Our power went out a few hours after we learned in mid-December that yet another Ontario Hydro executive had been given a hefty severance package.
So here we were, breaking out the flashlights and preparing to fire up the propane barbecue to make our morning toast while Tom Parkinson was winging his way back to Australia with 3.2 million Ontario tax dollars in his wallet. I pictured him clinking champagne glasses with a seatmate in first class, chirping: “Oy, mate – I really stuck it to those silly buggers!”
The next day we heard that some senior managers of the province’s Children’s Aid Societies were caught tooling around in $50,000 luxury cars and enjoying membership perks in swanky private clubs with money that is supposed to be making life better for foster children.
The icing on our Christmas cake came when it was reported that members of Ontario’s provincial legislature voted themselves 25 per cent pay raises. Why not? Their measly $88,000 salary seemed a paltry sum for all the good work they’d done running Ontario Hydro and Children’s Aid Society, not to mention operating a lottery system that rewards ticket-sellers on a surprisingly frequent basis.
‘Twas officially the season to be jolly, but it was a whole lot easier to be jolly if you occupied an executive suite at a Crown Corporation or had a Queen’s Park corner office, than if you were slinging Christmas cheer for $6.75 an hour, or stacking Big Macs for $7.25 (no tips allowed).
Over the holidays I was thumbing through a copy of “The Hollow Tree” – Herb Nabigon’s 120-pager about his struggles to stop letting alcohol interfere with the rest of his life. Herb, a “graduate” of Spanish Residential School, was already prone to self-destructiveness and low self-esteem, and the booze nearly finished him off. But his redemption through traditional Native teachings enabled him to understand what is really important in this world.
“The Hollow Tree,” he writes in his introduction, “is a metaphor for what Western culture has become, an empty shell with no substance. That greed and selfishness rule and that we have little regard for our neighbours demonstrates how unbalanced we are as a people.”
The waning days of another year are a good time to take stock of what we each do to make the world a better place for the next seven generations. If we believe what we hear on the news and read in the papers, most people are only concerned with their own interests, let alone those of their children or grandchildren. There are some frightening predictions about what could become of this planet and her people if we do not mend our ways.
But there are still more people trying to do good things in the world than the opposite – they just don’t get as much attention. That’s why it was wonderful to see the North Bay Nugget give top billing to a story about Nbisiing Secondary School students putting together 115 Christmas gift packages for Innu youngsters in Labrador. It is far more important for people to know that generosity and kindness are alive and well in the world than whether or not Britney Spears wears undies.
For most of 2006, my wife and I adopted a sweet little orange cat we called Ginger. He had a bib of white hair, and four white boots, and a funny little moustache he inherited from his father, who we also used to feed.
We were sure that this was Ginger’s first winter outside -- we could see him shivering in the cold, and hear him scratching at our front door when he was ready for a bowl of Whiskas. For health reasons, we could not provide him a permanent indoor home, but I would sneak him into the front entrance for the occasional blast of warm furnace air.
We were so concerned about Ginger’s welfare that we took him to a vet for a checkup and his first shots, and handed him over to a young couple eager to provide him a caring home for his first indoor Christmas.
Animals can teach us many things, and I noticed that Ginger – no matter how ravenously hungry he might have been – never completely cleaned out all the morsels in his dish. He always left some untouched, to the great delight of “Blackie”, another neighbourhood stray we suspect was Ginger’s paramour.
Ginger never took more than he needed, and was always content with what he had.
That’s more than I can say for a lot of people, including ex-Hydro executive Tom Parkinson and the 103 members of Ontario’s legislative assembly, who were quite happy to help themselves.
Here’s hoping that you found everything you need to be happy under your Christmas tree or Hannukah bush, and that you enjoy many opportunities in 2007 to share your wealth with others.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians, and editor of the Anishinabek News.