Saturday, August 16, 2014

CNE SHOWS CAMPAIGN TOO DAMN LONG


 WE NEED LONGER HOLIDAYS FROM CAMPAIGNING

Went to the opening of the Ex the other morning. Speaking as someone who has run a few of those when I was CNE president, it went off well, except there were too many damn politicians who just had to be mentioned from the podium.
Of course the Ex, which is now independent of City Hall which charges us an enormous rent, wants to stay on the good side of just about everyone elected to a post higher than dogcatcher.
So Brian Ashton, the current president who retired as a very good councillor, made sure that every last politician within a kilometre of the place got a name nod. And then deputy mayor Norm Kelly introduced all the city councillors for the second time even though they richly deserve to be anonymous. Mark Grimes got several mentions because he's also head of Exhibition Place, the landlord that overcharges the fair for everything.
In fact, so many politicians had to be mentioned there was no time to introduce by name the group of fair directors like me even though we actually run the Ex and earn the free admission that all the politicians of the GTA expect as their due for doing nothing.
Then Ashton introduced sponsors (by name) and consuls (by name) and I saw Ex-goers who actually had paid to get in start to wander off despite nice bits like a youth choir from Haiti and actor R.H. Thompson with thoughtful words about the Great War.
There was plenty of opportunity as a national fair acted like a village one to think of  municipal election day even if it is still a couple of months away. The end of a tedious marathon. I did wonder what the opening of the Ex had to do with the mayoral election.
After all, on the stage was Rob Ford who boomed out a mediocre speech. At least he was invited this time. In recent years he's gatecrashed the stage.
In the front row was John Tory who I first met when he was a kid radio reporter working his way through Osgoode thanks to the family friendship with Ted Rogers. (He admits he routinely asked me for advice on municipal politics.)  He went on, of course, to greater things, a good political and business career. He's obviously the best candidate for mayor even if he was once president of that flawed cable company, Rogers. Even though I debated with him on his CFRB show as he roasted everything about the Ex.
Olivia Chow was floating around with a couple of campaign ladies buzzing like bees around the queen. Not to be outdone, Karen Stintz  came back to the reception clutching a stuffed animal she won on the midway.
 I surveyed this quartet of candidates and thought that since they were already boring in January, just how much more is going to be inflicted on us. Why have our election campaigns turned into a political version of the ordeal of Job  Why are Chow and Tory even introduced since they hold no elected office.
All their faces and quotes and policies have become so used in this process that they resemble the picked-over merchandise of a second-hand store.
What has the ordeal produced so far? Not much!
All that has happened is that Model T Ford has continued to be an international punch line for crack stupidity.
 So many transit plans have been brandished that it would take an eternity and Google to keep track.
One wonders that if the incumbent was not so flawed and so bumbling whether Chow and Stintz would even be running. After all they could use royal jelly as makeup and the obvious fact remains that they're mundane politicians. It does helps them a tad that they're women from the central city, perceived by activists and gLiberal commentators as the ideal antidote to a tight-fisted moron from the suburbs.
They really are puny candidates when you consider some of the masters in PR, manipulation, malapropism and longevity who have been dominant mayors since the city began. I've been acquainted with or covered every mayor for 50 years and by comparison to Lampy or Supermouth or the Tiny Perfect or Eggs, Stintz and Chow are like failed candidates for the school board.
The shame is that too many of us are tired already of watching them run in circles, dancing to the dictates of the 24-hour news cycle. I have covered, or have supervised the coverage of, dozens of elections at all levels, and I wouldn't cross the street to watch these guys in debate.
Seems a shame if we elect the candidate who bores us least. The way things have gone, there is no stunt that the Fords now could pull that would hurt or help him, and the others have been pouring their policy over our heads for so long, we wouldn't recognize a really good new idea unless it came with a guarantee to help everyone and hurt no one.
I know one really good new idea, that the next council make it illegal for anyone to campaign or raise election funds more than two months before the election day. Starting in January is silly!
With the communications we have today, with the huge growth in media, there is no need for a long campaign. Your message and your platform can be spread in days unless you're incompetent
It is silly to waste a spring and summer listening to politicians. We need a holiday from that mediocre clutch and the special interest groups that boss them around.
This present garbled mess just helps incumbents and insiders and turns the rest of us off. It's the reason the job and campaigning have become so time consuming. It's designed to make really bright lively people think that it's better to stay in the real world where of course many ordinary people can't slip away from a job in order to be introduced from a stage at 10 a.m. on a Friday and be applauded by all the other politicians.
I didn't clap!

