Thursday, October 30, 2014



Got my flu shot the other day at my friendly Shoppers at Bloor and Royal York. Isn't it marvellous, people say, that you can now get a flu shot at your drug store without going to your doctor (if you're lucky enough to have a doctor you call your own.)
It really is an improvement BUT....
I smell a rat made from red tape. It's not as convenient as it could be.
Now Mary and I have always got flu shots. We  got them the first year they were offered. I have no patience with people who don't, and therefore help spread and goose flu season.
 I also think that medical professionals like nurses and paramedics who object and even take union action against compulsory flu shots each fall should go into another line of work because they have a basic misunderstanding about how a public health system should work in a democracy. They're not supposed to spread germs.
As a director on a Toronto hospital board, I was happy to move the motion that when we had a flu outbreak on a ward, any nurses who had avoided the flu shot should be banned from the hospital and receive no compensation.
When my oldest son, John Henry, and his wife Marie, had two premies more than two decades ago at Women's College - they were born at 28 and 29 weeks and were what we nicknamed our 40-ouncers - we weren't allowed to see those tiny red wrinkled beings in their incubators unless we had flu shots.
Now John Henry IV and Marc Oliver are happy handsome studs enjoying life near the California beaches precisely because that hospital had decided not to screw around with a few people's feelings against being dictated to and ordered everyone to have flu shots or else leave.
After all, the flu may appear to be a humble ailment but it can cut through chronic care hospitals, children's wards and nursing homes like the Devil sweeping at your health with a gigantic scythe.
So what makes me suspicious that the health ministry has imposed extra conditions and red tape on flu shots from pharmacists that daren't imposed on  doctors? My experience over two years vs. all the years before when I got the shots from my reliable GP's office.
 The great staff working for Bernie Gosevitz, who I call the world's best doctor (when I can get an appointment) take about 30 seconds tops to give me the shot.
 The total time at my Shoppers, even though the boss Barry Phillips volunteered to arrange the shot when I showed up to collect a prescription, took 20 minutes, and then you were told not to leave for 10 or 15 minutes afterwards in case you felt woozy or something.  I also had to fill out a form, which asked for my OHIP card number along with some basic questions. (Now I always carry that card along with my driver's licence, but Mary for some reason didn't have hers. )
There is little doubt that flu shots at our local pharmacy is the thin edge of what could be a large billions-saving wedge where such minor medical matters are handled outside the costly confines of doctors' offices, hospitals and medical clinics.
There is also little doubt that many members of the medical establishment are not thrilled at the idea of letting mere mortals who may have only gone to university for four years look after the minor stuff when they went for an eternity and then they had all those ordeals as an intern trying to work 30-hour shifts each day.
Since the health spending in Ontario has become a Godzilla threatening to consume half of every tax dollar spent by the province, I'm all for anything to keep spending, and the flu, down.
So let's keep it simple folks. It's not as if people are rushing off the streets eager for the hit of a flu shot.

