When the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals were introduced last year, they were meant to recognize the contributions and outstanding achievements of Canadians. However, the municipal government of London, Ont., named the “worst council ever” by one local paper, saw it as a chance to honour its own work. After the city’s scandal-plagued Mayor Joe Fontana nominated all 14 council members for the award, the councillors voted in an in-camera session late last year to give the medals to themselves, a move that only came to light last week.
The medals were created by the Governor General to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada. The city nominated around 300 people, including the councillors, but officials discovered there were only 129 medals available. Members of the community, including Fanny Goose, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who ran a downtown clothing store for 50 years and who was told she had been nominated, were informed they were not getting an award.
“I was dismayed because they go out and tell a 90-year-old woman she is nominated for a medal—and my mother takes it very seriously because she is a Holocaust survivor and democracy [is important to her],” says her son, Steven Garrison. “We had no idea they changed their mind until we called their office and the office says, ‘Oh, by the way, she’s not getting a medal now. We didn’t get enough.’ ” He was shocked to find out councillors had been nominated. “At first the councillors tried to blame it all on the mayor, but they voted on the issue. Anyone else would have said, ‘Hello, what are we doing here?’ ”
Even before the medal fiasco, Mayor Fontana was facing calls to step down. Last November police charged the former Liberal MP with fraud under $5,000 after the London Free Press reported federal taxpayers paid to cover his son’s wedding reception in 2005. He has denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement about the councillors’ medals, the mayor said he “felt it was more than appropriate” to recognize “their long-time involvement and personal investment in improving quality of life in London.”
An anonymous donor has since given his medal to Goose. Four councillors have declined the medals and offered them to someone else more deserving, saying the mayor’s list had majority approval but it was not unanimous. Among them is Coun. Joni Baechler who said nominating council members was “self-serving.”