Friday, August 1, 2014

THE HARM FROM SPEED LIMITS


POLITICS, NOT SAFETY, IS THE PROBLEM

Our major highways would be safer if we could drive faster legally. The experts say so, but too many  politicians keep their foot on the brake when it comes to such change.
There is no doubt that the 400 series of super roads in Ontario and similar roads elsewhere would be safer if the speed limit was 120 km/h (or 75 mph.)
In fact, most of the public have taken the law limiting us to 100 and shaken it by the neck until it was dead. It died years ago. After all, it is common knowledge that such roads were built to handle vehicles at speeds of 120 or 125.
The limits were reduced or not increased because politicians believed that would help the environment and reduce the use of fuel. Turned out they were wrong.
The consensus in the transportation world is that fast is the new goal in road safety. If the rest of Canada follows what has just happened in B.C., and some states,  it would reduce the great differences in the speed of vehicles which is the major cause of accidents because it would reduce the number of slow vehicles holding up the traffic flow.
Accident rates throughout the world have always gone down when motorists are allowed to go faster.
I used to campaign regularly on this subject, irked by the fact that the dubious top legal limit turned me into a scofflaw anytime I drove more than 10 kilometres on a big highway.
In addition to my daily column, I sat on the venerable Ontario Safety League, an advisory board on safety, particularly on roads, and wrote articles and editorials for the motor league magazine before it became a limp travel promotion.
Because of this work, I had plenty of opportunity to question transportation ministers and top cops about what they though of a real speed limit like 120 on major highway. I never had one disagree that was not sensible....but they did so off the record.
In fact, I had top politicians, from premiers to mayors, confess that they just couldn't do their job if they or their drivers didn't drive between cities at 120.
The problem is, green lobbies and some police associations are opposed, although they can point to no major evidence that says the increase would be a terrible thing.
An editorial in Maclean's, which continues to be a better magazine that it was just a few years ago, suggests that it is only sensible to have speed limits set by the opinion of the masses, to study how they drive now on the road under question.
Imagine that! Majority rule actually working in a democracy.
The magazine also suggested a sensible measure that I have advocated, that if 85% of the drivers obey the new higher limit, enforcement could be increased to catching and punishing the 15% who now will drive much fasfer.
Opponents always cite this argument, that if we are allowed to drive 20 k faster, then the speeders will just move up another 20 k higher than their present speed. And the super roads are dangerous at 150.
 There isn't a day on 400 or 401 that many of us aren't annoyed at the very slow vehicle, or a car blocking the passing lane, or the distracted driver, or the motorist cutting back and forth.
They cause the accidents, not the driver doing 116 to 120 (because we know most police will allow this in good conditions) or doing 90 on other roads where the limit is 80.
The very fact that there is this hidden truce allowing us to go up to 120 now just demonstrates that the cops have agreed with the experts, that when it comes to their laudable goal of reducing accidents, there are more things to worry about that some guy driving 120 in a peaceful way.
If you are a politician or a cop who disagrees with that, then you have to allow the installation of a gadget that records the speeds that you drive.
Anyone who insists they always drive only 100 on a big highway is really not the saint they think smugly that they are but more a sinner putting the rest of us into more danger.
The present situation where cops can ding you at 115 if they feel like it, which creates some of those slow drivers, has more to do with cash register law enforcement than serving and protecting. It smacks of the speed trap thats only purpose is to collect a lot of money for the politicians to waste.
Something like 80% of drivers tell pollsters they would like to drive 120 on super highways and not worry about how cops are feeling that day. Queen's Park owes us an explanation of why our wishes of how we use our roads is ignored.