Sunday, October 19, 2014



I have known John Tory and occasionally been critical since he started as a kid City Hall reporter in the early 1970s.
 I have known Olivia Chow since she drifted into urban politics like a quiet Asian waif, first as a trustee in 1985, then as a Metro councillor in '91. I have always been critical of her.
 I have never liked the Fords, whether the clown or the thug.
So the choice was obvious. Even as Mary struggled through the huge list of mayoral candidates on the ballot, I quickly completed the arrow for Tory.
Then as we left the gym where there were far too many officials in some sort of make-work project by City Hall, Mary complained about all those people running for mayor. She was surprised.
And I complained, as someone who has covered municipal politics since 1957, when Yukon councillors tried to kick me out of my first council meeting, that I had written dozens of times about all the crazies and nut jobs and publicity seekers who run for office,  especially for Toronto mayor, because it's more publicity than most people get between the birth notice and the obit.
 And some of the stranger desperate candidates still get too much attention from the media.
When even my wife, who supposedly reads me, is surprised by all those people running for mayor,  it is obvious that too many people really don't give a damn about politics and don't even bother to do basic homework.
The choice for mayor has never been been easier. Tory is used to being a confident leader. Chow is a minor player in a party that gets delusions of grandeur when it manages to finish second.
You choose Tory to run your company if you are lucky enough to win the lottery and actually buy a business. (Paul Godfrey who knows all about being a major leader told me once that Tory was the best boss he ever reported to when Tory was running giant Rogers cable and Godfrey headed the Jays.)
You choose Chow to be your babysitter IF you leave her lots of emergency phone numbers.
I remember a CBC radio producer who phoned me late one night and pleaded with me to debate Chow the next day at 8.30 a.m. for 10 minutes or so. I can't remember the topic. It may well have been assisted housing (she and Jack Layton knew all about that since they took advantage of the housing for the lower classes) or day care. Whatever! It was an NDP issue, basically one where the party wants to overtax most of us to give services to a few. I did it as a favour to him and hoped at best to make it a tie because it was an issue about which she should have been an expert.
I cleaned her clock. It was so bad that she started giggling nervously. After I hung up, I said to Mary, who as a loyal wife hadn't bothered to listen since I had evicted her from being near the kitchen phone so she wouldn't make her usual dish racket, that I was certainly glad Chow didn't represent us.
She admits herself that she's not charismatic. She admits herself that she is not easy in English (and Tory has been an accomplished radio host and speakers for charities and the CFL.)
 Yet here she is being propped up by the left and mushy middle, plus feminists and anti-Conservative activists, as a credible candidate when her late husband, whose views she still echoes, was a real word warrior armed with a doctorate and a Ryerson tenured nook who was rejected soundly by Toronto voters when he ran for mayor.
Layton had several election defeats, and so does she, not counting this one. And both were used to being defeated at council and the Commons on most motions they had concocted to take more money out of our pockets.
She may have a degree after different studies at several universities. She has been an artist but an election is not a gallery show. And she is the darling of the bike addicts because she rides. (And so did Layton who sued me and the paper after he claimed a Sun box assaulted him.)
 Layton only looked good on the national stage because our PM is a wooden control freak saved mainly by far better policies and sensible actions than the gLiberals and the socialists.
This election is a no-brainer. What I would really like to see is Tory as mayor and 44 rookie councillors.. The present crop of incumbents were almost as bad as their "evil" target, Rob, who confounded them continually because he related more to the taxpayers than they did even when he was careening from disaster to disaster. He was incompetent but they couldn't run a kennel.
Elect Tory and you won't be sorry.
 Elect Chow and you'll howl.

Friday, October 17, 2014



Some friends now start their phone conversations with "I'm not cleaning ducts."
Who would have thought that in 2014, the greatest telephone problem, not counting the bill, would be the annoying 6 p.m. call from duct cleaners. Or at 8 just when a good TV movie starts.
Just how is it possible for them to annoy thousands of people all at the same time, just when supper is to be enjoyed or there is something finally interesting on TV.
It is the bureaucrats in Ottawa who should start cringing at the calls because it is daily proof that the do not call lists that they have concocted are an abject failure.
There are already many faults with those lists as I last wrote on July 14 in a blog titled Disconnecting Telemarketers. To start with, they could get rid of the calls from newspapers, and I think calls from politicians and pollsters should have strict limits.
Here we are in an era when we are being spied on electronically by every government.  Companies make fortunes compiling our personal histories from our credit card and Internet traffic. And yet these duct companies, and indeed all the other companies which grievously bug the hell out of us most days with their incoherent telephone solicitations, can't be trapped and fined mightily, since I'm sure some liberal squeamish types would vote against public executions.
Why I would even vote NDP if that promise-them-anything party would pledge to put the duct cleaner calls out of business.
Ironically, most duct cleaning is about as useless as a Liberal promise at Queen's Park. It doesn't even seem to employ many people, and goodness knows, finding jobs for everyone is a political preoccupation, no matter what the level of government.
I went to vote the other day and the gym was filled with so many poll officials twiddling their thumbs, gossiping and giving unnecessary info that I was afraid they were going to carry me over to the table to mark my X.
 Come to think of it, we no longer mark an X like we did in the old days when City Hall didn't find it necessary to employ armies with nothing better to do. Now it is a broken arrow that has to be mended, which certainly symbolizes our politics.
Petty patronage certainly has sprouted, along with the calls from the duct cleaners. And the results are just as dubious.

