It is the festive season here in Toronto. Christmas celebrations have taken over the city. Performances of George Handel’s Messiah, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Pyotr Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker dominate the theatres, while carols have crowded out rock and roll on the radio.
The malls are packed and parking spaces sparse as shoppers hectically squeeze in last-minute holiday purchases. Many retailers do 20 per cent of their annual sales in the five weeks leading to Christmas.
While Christmas may be the main event, Toronto’s multicultural population is also marking Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of Lights and Kwanzaa, the pan-African celebration of African-American heritage. The eight days of Hanukkah mark the triumph of Judaism’s spiritual values over the Greek armies of Antiochus IV.
Kwanzaa - Swahili for 'first fruits' - was conceived in California by Black Nationalist Ron Karenga in 1966. The holiday is centred on seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Unfortunately, the most important sign of the season is still lacking. Christmas so close and not a snowflake in sight – a disappointment for even the people who hate winter, because everyone dreams of a white Christmas.
According to the weatherman, Christmas will be green this year. Weather forecasts suggest the most likely wet stuff will be rain.
Unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of snow have put a damper on traditional holiday activities – ice skating, tobogganing and snow ball fights. Many local ski resort operators are predicting large financial losses, and Torontonians are muttering about global warming.
On the plus side, bean counters at Toronto’s city hall might just be rejoicing – the city saves a bundle each day there is no snow to clear off the roads – a boon for the budget-strapped local government.
A warm winter is just the latest development that is hurting the true north’s frozen image. This past summer brought news reports of polar bears drowning in the increasing gaps between Artic ice.
No wonder the environment tops voter concerns in recent polls and Al Gore’s climate change film An Inconvenient Truth was a sleeper summer hit.
Even Prime Minister Steven Harper is paying attention, and in an effort to green-up his image, is expected to replace embattled Environment minister Rona Ambrose in early January.
Ambrose repeatedly rejected the Kyoto Agreement’s carbon dioxide reduction targets for Canada, and was unsuccessful in selling the government’s widely-panned clean air plan.
Equally unpopular are Ontario politicians, who are facing accusations of Scrooge-like behaviour over a proposed pay hike. Proposed new legislation would raise the base salary of members of the provincial parliament $22,000 (Rs 7.7 lakhs) or 25 per cent over their current salary.
Parliament is even sitting overtime in order to pass the bill. Normally, Christmas break would have started on December 14, instead the house is still sitting this week to debate the new salaries and other business.
Supporters are claiming that provincial politicians are underpaid compared to their federal and municipal counterparts and even with the pay hike they would only earn 75 per cent of the income of representatives at national level.
Anti-poverty groups say that this just proves that other law-makers are overpaid, especially given that the median salary in Canada is just over $40,000.
Members of the populist New Democrat Party are vowing to give any salary increase to charity. This is just the latest in compensation scandals facing the Ontario government.
Tom Parkinson, the chief executive of Hydro One - the government owned electric corporation, was recently forced to resign after a report that questioned his use of corporate credit cards. Despite his alleged theft, Parkinson received $3 million in severance pay.