Wednesday, July 30, 2014

BNN AND IRRITATING ADS


REPETITIOUS TV ADS ARE A WASTE FOR ALL

As a survivor of the bad old days of TV at the cottage,  I love my satellite service almost as much as I hate the same ads over and over so much that I swear I will boycott the companies.
I literally once used a metal hangar to try to get a second channel. I boasted how the cottage I bought had one of those antennae that you could rotate. Actually I never ever saw one work, and the one at the cottage didn't either. It was frozen in the wrong position and I almost fell off trying to coax it to a better one.
Now I have dozens of channels available to me but the wealth of choices is crippled by poor content, a reduced number of recent movies  and a shrivelled market garden of ads.
 My experience of the last few weeks as the stock market booms and the Jays have started flying again is that life would be much better if I didn't have to watch the same damn ads several times an hour.
Now Honda is so proud of that ad featuring Indy race driver James Hinchcliffe that the ad has its own internet niche. All I know is that the twerp challenging Hinchcliffe is so annoying that I have set  my own speed record in hitting the Mute button.
It is as annoying as an opposition HR on the Jays telecasts.
Now the family keep reminding me that enduring the ads is the price I have to pay for watching conventional TV. Except I think the price is too high when the same ad is repeating several times a show, and occasionally twice in a row.
Don't the advertising companies do surveys showing that repeating the ad hour after hour day after day month after month just bugs most people so much that they develop a hatred for the product?
There is no value to the repetition, the product isn't driven further into our memory, if we get mad at the sight of that damn Sonato ad with the guardian angel speaking incomprehensibly showing several times during every Market Call on BNN, the business channel.
There are regular breaks for ads on the two daily Market  Calls.  One purpose is to make money, the second is to give an opportunity for the host and guest to figure out what stocks they will discuss with callers in the next segment.
So we have the Medipac airport security ad, the Go Daddy one, VectorVest 7, the Cadillac vanilla ice cream one, Alarm Force, Moores' suit, Sears Optical, Audi 6, Toyota, etc, like the pendulum on a grandfather clock..
I would imagine BNN gives a deal. A lot of extra airings! It is obvious that BNN offers a lot of exposure. But hasn't anyone involved realized this backfires on the company but also on BNN?
I often record the Market Call shows at home and just fast forward through the ads. I imagine that happens a lot. So that defeats the purpose of the ad. And I will continue to do that as long as Questrade or Sandals or Money Talk ads repeat like a radish sandwich. .
When the stations or networks do this and flog the opportunity to have these ads shown so often, they are battering the geese that lay the golden eggs of advertising. Viewers will just turn them off. The bargain in exposure time for the advertising companies is really an exercise in alienation.
Give me a choice between watching some expert talk for the tenth time that week about BCE or Suncor or Apple, and have all the same ads sandwiched in between, or watch something really different, I will figure my Suncor is safe for another day and watch the other shows.
So BNN may be happy running the same ads all the time but the Market Calls would  be better with fewer, and different, ads.
You would think the ad agencies would be smart enough to insist that an hour or two elapse before the ad could be shown again.
But I guess not.
 So that is just one of the reasons why fewer and fewer people are regular TV viewers and the giant networks, once monarchs of all they surveyed,  are struggling. We just get tired of that Honda commercal and just wish the twerp would go crash and burn and leave us, and Hinchcliffe, alone.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

BITING OFF MORE THAN THEY CAN REPAIR

EXAGGERATING THE PROBLEM

I have a marvelous bit of news. The Royal York underpass at Dundas, which has been under repair since Noah's time, seems to be finished.
There are still cones and signs and bits of construction garbage here and there but there is a good chance that it's done.
I wish I could say the same for the underpass on Eglinton just east of Weston Rd. which has had the same confusing restrictions for as long as the Royal York affair but I suspect has been under repair longer.
I spotted a construction truck there the other day and some lounging workers but it's hard to tell if they were actually supposed to be there or had just drifted in some other road repair because they could hide out of the sun.
There is nothing unique about these two projects. There are thousands of other examples throughout North America of perennial road repairs where after a decade or two, you kind of just accept them as part of the scenery.
There are almost as many ghost repairs. You know, traffic is merged into one lane and the marker cones stretch off to infinity like some art school lesson. Bulldozer are clumped together with other equipment as if they're having a picnic except there is not a worker to be seen.
Gee,  you wonder, did the company go broke, or did the workers get lost wandering from repair to repair without a GPS to guide them, or do they work for some brief hour, such as 3 a.m, just to keep the machinery tuned.
Believe it or not, I have a message buried somewhere inside the frustration and the anger at the fact that our governments, whether municipal, state or provincial, seem to allow the road construction companies to play them for fools just like the poor homeowner who hires a contractor and find he only shows up one day a week because he has five or six other projects on the go at the same time.
I was pondering this the other day near Peterborough where all the traffic had been merged into one lane for ten kilometres or so and then I came across a couple of pieces of equipment with the workers yarning inside. I had to applaud their chutzpah. Why not shut down as much of Highway 7 as you figure you can get away without a rebellion even if you don't intend to work on parts for days.
Just who is paying attention to this? If there actually are officials in Toronto or the counties or with the province who are supposed to ensure a quick and efficient use of road closures and narrowings for repairs, they should be disciplined or fired or reinforced because the companies take their own sweet time and to hell with motorists.
Shouldn't there be performance clauses built into the contracts, that if some outfit wins the deal to repair the Royal York underpass, for example, the work must be finished in our lifetime.
I am not talking here of the horrendous examples of major construction projects that went crazy, like the Big Dig in Boston, but simple renewal of infrastructure that drags for more than a year, if you're lucky.
There has always been a notorious laxness in supervision of road crews. My newspaper proved that one morning. We rented some rudimentary equipment and scraped away at Yonge St. south of King, closing more than a lane with our sawhorses.  And then we went away, unchallenged.
City officials were furious the next day when we printed the story and demonstrated there is a form of anarchy out there.
 I suspect though that someone might have noticed if we had been there for weeks and not just hours like all the other work crews on our streets. But then again, maybe not!

