Published on: 1/29/2014 2:17:23 PM Print | Font Sizes:  Normal Text Large Text

Santa Claus was not amused

By: Michael Atkins

Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

As I watch the January spring rain pelt the window pane it is hard to imagine just two weeks ago there was a good-sized tree sitting on the back of my car, electrical wires down at both ends of the street and Santa’s milk and cookies only half eaten.

He never does that. He was obviously having a very long night, notwithstanding his North Pole pedigree.

As one who drives and flies between Northern Ontario and Toronto many times a month, and who used to view this ritual through snow squalls and freezing rain as good sport, I was glad to be trapped with nowhere to go.

Not so lucky for many of our employees.

One spent the holiday season walking up 15 flights of stairs to her mother-in-law’s condo delivering food and sustenance to a frightened and cold senior citizen who could not walk to freedom.

Another spent an entire week with a chainsaw cutting firewood in his yard that had been delivered to the ground by mother nature wrapped in ice for the Christmas season.

One of our sales managers kept a wood fire going for six days. He moved a mattress down to the fireplace so he could stoke the fire through the night without losing heat, of which he had none.

One of our Northern employees returned home from a southern vacation with limited winter clothing. The good news was they got to land in Toronto. The bad news was they got to land in Toronto.

Nothing was flying and every single bus going north was full. Passenger trains, of course, are a distant memory.

Notwithstanding sketchy customer relations, Air Canada did book more than 2,200 hotel rooms in Toronto at one point. One of our sales personnel in Toronto with a two-year-old boy had nine days off the grid. She bought her son a miner’s lamp to wear on his head so he could get around in the dark.

He loved it. They played hide and go seek until mother was ready for therapy. He’ll never forget his second Christmas and his first head lamp.

As for Toronto, it’s hard to imagine more pathetic leadership. Norm Kelly, the sort-of mayor of Toronto, thought he’d slip down to Florida for a few days at the height of the action, and Rob, well, it looked like he managed to stay sober, which is progress. As for the head of the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, it seems he may have fallen in with some of Rob’s druggy friends. Howard Eng had nothing to say to anyone until the rain came and then said he’d make sure there was a report reviewing all of the problems at the airport, but it would not be made public.

Good thing he was not in the baggage claim area when they had to call in the police to manage unhappy travellers waiting for him to reopen his airport because it was too cold outside.

And then, of course, the Leafs continued to crash and burn without power of any kind. Sudbury native Randy Carlyle looked more and more like he would rather be at the Town House in Sudbury.

There are always lessons from these traumas. The first is that people who buy generators and flashlights before the rain is freezing, and who get water in the tub before the power goes off, are better people than the rest of us.

Our marketing manager, who is one of these MacGyvers, took a picture of his street the day after Christmas and circulated it to his neighbours. He had light. They had none, notwithstanding his proselytizing for years. In fact, our man not only had power, but he cooked an Indian dinner for 15 a few hours after the power went out.

My wife is one of these enlightened souls. I would be curled up in a snowbank under a tree without my boots or BlackBerry were it not for her.

Weather is beginning to change everything. People forget that life is propped up by insurance and contracts. With less and less ability to predict living conditions there is yet another divide between rich and poor, prudent and foolhardy, education and ignorance, collective and individual accountability; as in, what is the government’s role with personal community disasters?

In Northern Ontario, we are closer to nature and therefore slightly less vulnerable to environmental onslaughts.

That said, when nature gets worked up nothing can stop it, not even a miner’s lamp.

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