Wednesday, July 13, 2016

CANADIAN INCOME TAX FRUSTRATIONS

CRA PUBLIC RELATIONS

I was just a kid reporter when I learned first-hand of the bureaucratic hypocrisy of the Canada Revenue Agency or whatever its name was back in the day.
I answered a phone on the rewrite desk of the lamented Telegram and an official voice dripping with pomposity demanded to speak to the City Editor, the formidable Art Cole.
I had seen Cole make grown men cry and turn white with anxiety about their job so I asked naturally about the purpose. I didn't want to make Cole mad. I was answered by a cold "he will want to speak to me. "
I eavesdropped, of course. And I learned this was an income tax official spilling the beans about one of their coups in getting a lot more money out of some public figure.
And so I was inducted into the shadow world of government where bureaucrats routinely hide behind confidentiality shields and protecting the rights to privacy of citizens unless it suits their purpose not to.
Over  the years I grew familiar with the CRA apparatchiks who routinely called and told us of court cases and charges. Later I became the City Editor myself -  I would like to think kinder than Cole who had hired me and was a nice guy privately - and got these tips.
And they bugged me even before I became familiar with the rudeness and corporate deafness of our functionaries in dealing with too many complaints.
There was something unseemly about an agency with a deliberate policy of ensuring its victims financially also suffered bad publicity. I knew enough horror stories from the accountants I have used for decades to know that not all of those who lose out in the struggles with the mandarins are guilty of tax evasion.
They just lost out in the roulette game of whether the pencil posters  who came to deal with them were actually bright and informed or dumb as an old wooden desk.
Now I'm not in favour of people ducking taxes. This just means that you and I and all the others who don't scoff routinely at all laws and rules just have to pay more than our share. And to hell with that! But just about everyone has a horror story, and not just the accountants.
The legendary Arthur Gelgoot, accountant to the famous and the humble, once interrupted our annual session to say he just had to take this phone call.
He poured torrents of red-hot invective over some civil servant who was following up a threat of prison or execution for the Gelgoot family if it didn't settle the accounts of their father who had died.
Turns out one main stumbling point for the CRA was that the father had a huge GST debt, but as Gelgoot explained in a stunning display of curses, the father had been retired for many years, long before the GST was inflicted on us, and had never had anything to do with that odious sales tax.
Therefore, the "debt" was a fabrication built by the suits from BS, red tape, bureaucratese and lies (which may be the same thing.)
As a consequence, perhaps, some rookie tax regulator showed up and occupied a desk in Gelgoot's office for six months and never found a damn thing with any of his client accounts.
Now if only Arthur was around to get that HST refund that the CRA has been saying I've been owed since 2011 but never get around to sending to me.
My accountant, who was one of Arthur's associates, made a real drive a year ago to get that refund. Nothing ever happened that afternoon. A form hadn't been filed, it was claimed, so we filed it, and then we were told by a new official that the form hadn't been filed, so we filed it, and then we were told by yet a third official that a form hadn't been filed, so we filed, and then we were.....
Still don't have the money.
Thought of the CRA yesterday when I took a large refund that Mary got to the TD branch at Bloor and Jackson. Teller said that the CRA has been insisting for two months that all of their cheques over $1,500 must be verified by the agency over the telephone first.
I pointed out that there was enough money in the account to cover the cheque three times. And I was depositing it. Teller shrugged and said that was the new rule. So I waited and waited while he phoned so that I could deposit a cheque, which was basically just a return of some of Mary's  payments because the CRA had demanded too much in instalments last May.
I hate this drive by the taxcrats to force us to use computers as much as possible, as if everyone in the country is computer literate and has a computer that works every day. Come of think of it, that  combination is not possible.
I went to send some money to the CRA the other day and found that in this case, I couldn't do it except through a bank after it had deducted its paper cut of a fee.  Yet the federal drumbeat continues to drive us to a paperless society, except in their case where they will make four copies of everything. Banking and taxes are simpler now, they say, but not to the large number of pensioners who know from experience that they aren't.
Even if the computers were bug-proof, their input is garbage in the hands of the incompetent official. Do we really think the cream of our graduates want to do taxes? Years ago Mary ran into an old school friend. Nice, she told me, but really not quick. What does she do now, I asked? She is a supervisor for the CRA, Mary said. That figured, I said.
I confess that I used the CRA tip line once myself.  Southern Ontario in the days before IKEA was dotted with cities and town with their own furniture factories.
 My grandfather, who had taken in my sisters and I as three orphans,  had laboured for peanuts in one such factory until 72 because there was no pension and not much chance to build any savings. He died three weeks after he could no longer work.
I found out that the owners of the factory had some income tax trouble and had Ron Collister, later a CBC personality, dig around in the CRA.  Turned out they had trouble, indeed, even involving the selling of church pews with the money deposited in a secret Buffalo account.
The Tely ran the story on page one. And I found out that revenge actually can be sweet.