Monday, July 14, 2014

DISCONNECTING TELEMARKETERS


REDUCING LIFE'S HASSLES

Several times a week around supper, we get the call from the duct cleaning company.
Always the same company, I think, but the call is so inarticulate, it's hard to tell.
I've tried every tactic. Hanging up. Cursing. Asking for the caller to wait while I turn on the tape. Demanding a name. Asking for the company's name to be repeated. Saying I don't have ducts.
Of course I point out that I am on the Do Not Call list but that makes no impact at all. No telemarketer pays any attention to that or of me threatening to report them or sue.
I get angry because this inane solicitor always takes a few minutes no matter what my tactic. If I just hang up, he or she call again within a few minutes or the next day.
My son Mark gets exasperated at my anger, pointing out that the call probably originates in some third-world call centre where the staff have minimal language skills to match their unconcern with Canadian law.
I dislike my Bell bill so much that I hate to resort to caller identification to block the telemarketers.
And just look at all the exceptions that the feds let wiggle through the Do Not Call screen.
I may be a journalist who made most of my living for 50 years from newspapers but I resent circulation subscription solicitations. I am embarrassed that Ottawa kowtows to the dailies in this fashion.
Of course politicians would make an exception for political solicitation but I find the increasing calls from the parties or the candidates to be just as annoying as that duct cleaning company.
Remember when we all bought in to United Appeal to reduce the charity pitches. I should say that most of us did until the Catholics broke ranks and then some of fhe big charities did too, including my favourite, darn it, the Sally Ann.
As someone who has never bought anything over the phone, and never given money to a charitable organization as the result of a phone call, I would be happy to support any political party daring enough to include charities with newspapers and themselves as someone no longer allowed to bug us just when the climax comes in the movie.
As a commentator, I have often paid close attention to telephone surveys. I used to participate myself. I used to quote them. Not any more. The dirty secret is that many people, probably most people, hang up on the pollster, no matter how major the issue may be, so they're worthless in gauging what the public really thinks about anything, including duct cleaning companies.
I find it ironic that in an age when electronic snooping has blossomed so evilly that governments, security forces and too often even the police know all the telephone numbers that you called for the last year or two, yet the garbled duct cleaning solicitations continue despite the federal pledge of the Do Not Call list.
The way things stand, the Do Not Call promise of protection is a farce. It would be so simple to improve it but no government has the guts.
Now if you'll pardon me, I have to answer the phone. Probably the duct cleaning company because it hasn't called for a day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

