The nativity and the deficit. Jesus was born in Bethlehem because a census had been ordered by the Roman governor and Joseph went there to be “enrolled” in his family town, for purposes of a coming tax hike. Whether the trek was justified due to a deficit crisis, we are not told in Luke, the gospel where the tale appears.

Deficit abhorrence has been the only real gospel in our political culture for 15 years, so I’m glad to see Ontario’s new government approaching it critically, as biblical scholars might. You won’t find Paul Martin challenging this item of faith. His budgets will be balanced, as he has said in religious terms, “come hell or high water.” Everything else can just go to hell, as he made clear this week.

God knows, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has tried to keep the faith. He seems even more instinctively conservative than Prime Minister Paul Martin. He took a sacred vow not to raise taxes (the other clause in the credo) or run a deficit. Now he seems crucified at the intersection of social needs, which he truly cares about, and neo-con economic fundamentalism (Save and you will be saved). So he starts to cast around. Should he abjure the faith and risk damnation? Should he convert, but to what: the heresy of Keynesianism? What we need is a reformation: a new set of principles nailed to the door of Queen’s Park: Balanced budgets are not the sole independent variable, to which all other values must give way. Balance can be achieved over time. There are different ways to itemize costs — as investments, for example. Taxes may go up, as well as down; and are a means of redistributing wealth in accord with justice and mutual social responsiblities.

Okay, everyone: Get on your ass and head for your hometown (Mike Harris to North Bay, etc.). It’s time for a new beginning.

A multiculti carol. The trick about multicultural diversity, as The Globe‘s John Doyle said in his critique of a new local channel, Toronto 1, is not to make a big deal over it. The “Afro-centric” Nathaniel Dett Chorale held its seasonal concert this week, and no one, as usual, burbled about its racial, ethnic jumble of singers. It was just there. Yet it’s hard not to react at such moments, they seem so exceptional. How can that be?

Humanity has really managed to mess up on this one. Each person is such a mix of elements — racial, cultural, ethnic, gender, psychic — it seems an absurd deformation to characterize anyone on the basis of a single component. Yet that is what happens normally to minorities, and is often accepted. Being a member of the majority basically means: not being reduced to one trait. So when reduction does not happen to minorities, it is striking. What ought to be the norm seems remarkable and vice versa.

At a downtown aboriginal festival last summer, a group of women — racially and ethnically mixed — gathered at a picnic table and began a traditional, wordless chant, haunting, endless, turning back on itself. Then they added lyrics, almost imperceptibly at first: Meet me a-at Tim Horton’s/ Make it a dou-uble double. It was heavenly. It said it all.

Happy holiday, Frank. I’d like to belatedly honour Michael Bate, who created the national version of Frank magazine (There was an earlier, Atlantic version). He resigned this fall after selling the franchise. I don’t recall seeing a lot of tributes in the Canadian media.

You could do a dissertation on failed attempts to set up a satirical journal here. One called Uproar was well-funded and never published an issue. Cartoonist Terry Mosher got another as far as a mocked-up cover with a suppressed photo of Queen Elizabeth picking her nose. It seemed impossible. Michael Bate followed the excellent plan of just doing it.

Frank became an institution. He was proudest of the stories he broke; I thought it was best for the laughs and inventions.

We had disputes. We didn’t talk for years over a story (not on me) I found irresponsible. I once told a U.S. journalist that Frank made lousy choices of targets. “It’s a good point,” said Michael. “I wish I knew why we attack the people we attack.” I hear he’s spending his time playing his sax and working at the Montessori school run by his partner. Go figure.

100 years of flight. Robert Frost has a late poem, Kitty Hawk, in which he connects flight to the Christmas story and technology: “But God’s own descent/ Into flesh was meant/ As a demonstration/ That the supreme merit/ Lay in risking spirit/ In substantiation.” The same book, In the Clearing, has a poem on Columbus’s failure to get the point of the “new” world he found, and U.S. expansionism. It is apt, I’d say, to our epoch and the season: “But all he did was spread the room/ Of our enacting out the doom/ Of being in each other’s way,/ And so put off the weary day/ When we would have to put our mind/ On how to crowd but still be kind.”


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.