POLITICS

Nomination period extended for controversially named PM Volunteer Awards

09/08/2011 05:13 EDT | Updated 11/08/2011 05:12 EST
OTTAWA - The government is extending the nomination deadline for a new "Prime Minister's" volunteerism award that was panned in early consultations for politicizing good public works.

A notice Thursday from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada said the deadline for applying for the first of the new awards has been pushed back to Oct. 14 — and they won't be handed out until "early in 2012" instead of December, as promised.

The extension, by just over a month, was made in order to give businesses and not-for-profits more time to submit applications now that they have returned to full fall staff levels, said a spokeswoman in the office of Minister Diane Finley.

"We are receiving new nominations daily and continue to encourage all Canadians to nominate those members of their communities who are working hard to build a better Canada," Alyson Queen said in an email.

Stephen Harper announced the new "Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards" last January, even though his government had commissioned focus group testing that suggested the title was ill-considered.

A $64,000 study in November 2010 found that "the majority of participants opposed reference to the Prime Minister" in the award name.

The Harris-Decima study found that the focus group — which included the general public and representatives of volunteer organizations — felt the awards might be "perceived as political in nature" because of the association to the prime minister.

Not-for-profit organizations felt particularly strongly about the issue.

When the focus group testing became public earlier this spring, a spokesman for Finley said the Harris-Decima study was just one of "several consultations" as the awards were designed.

"The entirety of the input received was incorporated into the design of the criteria," Ryan Sparrow told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald in May.

However an Access to Information request by The Canadian Press turned up no other documented consultations than the Harris-Decima study.

Finley's office subsequently responded that consultations were held with "stakeholder organizations and parliamentarians during the creation of the Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards." Finley's office was unable to provide a list of those consulted, or any evidence that such consultations took place.

While conceding there was "no further documentation," Queen did note that the new award "was approved as part of the 2010 speech from the throne by parliamentarians."

There are already public awards for volunteerism given annually by the Governor General, called the Caring Canadian Awards, which have been in existence since 1996.