Thursday, June 23, 2016

OHIP'S GALLING DRUG RULES


ALWAYS COMPLICATE THINGS

I have never taken more pills.
 It seems I get a new prescription every year.
Which makes me popular at Shoppers Drug Mart when I'm not bitching about a problem in reordering.
Take the latest example. I see I'm low on something called ezetimibe so I call in and reorder.  Two days later, I go through the normal hassle of trying to park near the Shoppers at Royal York and Bloor and Mary runs in to collect my order. They have nothing for me.
Return home and phone. This time the story changes to that I tried to reorder while I still had 10 pills and the government won't pay until you have less than that number.
Now Mary and I run into this all the time even with such a minor maintenance drug as ezetimibe which reduces the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the body and isn't to my knowledge a hot item in the drug world.
I have taken allopurinol for two decades to end vicious attacks of gout no matter how carefully I ate. Heaven help me if I try to get these pills before the government-appointed time. Yet allopurinol is  a drug that people take for years and isn't sold in dark doorways. How about enough to last three months.
I would like to know what OHIP bureaucrat is responsible for these arbitrary rules on when you can reorder minor drugs which are not on anyone's hit list of hallucinatory delights.
 I would drown them in pills and forms, or have their parents lecture them on getting a reasonable number of minor pills on each visit.
Now once a year, if you talk nicely about Barry Phillips, the veteran pharmacist who presides genially over his Drug Mart empire in central Etobicoke, and offer up your first born into servitude along with a second mortgage on the house, you can play snowbird and wing off to Florida or some warmer clime with even, heavens, a couple of months of pills.
But reordering drugs goes on month after month after month, not just once a year, and there are many people trying to grab a little order out of the chaos by putting together the daily allotment of pills two weeks in advance.
There are new people surfing above 65 every week,  and while all of us appreciate the drug help we get grudgingly from OHIP, we really do want to reduce the number of trips to even such a fine establishment as the Shoppers Drug Mart in the heart of the Kingsway.
After all, waiting cabs cluster around the Royal York subway station like bees around the hive, and there is a steady flow of  traffic behind the drug store on the one-way lane - with dumb drivers regularly going the wrong way.
We will have to move the Tim Hortons to get any help from the cops.
I doubt if the drug scene is going to explode if drug stores are allowed to renew a prescription while, heavens, the patients actually has more than 10, but our medicrats say they know best. That is one reason why our medical spending takes more than 40% of the provincial budget because of all the extra steps they insist are necessary.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

