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What happens when the government promises Santa, but he doesn’t come?

By Kristy Koehler, December 18 2020—

When I was a kid I loved the NORAD Santa Tracker. It helped to allay my ever-growing suspicions that Santa Clause wasn’t real. As a teenager, I thought it was fun to see people in government play along with the idea of Santa Clause — I thought it humanized them and provided a bit of entertaining respite to politics. Then again, I always woke up with plenty of gifts under my tree. 

Now that I’m an adult, I can’t shake the feeling that a government-approved Santa Clause does more harm than good. What happens when kids who aren’t as fortunate watch NORAD’s Santa Tracker, catching a glimpse of ol’ Saint Nick over their street, but wake up to find nothing under the tree?

In April, Ontario premier Doug Ford declared the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy essential workers, assuring kids that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, chocolates and under-pillow monies were on their way.

At the heart of it, the message is well-intentioned. Like Ford said, the pandemic is difficult for children to understand, and “kids have simple things they are worried about.” Perhaps a message of hope and an assurance of normality is just what some kids need. But, I can’t imagine the stress some parents faced when the premier of Ontario told their children that the Easter Bunny was definitely coming — and then he didn’t.

This week, Health Canada tweeted a video of Santa Clause chatting with Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer of health, about the pandemic precautions he’ll take when delivering presents. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Health Patty Hajdu and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair all got in on the fun, tweeting about Santa’s imminent arrival and the precautions the government and border services were taking to get him into Canadian airspace.

The Prime Minister and his team, and elected officials at all levels of government for that matter, are just trying to have a bit of fun, engage with constituents and get into the Christmas spirit.

Admittedly, it’s cute and I appreciate the lightheartedness behind the Tweets. But this year in particular, the declarations by municipal governments, health authorities and cabinet ministers that Santa is on his way seem even more misplaced. 

One in four Canadians said they didn’t have enough money for holiday spending this year. Before the pandemic hit, more than 25 per cent of Canadians reported not having enough money for their needs, and more than half reported living paycheck to paycheck. In April more than 2 million jobs were lost in Canada and food insecurity is on the rise.

“I will certainly be visiting you all on Christmas Eve,” says Santa Clause to the country’s children during his video with Dr. Tam. Clearly, he won’t be. 

The intention is not to be a killjoy, but when governments declare that mythical present-bringers are “essential,” it passes the blame — and a significant amount of shame — to parents who are unable to provide gifts for their children. If the prime minister says Santa Claus is coming, and then he doesn’t, what does that say to those kids and their families?

The best gift a government can possibly give is an assurance that they’ll create an environment where working-class families won’t have to struggle to provide the basics — and a few extras on special occasions — for themselves and their kids. Perhaps until that commitment is realized, they should leave the Santa-spotting to parents, lest kids learn early on that governments rarely keep their promises.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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