The percentage of business-oriented recipients slightly declined. The same holds true for those with backgrounds in arts, academia and communications from 2013-17 to 2018-23. Conversely, there was an increase in individuals with backgrounds in health, activism, sports, science and philanthropy.

As for representation from the West, particularly the Prairies, there has been a small regional shift, likely reflecting an overall economic shift to Western Canada.

James Cameron, director of movies including Titanic and Avatar, applauds with other appointees during an Order of Canada investiture ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, on Feb. 22, 2024. Cameron is fourth from the left. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The Chancellery of Honours is responsible for overseeing the Governor General’s award programs. Chancellery staff met with me to discuss these findings. They also provided an update on efforts to improve representation.

The chancellery now has a statistician who tracks nominations and appointments and who validated this analysis.

This advisory council is reasonably diverse in terms of women, racialized minorities and Indigenous Peoples. The Governor General and staff make ongoing efforts to encourage nominations from underrepresented groups. Regrettably, they declined to provide data on nominations, though they did indicate that more women are appointed than nominated.

In terms of employment-equity groups — women, racialized minorities, and Indigenous Peoples — underrepresentation reflects the overall pattern of society as a whole, where relatively fewer people from these groups have prominent or senior positions.

That said, the increase in racialized minority and Indigenous appointments is notable, particularly in contrast with the stagnation of appointments of women, who make up about one-third of appointments.

Note on methodology

This analysis relies on the Order of Canada appointment lists released by the Governor General in June and December. Gender details are directly sourced from names and citations, while information regarding racialized minorities and Indigenous Peoples is obtained through a combination of names, citations and, when necessary, web searches.

Provincial data is extracted from the appointment lists, with a preference for the smaller province in cases where more than one is listed (although this is a rare occurrence).

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Andrew Griffith is the author of “Because it’s 2015…” Implementing Diversity and Inclusion, Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former director general for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad, and is a fellow of the Environics Institute.

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