THE LEGENDARY HOWARD CABLE


TRULY A  MUSICAL ICON

I have interviewed and even yarned with many famous people. Then when they move on to solve the great mystery of whether there is a heaven or a hell, I watch this flutter of journalists who try to create out of one interview or a few hours some relationship with the departed.
Why can't they just settle for an account of how these leaders in their fields impacted our country or the world?
Then there are those forgotten by time. Even if they die in the saddle, so to speak, they may have influenced or entertained hundreds of thousands,  but now they pass from the stage with only a few trumpeting farewell.
I can tell the story of how Nelson Mandela nicknamed me the Canadian who hit so hard, or when Yitzhak Rabin warned me about radicals in the cabinet room just weeks before one assassinated him, but they were just flashes of encounters over the decades and mean only that I did get to talk to a lot of people who were world greats.
And then there were the jerks who acted like they were.
Actually my theory based on many encounters with obese egos is the greater the person, the easier  to talk to. It's the petty chiefs, the bureaucrats on the make, who are more trouble than they're worth.
But today I talk about those durable performers with fame rooted in longevity. They created for us over the decades until their names became embedded  into the corners of your memory. You may not have thought about them for years but they were really around from childhood until the anecdotage when most have forgotten and the young just don't give a damn.
Like Howard Cable.
There was just one encounter. I was CNE president and had urged our reluctant entertainment staff to have a military tattoo. There was a reception first for the military brass, because it was important to get the co-operation of our defence department or the Ex would have had to pay for every last drummer.
And there I was introduced to an old man by someone who really didn't know who Cable was and suspected that I would be clueless too.
I pumped Cable's hand and said to me he was the most famous name in music. The legend of military music and Broadway shows and revues!
I had grown up listening to his music on the CBC when going to live radio broadcasts were still the in thing to do.  I would do the TTC trek to a studio just off Yonge where Wayne and Shuster performed on Thursday nights with Herb May booming into the mike. There was the Happy Gang every noon, with an audience generally of Ryerson students and a few tourists. But whatever the location and the time, most of the music I was hearing had been touched by the baton and pen of Howard Cable.
 And of course during the Ex the Grandstand show, with music supervised by Cable, was one of the biggest acts in Canada. Naturally he directed onsite entertainment when Expo 67 was the biggest and most innovative show in the world.
He was a stalwart of early TV in New York and in Toronto. He arranged and directed the music for countless National Film Board productions when the NFB was considered a national treasure. Many a Canadian revue or musical featured his music. High school music teachers used his scores.
He was so prolific and so great that of course he was still composing at 95 when he died this March on a day he was to scheduled to attend a recording session.
I chatted with him that one night about how he had grown up in Parkdale and loved to walk down to the Palais Royale to listen live to the Dorseys and one of the Herds of Woody, music that you hear now every Sunday night on 91.1, our jazz station which is smart enough to have Glen Woodcock as host of his Big Band show for 40 years.
Why Woodcock, the Toronto Sun's retired associate editor, almost goes back to the horse and buggy days and cream floating on top of delivered milk about which Howard Cable used to reminisce so often.
So I met Cable only once, but I listened to him for decades. And so did you if you have survived a few decades or so, even if you now forget his name.




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

THE CENSUS WAS A STUPID ISSUE


A GREAT SOURCE OF INFORMATION FOR ALL

I have never understood the fuss over the census.
It is a valuable source of information for me as a journalist. I didn't feel it violated any confidentiality deal with the government which routinely shreds our publicity.anyway.
I was a census taker back when they went door to door, and rather enjoyed it.
As a compassionate conservative, or so I like to think, I thought the Conservative objections to the census were dumb.
And, finally, I actually changed a major question on the census and was credited as a newspaper editor for doing so by StatsCan after I threatened through Sun editorials and my columns to drag them through every court in the land, including the one of public opinion.
As a result of my lobbying, backed by Doug Fisher, the respected dean of the Ottawa press gallery, we are allowed to call ourselves Canadians and not forced under threat of fine to declare that we came from English and Dutch stock when our grandparents had left there nearly a century ago.
I found out as a young reporter trying to save enough for my marriage that the bureaucracy would be ecstatic to use me in controversial areas like Rosedale where residents were used to complaining about everything. They figured I could handle the hassles diplomatically and reduce the number of beefs to important pols.
It was a unique experience. I remember the Toronto General nurse who had to answer the questions of the long form which she almost did while standing nude before me.
Believe me, I was not about to torpedo my wedding which was five weeks away by taking the bait if that was what it was other than a demonstration of how much she hated men.
I sensed trouble even before she refused to answer the income question. Later I phoned a supervisor at the hospital and got the general salary range for such a nurse.
Only a few doors away from that lovely home turned cramped boarding house, the long form had to be answered by Mrs. Walter Gordon, a legendary finance minister worshipped by the Toronto Star.
There were no problems because I had told her that my brother-in-law lived across from their country estate and that her husband had been thrilled to his Canadian soul to have the local farmer run a trapping line on his property.
As I recall, the top income category was around $34,000, a considerable sum to me because I was making less than $5,200 annually.
But Mrs. Gordon waved a gentle hand in the air when I asked if her husband made more than $34,000 a year and said "I should hope so."
Rosedale was filled with such contradictions -  noted politicians and bank presidents and architects in their huge homes vs. roomers in converted mansions just scraping by.
I found as a columnist that the census figures for a riding were invaluable in figuring out election results. And there were surprises hidden everywhere like mines in a turnip field.
I found in my riding of Etobicoke Lakeshore a half century ago that there were a number of homes not connected to sewers, that there were homes without furnaces, that a WASP looking street actually was occupied with first generation immigrants.
So the usefulness of the census in predicting the appeal of various political pitches made me a great supporter, except for that insistence that it was against the law to count yourself Canadian when it came to ethnic origin.
Since my father had come here in 1879 and my mother in 1905, I felt myself Canadian and not Dutch-English and resented the bureaucracy's insistence that Canadian was not a valid ethnicity even though Canada was older than half the countries of the world.
My father in the 1930s as a Tory power in Toronto introduced a young lawyer named John Diefenbaker to a former mayor and predicted Dief really would be Canada's PM.
I didn't much like this spitting quivering PM when I covered him but I thought he was wonderful for trying to pry the hyphen out of Canadianism.
To hell with French-Canadians and German-Canadians and even African-Canadians (which activists tried to use in the Maritimes and got shot down.) Wouldn't we have better relations with natives if we called them Canadians and not native Canadians?
When I got the letter about filling out the short form information on the Interenet,  I responded immediately to discover that once again the feds screwed up a simple task.
All the info I seemed to get when I went to the site defended the process and asked for census workers. But I perservered, and I hope the info is used properly, and not just by ethnic groups claiming that their minority needs more money to celebrate its roots.
Dief the Chief was right. The sooner people identify and act like Canadians instead of using our great country as a hidey hole from the storm before they move on, the better for them and us.






