D’AMATO: How to honour your neighbour

Taken from: The Record

There’s a Liberal way of doing things, and there’s a Conservative way.

The Conservative government under Stephen Harper had planned to create government-issued medals with which to honour exceptional citizens in Canada’s 150th anniversary year.

Then the Conservatives lost the 2015 election, and the Liberals formed the next government. The Liberals cancelled the plan for the medals.

But that didn’t stop Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht and MPP Michael Harris, both Conservatives, from giving out medals and certificates to people in their riding, which includes most of Waterloo Region’s townships and part of Kitchener.

They had 150 round medals made, paid for by private donations, with the Canada 150 logo and “Celebrating Kitchener-Conestoga” written on it.

And on a warm summer evening Tuesday at Castle Kilbride in Baden, they gave them out to 150 people who had made the riding a better place.

Here’s a taste of the eclectic group: Philanthropists Manfred and Penny Conrad; Conestoga College president John Tibbits; Wayne and Lynda Buck, who teach about native plant species on their land; Narine Dat Sookram, who helps immigrants integrate; Rick Weber and the Batter Boys, who mix batter for the Maple Syrup Festival.

More than 600 people gathered for the ceremony in front of the stately building.

The smell of popcorn was in the air, red-and-white flowers were everywhere. And at one side, the New Hamburg Concert Band, under the direction of George Holmes, played “The Maple Leaf Forever,” “Edelweiss.” and “O Canada.”

Nearby, recently-installed statues of former prime ministers Lester B. Pearson and William Lyon Mackenzie King posed in the building’s grassy backyard.

Albrecht and Harris each paid tribute to the people being honoured. Harris called them “shining examples of the strong, supportive community we are so proud to call home.”

The thunderstorm rumbling in the distance waited until the end before unleashing its fury on the gathering.

The area’s Liberal MPs are honouring citizens, too, in this sesquicentennial year, but they’re doing it differently.

The government has issued 20 pins per MP to give out. They are made of silver, with a maple leaf fashioned of copper from the roof of the Parliament buildings.

“They’re beautiful,” said Kitchener Centre Liberal MP Raj Saini.

Twenty people isn’t very many, so Saini is creating a committee as diverse as he can make it, including members who are indigenous, young, a senior citizen who is also a veteran, and someone who works with multicultural communities. They’ll decide who should get the pins.

In Cambridge, Liberal MP Bryan May is also forming an arms-length committee which will decide on 12 people to receive the pins.

But over in Kitchener-Conestoga, everyone who was nominated was honoured.

And others were honoured who could not stand for their medals or shake any hands.

The building was surrounded by 158 red-and-white Canadian flags, one for each soldier who perished in Afghanistan and who “served our country in such selfless ways,” said Albrecht.

On each wooden flagpole was imprinted the person’s name: Sergeant Darcy Scott Tedford. Sapper Brian Collier. Private Demetrios Diplaros ….

As their flags blew in the wind, it was as if they were part of the ceremony, too.