ROGERS CRUMMY SERVICE


TED ROGERS MUST BE SPINNING IN HIS GRAVE

I was one of the doubtful when the latest head of Rogers Cable talked about a better deal, a more competent relationship, with customers.
My experiences keep proving me right. Now I just had a wasted hour from hell lost in call centre gimmicks and got nowhere.
I wasn't surprised. After all, Rogers is hardly noted for its customer relations. Some of that is due to the basic nature of the cable business, I'm sure, others to the giant size of the company, but its corporate philosophy has developed rot holes.
Ironically, I live in that Royal York and Bloor neighbourhood where the first pay TV experiment in the world was conducted. Indeed, our first cable service came in over the old Telemeter lines.
And I kept bumping into Ted Rogers as he grew from running a FM station that few listened to until he became the owner of the Sun newspapers and seemed slightly puzzled that this Editor had so few checks on what he wrote. He surprised me favourably by never complaining about an editorial in which I blistered Rogers billing practices. (I would like to write that one again.)
My son Mark, who works and spends most of his time in China, arranged a giant TV as a gift, along with all the extra paraphernalia from Rogers to record programs when we have fled to the cottage. Wonderful, except there are often brief interruptions in the recorded programs even though we've taken the box back and have had servicemen come for three visits.
Despite our rocky relationship with Rogers, we decided to go to a "hub" for access to the Internet at the cottage. Mark was persuaded by a smart staffer at the Royal York and Bloor store who really knew her stuff. So he paid her $200 for the gadget,  arranged for me to pay the monthly charges, installed it at the cottage, used it for two days, and returned to China.
Then the bill arrived in his name. First there was that $2 paper invoice fee which is a ripoff that I thought Ottawa was going to ban because many of the people without computers to receive email bills are poorer seniors. (Oh yes, the fee rises to $2.26 because of HST. ) Then there was a partial monthly charge of $20 for this "rocket hub internet." Then there was a connection fee of $15 which was never mentioned before the sale. Add HST. And the total is $41.81.
But why should the son have to pay when I am using it? Especially when he did all the nuisance work in dealing with Rogers.
So I phoned and waited in an electronic queue. After a few minutes, the computer arranged for me to be called back. So 20 minutes later, I get a human, sort of.  I explained. The company was told to put the monthly hub charge on my bill which is already over $230.  Can't do it, the human said. We need your son's permission. But he's in China and won't be back for months. Doesn't matter, the automaton repeated. Over and over.
These aren't huge sums we're dealing with, but I believe dads don't stick sons with even small bills. And it's not exactly as if we're harming the son when his charge is erased. No deal, the Rogers clerk said, not even pretending to be helpful.
I asked for a supervisor. Put on hold to listen to music for 25 minute. The alleged human returns to say no supervisor available. Says call centres are down in the Maritimes and possibly the moon. Puts me on hold again. Music still atrocious. Hang up.
I have been lazy and not arranged to use the same satellite service I have at the cottage at my home too.  Guess this is the nudge, no make that the kick, that will lead eventually to my cable/satellite/cellphone bill being cut in half and Rogers being cast adrift.
The irony is that everyone knows that Rogers - and BCE for that matter - are becoming lousy investments. Their current business is changing radically as people abandon their landlines and change their viewing.
 Future generations will look back on us and companies like Rogers like we now look back at wringer washers and daily dairy deliveries and indeed at the first radio that would operate without a battery that Ted Rogers' father invented.
Now that really was an invention. These guys in 2014 are just piggybacking on other companies.
                                                                       

                                                                ......

So Mark and I exchanged two emails on this subject. Then after I failed, Mark tried from the other side of the world in Dalian, China.  Used a Mac and then a PC and 20 minutes of coping with the perplexing Rogers system and in the end all he managed to do was get it charged to his card. And he with his two degrees actually works for a giant computer company.
 "I wish this could have been simpler," he lamented. So do I. And in the end, so does Rogers because this, of course, is the way to corporate failure.

ROBBERY AT THE PUMPS


INSERT NOZZLE IN WALLET

Like many Canadians, I have been happy at the growth of oil stocks like Suncor, which is now like buying a piece of the Shield, but what I hate is pump prices so high that you contemplate having to sell  stock, or take out a second mortgage, whenever you go to fill up the car, the boat and even the mower.
All the way back to my battles with Esso PR whenever I wrote an editorial thundering out about the increase in gasoline costs even when the price of oil had plummeted, I have had a healthy suspicion that oil companies basically have two purposes -  to make money for themselves and to screw everyone else.
I have never believed any industry expert trying to explain the relationship between the cost of crude and the cost at the pump, which is also rather crude. What the market will bear is the real relationship.  I confess that I do know a tad about the subject. Nope. not the economics classes I slept through. Years ago, I actually had modest investments in this area and was lucky/smart enough to be in at the birth of Baytex but unfortunately sold long before it floated up to $50 a share.
When it comes to being taken by the gas companies, Torontonians are the chump champs.
I had just filled up near my cottage country cranny and was grumbling at it costing $50 when the regular report came over 680 News that the price of gas the next day at most city stations would be $1.38 a litre.
No wonder the service station that I had just left was so busy because the price there was .20 cents a litre cheaper.  Now that was unusually low but most of the stations that I passed on the 190 km. trip home from the cottage were eight cents to a dime cheaper than what was said to be the norm in Toronto.
Now I have complaints about that AM station. I routinely run into large jams that it never warned me about in the traffic reports "on the ones." But I am sure it doesn't get that gas price report  wrong and there is never a day when I don't routinely see gas selling cheaper outside the city than what is given as the typical price inside.
I do not want to hear from any experts burbling about why this happens. The nice thing about semi retirement, or whatever the hell this state is, is I don't have to listen to PR people, especially from oil companies.
There's a story around that the reason our gasoline prices are so high is that the oil is located in provinces like Alberta and the dipstick is in Ottawa so no one has been checking our oil lately and we've run into this crisis.
I know it's not very funny, but at least a feeble laugh is better than what we will be doing at $1.45.