Thursday, May 5, 2016

HOSPITAL PARKING GHOULS


PARKING VULTURES SHOULD BE ASHAMED

The little car driven by the official ghoul handing out parking tickets circles endlessly like a bumblebee around a clutch of flowers.
He parks on sidewalks, up against hydrants, and on corners while he gouges the unfortunate motorists besides St. Joseph's Hospital who decided they couldn't afford the exorbitant parking garage costs and were trying their luck along the curb.
These were people limping to clinics with the help of relatives, even using walkers and wheelchairs, not people who could walk blocks in order to wait and wait and wait until a doctor sees them.
I was parked legally while Mary made a regular visit to a hospital outpatient clinic. I was in the car watching as the same ghoul circled endlessly, drawn to the honey pot of congested parking around the hospital, copying what real cops do when they set  their radar traps where they will be able to capture the motorist who doesn't realize the speed has just changed.
Officially, the Toronto parking enforcement officer is contributing to the "safety and security" of Torontonians. Which is a laugh! What these "officers" are doing is raising money for  councillors to waste by targeting the most vulnerable among us, those who through circumstance or health have to park longer or in a cramped area.
I have often watched the ghouls at work around St. Joes, one of the city's worst hospital, as I can testify to after two months of their ruinous care, and other hospitals.
This is not a defence of motorists who block hydrants or traffic or driveways. I understand that they are a problem. I seldom get tickets. But when I received a $60 ticket three minutes before the parking was legal a couple of years ago, I also understood the malevolent brutality of stupid enforcement. The constable I complained to agreed with me, not the jerk enforcer who infests the area around the Royal York subway station.
I have written columns or blogs about hospital parking charges, and about enforcement around hospitals. One blog was Mystery Rules From Fishing To Parking on Nov. 7, 2014. Another was Hospital Parking Robbery on Feb. 18, 2014. Then there was one way back on Dec. 3, 2011 because not much changes even though everyone from the Canadian Medical Association to medicrats at Queen's Park have agreed that high hospital parking fees and harassing parking policies around hospitals are a major problem in health care.
Councillors with their anti-car policies on everything from parking to signage have never understood that the TTC is not the better way for many hospital visits. Just try taking a bus to an appendectomy.
Patients cut short their visit to specialists. Relatives reduce visits to patients. The whole dismal issue casts a pall over the operation of the big hospitals which act like besieged castles when they should be oasis of calm care. Over all visits hangs the spectre of the ticking clock, the circling parking buzzards.
We have tolerated too much crap from our overpaid Toronto police force. Yes, I call it a force because it is not the "service" that it wants to be called when it takes a billion bucks out of the city treasury.
What we don't need from the top cops who talk about change for the better while stalling for the worse is a lot of nonsense where the ghouls at the bottom of their enforcement system deliberately target hospital areas because they know that there people desperate  to see the specialist about the pain in their gut are not always able to find parking where they don't have to obtain a second mortgage to finance.
Knock it off! Pretend the city has a heart and that the bureaucrats don't just pretend to help those to whom a parking ticket is another pain in their gut.