Thursday, October 9, 2014



I didn't hurt myself that much when I fell the other day on a subway stair. More embarrassed than wounded when people rushed up to help. After all, it had happened before, in precisely the same spot, and just before I skidded this time, I had been thinking about those bruises and scrapes.
I guess I am the kind of Torontonian that urban planners love these days because I may have two cars in the drive but for the last four days, I have taken the subway downtown because years ago you stopped being able to easily move around or even park in the city's core.
On March 1, 2013, I blogged under the headline I FALL FOR YOU, AND YOU, AND YOU about crashing at the foot of the TTC stairs at the south-east corner of University and College. (The new stairs replace an escalator which seems rather stupid in what is really one entrance to a huge hospital complex where many find stairs difficult.)
Since I had walked forward thinking I was at the bottom when I was still one step up,  I thought the TTC could do a better job of  contrasting tile colours so that people could distinguish the last step before the landing/platform. The TTC does not use the same pattern of light and dark strips on steps at every station.
After all, people with poorer vision or using tricky trifocal glasses, which can blur around your feet, could walk like I did if the outside edge of the bottom step matched the colour of the landing.
 I emailed my suggestion one evening to the confident new broom sweeping through our transit, Andy Byford, and suggested contrasting colours be used to help in separating levels.
I was impressed when he replied within two hours and sent me a report from a committee 10 days later. It didn't agree with me but at least a giant transit company had looked into the complaint/suggestion.
My eye specialist insists I have reasonable vision and good glasses for an old fart, so if I'm having difficulty and falling twice at exactly the same spot when I'm not rushing and being careful, there is a good chance it's just not me.
As someone who covered transit for years in this city, so much so that the TTC once tried to hire me and on another occasion asked Mike Filey and me to write its official history, I have been impressed by the maturation of the system and the efficiencies brought by Byford and his key appointments.
It's not all perfect, but I doubt it can be when you're trying to move hundreds of millions in reasonable time without them having to pay a fortune in fares.
It's remarkable how much is being done now in keeping the rider informed even when the train just has to slow because of maintenance. Unfortunately, in my last 12 subway trips, I just couldn't' understand what was being announced despite the repetitions on at least four occasions.  Since different phrases would make it through with each repetition, it was almost a game to piece together what was happening. A muddled crossword puzzle of sound!
I realize that as a veteran columnist, I am supposed to view with alarm all changes in this modern city, and there certainly is a lot of fodder in the decline of our roads and services, but the TTC is better these days, folks, even if it has turned me into a Humpty Dumpty.

