An infusion of cash in this week's federal budget for the Order of Canada and other honours will help those awards reach more people than they do now, David Johnston said Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press.
"It may be especially important in an age of instant recognition and communication for Canadians to understand those people who over a period of time have made remarkable contributions to the leadership of our country," Johnston said.
The money, about $2.8 million more a year going into Rideau Hall's budget, will be spent on moving the system of applications into the digital age and on proactive outreach into under-represented communities.
Some of the funds will also be spent on increasing the profile of the Meritorious Service Decorations, which are awarded for specific acts, and also the creation of new honours, although no details on those have been announced.
Johnston said when it comes to the Order of Canada, two particular areas concern him: gender and regional representation.
For example, women who are nominated are more likely to go on to actually be invested in the Order of Canada, he said, but there just aren't enough nominations coming forward.
Statistics later provided by his office show that of the nominations for the Order of Canada between 2010 to 2014, 27 per cent were for women and 73 per cent were for men. Women made up 33 per cent of those invested in the order and 67 per cent were men.
The majority of nominations and appointments come from British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.
There are a maximum number of people who can be appointed to each of the three levels of the Order of Canada per year and that total is never reached, he said, so the funds should help, though the eligibility criteria itself won't change.
While Johnston ultimately decides who receives the honours, the names are presented to him after review by an advisory council that's chaired by Beverley McLachlin, the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
"We're very proud of the fact that I believe ours is amongst the least political and more merit-based honour system in the world and this will permit us to ensure it is a vigorous system," he said.
Johnston was first appointed governor general by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010 and his term was set to expire this year, but has been renewed until 2017.
There's been talk that was done, in part, to avoid a change in the midst of a federal election this fall; the Governor General can play in a key role in deciding the way forward in the event of a minority government.
Johnson said the recent tone of debate in the halls of Parliament and the ongoing controversy around Senate expenses have had him thinking about trust in public institutions — a quality that's slow to build and easy to quickly destroy.
The only way to restore it is to change it, and that's done by voting, he suggested.
"We take the responsibility for ensuring that we have the governments we deserve."