Canadians may be conflicted about the cold, but they love their ice. Shinny and outdoor skating can turn the harshness of winter into a warm and wonderful feeling. So there's something extremely frustrating about showing up with your blades on a chilly afternoon and finding the municipal rink closed for the season. That's the problem Torontonians faced this month when in the midst of a prolonged cold snap, city policies from balmier budget-cutting days dictated that 35 of Toronto's 52 outdoor rinks be shut down on Feb. 22.
The absurdity of urban dysfunction couldn't be more apparent. These rinks are compressor-cooled artificial ice surfaces (Toronto has the greatest number in the world), well able to withstand low temperatures. So the compulsion to shut them down on a fixed date, weather be damned, highlights inflexibility.
It's not as if winter comes as a surprise, even in Toronto. Yet the same thing happened last year, and in both cases private donations had to be found to expand the number of rinks that could remain open until later in March, coinciding with students' March Break.
That's weather permitting, of course. Advocates for Toronto's skaters at cityrinks.ca point out that even artificial outdoor ice has to obey the laws of physics: It more quickly turns mushy in March during longer days of sunlight when the sun is high overhead. Cityrinks.ca suggests reallocating funding so that the skating season can be extended at the beginning of the cold-weather cycle when people are most eager to don the blades – mid-November to the beginning of March is the ideal period.
Toronto shouldn't have to go begging to pay the cheap operating costs of rinks that so easily supply pleasure to citizens and offer an easy antidote to seasonal affective disorder. Skating in the mid-Canadian winter ought to be seen as a basic service, not a frill that depends on the kindness of corporate strangers.
Weather isn't predictable, and budget committees aren't renowned for their ability to foresee climatic conditions – but a city government that can't recognize the ludicrous side of shuttering rinks in a sub-zero season is in danger of appearing both cold and irrelevant.