Saturday, September 27, 2014



It seemed a straight-forward deal until the Bell accountants started fiddling.
BCE, the Bell Telephone conglomerate, told the Toronto stock market world it would buy the stock it didn't already own of Bell Aliant at $31 a share.
And if too many people wanted that, they would give us some money and the rest in BCE stock.
So I waited to the penultimate day and said through the TD discount brokers I wanted the cash deal, that I wasn't interested in the alternatives.
When the deal was announced, the stock actually traded higher than $31 but then towards the day the deal closed, its price fell below, first by cents, then by dimes.
Finally BCE notified the TD discount brokerag it would pay $14.60 for each of my 500 shares and give me the rest in BCE stock.
Then the obese outfit got cute. The $31 figure was no longer used, but $30.70 since the cheaters said the stock had fallen towards the end. Then BCE argued I had to pay more for the 168 shares I was being given in its stock than if I bought in the open market just days before. Funny how the price managed to go up when the deal closed, not that I would suggest a giant company would actually arrange such an event when it would only save millions of dollars. (Just kidding, of course.)
All you have to do is check BCE's records for Sept. 22 and see that when I was charged $47.90 for my stock, it actually opened at $47.46 and had a low of  $47.38. BCE charged the high for the day.
So the $31 deal for each of my shares really wasn't. The fast-money boys saved around $250 just on me.  Imagine the total savings once BCE finishes slashing at the public like a fox in the henhouse at midnight.
.I would hope that BNN and the Globe and other august observers of the market would not use the $31 figure in recognition of the fact that BCE officials would have to admit under oath that that figure is between a fib or a felony. That may be a vain hope since BCE owns BNN and has 15% of the Globe.
I am reminded of the maxim about figures lie and liars figue. I should have known something like that would happen after all my years being angry at my phone bills.
In fact, I have puzzled inarticulate members in India of the Bell call centre, and an Amex clerk, when I have complained about small amounts creeping into the charges. I grew up with grandparents still wounded by the Great Depression who often used the saying about if you look after the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.
Hardly a fashionable expression these days, not with the penny in disgrace. Yet I know of many very rich people who still check the restaurant bill and who, when they do a deal, battle for every last  fraction of a percentage point.
That's how BCE got rich.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014



Onward, water soldiers, marching as to war
With no politicians facing them before
No mayor, MPP or MP to lead against the foe
Backward from the battle, see their banners go!

