O Canada. Ah, Summertime.

This season is all a Torontonian could ask for: good weather, hot politics, and a new sports star

IT'S been the kind of summer Torontonians exult in - full of hot, sunny weather, plenty of political theater, and the crowning of a new national sports hero to boot.

Paul Tracy, a clean-cut, bespectacled 24-year-old native of Scarborough, Ontario, was proclaimed a Canadian hero by local news media after winning Toronto's edition of the Indy Car World Series July 18. It was the first time since 1978 that a Canadian had won a big international auto race in Canada.

Canadians, not unlike Americans, like their heroes with a dollop of humility and Mr. Tracy has it. Sports marketing agents quickly proclaimed Tracy's star potential, saying he could make millions - presumably if he were to employ their services.

Tracy's boyish face, however, has not become ubiquitous on television just yet. He is more interested in racing than taping commercials, he says.

Contests bring to mind Canada's key political contest this year - the once-every-five-year federal election coming this fall. While summer is usually a time Canadians take respite from politics, July was a month when pre-campaign election campaigns began to rev up.

Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who took the reins of power after Brian Mulroney resigned in June, has spent the summer organizing her new Cabinet, putting out political brush fires, and attending the G-7 summit of leading industrial nations in Tokyo.

She has also been bouncing from province to province in a bid to create her own political aura, distinct from the aloof, regal style of her predecessor. She wore western attire to a rodeo in Calgary and has remarked that she likes to go to the grocery store herself. And she signed up for a weekend refresher course in French to help her win over Quebec's French-speakers.

Thus did Ms. Campbell arrive in Toronto at nearly the same moment as her rivals, Liberal Party leader Jean Chretien and New Democratic Party leader Audrey McLaughlin. Each of the federal party leaders was obliged to flip burgers at a spate of barbecues across the city to rally support for the election campaign in Ontario, Canada's most populous province.

But impressing Torontonians with her caring approach may be tough for Campbell, given the city's recently announced budget crisis. Many trace next year's projected C$60 million (US$46.5 million) shortfall to cuts in federal transfer payments to the provincial government, which in turn has cut transfers to the city.

Toronto Mayor June Rowlands is slashing spending to make ends meet. The city has announced it will close offices and stop services three days this summer, with more shuttered days to come.

But what bothers many as much as the city's red ink is the threat it poses to the city's image as the "Mr. Clean" of urban North America.

Toronto dropped its twice-weekly removal of garbage in April, saving the city C$3.4 million (US$2.6 million). After the budget crunch was announced, the City Council voted not to hire 30 new garbage workers, despite complaints the city is stinking from heaps of trash.

Still, most Torontonians seem unaffected by the furor over garbage or the political seasoning at local barbecues. Instead, the throngs can be seen strolling leisurely, under the bright summer sky, along both sides of Toronto's grand boulevard, Yonge Street.

For many city dwellers, it is a time simply to revel in a beautiful summer after a long winter of heavier-than-usual snowfall.

A federal civil servant who carefully tracks the sunshine index, says last month was the sunniest July in six years. Toronto received 290 hours of sunshine in July, compared with only 206 hours last July, he said.

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