OTTAWA—Escorted by his sons Wayne and Michael, Billings political icon Austin Hilliard Hunt made his way down the aisle at Rideau to receive his Order of Canada medal from the hand of Canada’s 29th Governor General Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette during a March 7 induction ceremony.
With a longstanding association with those at the very highest levels of Canadian politics throughout his seven decades of public service, Mr. Hunt is no stranger to pomp and circumstance, but this time it was personal.
“He has a deep belief in a type of public service that is directed to those most in need; it was dedicated to the proposition that government works best when it helps people to help themselves,” reads the letter submitted by his nominators, which included Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, a longtime personal friend of Mr. Hunt and a fellow traveller in partisan politics. “He also showed how settlers were able to work together with First Nations on community projects.”
Despite his deep connections to the Liberal Party of Canada, Mr. Hunt was renown for his ability to set aside any partisan blinkers to work to further the interests of his community with those of any political affiliation. It is an attribute that seems to be eroding from public life in what may be the most hyper-partisan of times.
“I am so extremely pleased that Austin is receiving the Order of Canada,” said Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes. “He has made a real impact on his community and the region with such a long record of service and it is easy to understand how this is well-deserved.”
Mr. Hunt also served as the liaison to the Prime Minister’s Office for a number of projects designed to build community infrastructure across Northern Ontario. When Mr. Pearson died in late 1972, in recognition of the close relationship he shared with the Mr. Pearson, the Pearson family appointed Mr. Hunt as an honorary pallbearer.
Mr. Hunt has long maintained that civic engagement transcends partisan politics, and he worked tirelessly to show that “what counts in this country is not where you live but what you can contribute to making community life better.”
First elected to public office in 1953 as a Township of Billings councillor, Mr. Hunt was elevated to the position of reeve in 1968. He served as president of the Northern Ontario Development Council, as president of the Rainbow Country Travel Association, president of the Manitoulin Municipal Association, president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and on the executive of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. He sat on the inaugural board of the Northern Ontario School of Medical School and as part of Laurentian University’s Board of Governors. He served for many years on the Manitoulin Tourism Association, where he was a founding director, helping to promote tourism businesses across the Island. Mr. Hunt has also served as a warden for St. John’s Anglican Church in Kagawong, as well as on local library committees and history organizations. He was, in short, the very definition of a pillar of the community.
Mr. Hunt was unavailable for comment as of press time Monday, but when he does comment on the accolade being bestowed upon him he can be counted upon to remain, true to form, self-effacing and the very essence of humility as evidenced by his reaction upon learning he had been named to the Order of Canada: “I have always loved my community and I wanted to get involved. I have thought that this was a great way to be involved in things. You can’t always please everybody so it has its moments that are not so pleasant, but you have to at least explain to people why it is you couldn’t do what they wanted you to. It doesn’t always make you or them happy, but you owe that to the people you are trying to represent. In the end, it has been an experience where I have very few regrets.”