Coming soon to your beach, lake and river, the latest natural menace that you never heard of...before it cuts your feet, chokes your water and becomes a problem in cottage country and just about everywhere else.
You should regard water soldiers as the sharp-leafed aquatic plants that possibly will echo the menace that zebra mussels became in just two decades, transforming great expanses of cottage country for all time.
Water soldier plants resemble giant pineapple tops. So imagine a pineapple field floating just off your cottage, an invasion so thick that it chokes everything and anything, including kids playing in the water and the daily fun of the family swim to that big rock.
The menace is pretty enough to have been used in water gardens in Europe and parts of Asia.
The picture I have used comes from a British gardening site selling the plant on the Internet.
But settling back on cushions in Cairo, puffing on a water pipe and enjoying the sight of water soldiers and water lilies floating in the pond beside the bar is one thing, having to capture and burn 25 plants off my dock when I want to go swimming is much more galling.
How it got here is a mystery. Some idiot in my Kawarthas corner around Burnt Point south of Havelock probably thought it looked pretty in their landscaping and then got bored and discarded it. The last huge menace, zebra mussels, hitchiked from Europe in the ballast water of a foreign freighter that dumped it illegally in Lake St. Clair.
So water soldiers are believed to have first started anchoring here in 2008 in the shallows or being swept along by the vigorous currents of the Trent River, which right now is being whipped into whitecaps around my point as I type. So I haven't yet done my regular dubious harvest.
Several years ago, at what unfortunately was the last annual picnic of the North Seymour Ratepayers Association, there were a commendable presentation and brochures on water soldiers, which as a rookie member of the association executive I dutifully spread to my neighbours.
It seems that the Trent from Highway 30 near the hamlet of Trent River down to the big drop in the river known as Healey Falls is the only place in North America where wild expanses of water soldier sare found.
The distinction of living on a unique stretch of river will not last long, judging from the explosion in growth of water soldiers around me since I first learned about it. It was three years ago when I phoned a hotline about colonies I had found near Hardy Island. Two men showed up and worked away for a couple of days. Now there are many expanses of water soldiers in backwaters. The growth may be exponential.
Despite the obvious fact that anyone who has been paying attention has known about water soldiers for several years, if you sift their reaction, it has come out of the blue of the Trent for politicians.
I phoned a friend and fellow cottager worried about the new threat to kid him about emails and letters he had received when he tried to sound the alarm. He once was in the CBCs upper reaches and all the major figures in news and current affairs cared about his attention. Now he is just another cottager so that when he raises this important issue with local MPP Lou Rinaldi. he is supposed to be content with a canned reply from an assistant.
Trust me, Lou, you're never going to make it from the deserved back bench above parliamentary assistant unless you work harder in the constituency.  As Editor of the Toronto Sun and veteran columnist, I used to tell assistants that unless I heard from the boss immediately, I would feel free to say anything I wanted about the pol or the issue.
Which is the way I feel about this since I have made fruitless calls.
The only good guys so far are the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Why a good private organization has to devote more on a comparative basis to this puzzles me when you consider what the feds and natural resources ministry could do.
 Something called the Invasive Species Centre and Trent University is involved too, which is understandable since the university has to do something to make it stand out from being just another provincial university for those who couldn't get into a major one.
It does have a nice campus, and a river which I predict at the present rate of fighting water soldiers will have students wondering what those strange prickly plants are in just a few years. The most optimistic estimate is it will take a minimum of five years to control the infestation, but then there are gloomy predictions it will take an eternity.
Why, cottagers wonder, didn't someone spray Reward sooner, the herbicide that is supposed to kill or lame the soldiers? (You know, the herbicide that deliberately is made so expensive and wrapped in red tape that you feel you're a criminal if you try to use an ounce.) Why the delays? It appears that the federation has put up the most money, $35,00 plus donations, and $50,000 or so is a trifling sum when you consider the possible consequences, but there seems to be a lack of will as well as funds.
The focus has been to map the menace, not to kill it. The worry from the few bureaucrats who seem to have got off their ass long enough to actually go and inspect is to contain it above the triple locks and the falls at Healey.
You know, protect Campbellford and the little generating station that is downstream. And keep it from the lower reaches of the Crowe. (You have to protect the Crowe, you see, if you are an environmental bureaucrat, because a former environment minister loves her cottage there and you don't want to drag the NDP into this fight considering that so far the Liberals don't give a damn and the Tories are still licking their wounds.)
Of course, they have failed to contain the menace, which is understandable considering the Trent is a major river and the authorities have never kept the water level so high for so long.  Floating islands of tangled vegetation have been a menace all year (I wrote a blog "Dangerous Islands of Trent River" on May 20) and this huge gush of water through the locks and dam of Healey Falls carry battalions of water soldiers.
Since water soldiers are perennial, even if we control them they will continue to be an additional problem because in cottage country, we already have a huge water weed problem due to the curse of zebra mussels which have cleared the water and allowed all that sunlight to stimulate all those weeds. Even the fishing has changed. Then we have the fertilization from the lax policies controlling the pollution from farms even though a female premier has stopped playing at being a farmer and agriculture minister so that voters will forget she's from T.O.
There are parts of the famous Trent-Severn Waterway that have never been so choked with weeds. I can't boat or even canoe in stretches that were still passable 15 years ago.
If it gets much worse because the red tape boys and girls screw up the fight against the latest problem, and it really does spread to block even the huge intake pipes of water filtration plants and stretches of public beach, I can see tax strikes in cottage country.
After all, we are mad already at Hydro overcharging and the residents in the towns and villages getting more than their share of the municipal tax dollar, particularly when you add in education since cottagers can't use the schools.
If most cottagers in affected areas were to withhold or delay their municipal tax installments in unison, I imagine something constructive would happen this afternoon.
Nothing has so far. Just MPs even ignoring meetings, MPPs having some flunky reply with a canned excuse, and me burning the latest crop of water soldiers.


A phone call from Trent Hills Mayor Hec Macmillan assured me that the spraying of herbicide to attack water weed infestations is definitely going to be done this fall and that he is convinced it really is a menace.
He doesn't dispute the argument by me and residents further up the river in Cedar Shores that if nothing major is done now to fight the growing menace, we will have a new environmental blight on our hands.
We discussed the election, of course, and I said we were voting for him, primarily because of his stewardship of my stretch of river (where his family had a cottage.)
 I was there at council that night when all that stood between quick approval in principle of a shoddy scheme to cover Nappan Island with cottages and a golf course fertilized with human waste was Hec's common sense.
The mayor demonstrated that the mysterious developers really hadn't done genuine planning but had just stolen fancy propaganda about other schemes from the Internet and hoped to stampede politicians and officials long enough to get their flimsy proposal approved and then sell the package for a huge profit to a bigger outfit.

Before I completed my mail-in Trent Hills ballot, I phoned friends for advice since they live there and I have worked with them covering politics so I trust their opinion
To say they were hostile to Macmillan is putting it kindly. They hate him for his stalling and bully-boy tactics on the new bridge, which is the most controversial decision in the sprawling municipality for decades.
Then they say he's too close to the Nicholson brothers, who aren't exactly the most popular businessmen around. I can understand why after one of them tied up roughly to my trees so he could fish right from my point, then when I objected boasted about how much richer he was than me and then predicted I would die of cancer within the year.
The weirdest encounter I have ever had at my cottage, and when you consider there are many rude fishermen around who will, for example, fish your dock even when you're standing on it, that's really saying something.
To boil down my friends' objections to Hec, they say he's a great man to have on your side but a terrible enemy when he's not. They say the entire council should be turfed, and probably will be.

Monday, September 15, 2014



Too many of us spend too much time in traffic dreaming of a hell where traffic engineers run like hamsters inside giant wheels while carbon monoxide blows in their faces.
Since the engineers, aided and urged on by politicians who want all their activists living in areas protected from through traffic, are impervious to the lesson inherent in the axiom that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and believe the greatest invention in the world is a maze surrounded by construction, anything sensible that I might propose will be lost on them.
If the trafficrats aren't spending our money on a multitude of signs, so much so that you think it is possible for a city to get measles, they are sentenced to remedial courses in driving motorists mad.
The timing of traffic lights is always of great interest to me, particularly when I finally get a green but can see that the next light has just turned red.
Back when I was a kid reporter, I used to write regularly about how Toronto virtually had invented  the idea of feeding signals from traffic lights into a buried computer centre so that you could actually drive along without every second light blocking you.
In fact, traffic experts from all over the world used to come to study what the Toronto metropolitan area was doing.  I once went to Singapore because of radical changes there in handling traffic and all the experts there wanted to do was ask me what was the latest innovation in Toronto.
How the mighty have fallen!
I was reflecting on this the other day when I drove in from my cottage on the Trent south of Havelock to deliver Mary to a bus taking her and some relatives from the Plewes clan to lay waste to the shops of Quebec.
My destination was the Legion in western Peterboro (the way we used to spell it in the old Tely to save  type.)
I hate to be tardy but we arrived a few minutes late for the pickup by the excursion bus. Why? The usual idiots on Highway 7 who get nervous at 80. The usual lumbering dump trucks and tractor trailers that are too big for ordinary highways but are allowed there by stupid politicians and lazy law enforcement..
 And every light was red.
Since Lansdowne is a main drag, you would think that at 8 a.m., it would be possible for any rookie official with more firepower than a smart phone to program a system where many lights could be synchronised.
But oh no, traffic limped from red light to red light, which may cut down on speeding but certainly increases pollution and wear. Presumably, the drivers around me were going to jobs or making early calls or deliveries, but the city wasn't easing the trip one bit.
Ironically, after Mary got on the bus and the driver and I stopped bitching about how traffic had worsened, I drove back to the cottage and stopped only once in 60 km.
See, it is possible. And it is interesting that in Peterboro it is easier to leave town than to work there.
I was trying to calculate the odds of driving all that distance and only having one red out of 20 or so signalized intersections.  Perhaps one in a million.
 Why it's practically a miracle, one that no traffic engineer would believe and every traffic engineer will ensure never happens again.