Friday, April 8, 2016

PANDERING TO CYCLISTS


HOW TO WASTE COSTLY ROADS

It was a neighbour driving me to a heart test in early morning who raised the subject of Bloor bike lanes, an issue so stupid I had shoved it to the back of my anger file.
We were zipping along Bloor from Royal York and Bloor to Toronto General, a trip that took only 20 minutes even though there were already a few cyclists screwing up a quarter of a block of traffic around each of them.
I said that Bloor was such a valuable traffic artery that I had written that at a minimum cyclists be banned during the morning and evening rusher.
But now we have Toronto council, that clutch and grab of politicians with  an anti-car majority, looking with approval on a Bloor bike lane from Shaw to Avenue.
That, of course, would be just the start. Bike zealots will be after Bloor and Danforth to have bike lanes from Mississauga to West Hill.
The Star ran a strange opinion piece on this because it confuses an ideal of useful comment by settling for just the pro and anti side of issues. This falls into the Equal Time For Hitler trap since such media practitioners are giving equal time and space to the good solution and then to the stupid or even the evil side.
There are several arguments that can be made in most issues, particularly in urban affairs. I hate to be logical in this case because there is nothing logical or particularly democratic about bike lanes when drivers and vehicles which pay considerable taxes to use roads are forced to share them with a mouthy minority - that is very mouthy and very small group - who freeload on the great majority with green arguments about healthy exercise and reducing congestion.
Ironically, the best way to reduce congestion is to reduce bike lanes or eliminate them.
The Star allowed the customary activists, one of them the executive director of Cycle Toronto, to write about the joys of turning this "main street" into a major accomplishment.
Wow, I thought. Nirvana is coming to Bloor.
Their main argument? "By making biking safer, the lane would encourage folks to leave the car at home and cycle more frequently to work or school. It would encourage exercise,  reduce congestion and improve the air...."
Well you get the idea. The usual argument from the usual suspects!
Let's break down who constitutes these "folks." To start with, their median age is 40.  If you wish to dive a little deeper into demographics, there are over five million Canadians over 65 and over six million Canadians under 14. That means almost a third of Canadians are definitely not into daily cycling along Bloor because of age or safety reasons. And just how many of the 67% in the 15 to 65 age group, such as the older women, would commute regularly by bike even if it was easier.
Now let's include Canadian weather which has been described as 10 months of winter and two months of bad skating.  Just a joke but let's settle for half the year when cycling isn't that great.
Now let's include the number of hours when the dark doesn't make many of us comfortable when we bike.
That shrinks the number of people who would use a Bloor bike lane to a tiny fraction of the vast numbers who will be inconvenienced by them.
No wonder that StatsCan found in the last survey of commuting in 2011 that a minuscule 1.3% biked to work. Yet the zealots would argue that if there were more bike lanes, that figure would rise, maybe even to the 5.7% who walked to work.
 Remember that these figures are based on urban living in cities and towns where it is 99.9 %  easier to bike or walk to work.
Obviously the reality because of the traffic hell that is downtown Toronto is that the city should be concentrating instead on improving traffic for the TTC and other vehicles.
 Any move to take more of the expensive asphalt and give it only to a few fitter cyclists who don't have to cart goods or children or the aged is so silly, in the future they will look back at us and laugh.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

HYDRO ONE CHEATING


THE CON OF THOSE 'STUPID' SMART METERS

Got a delayed Christmas "gift" the other day from Hydro One, the fast-buck sellers of electricity in a captive province.
The latest bills arrive for my cottage on a lovely point in the Trent River south of Havelock,  and for my very modest "bunkie" which is on the small neighbouring lot which used to be owned by an old drinker until it was bought in self-defence by the previous owners.
The bills announced that my meters had been "read"  on Dec. 25, 2015, and covered the period until March 25 this year. I relaxed when I glanced at that because I haven't stepped on the properties since last November.
Except the bills were $111.41 for each property.  Wow. Hydro One has increased even its gouging.
Hydro One was in the news the same day because the province has sold another 15% of it into the stock market, five months after the first bit was sold for $20.50.
The current price is just over $23.50, meaning it has been doing better than a lot of stocks on the TSE. My broker recommended I buy it, and he hasn't been recommending stocks, but I said no because Hydro One is a notorious opaque outfit which uses cheating meters and has been criticized harshly by everyone from the former premier to the former ombudsman.
Gather the last stock offering hasn't been snapped up which is understandable since buying Hydro One is a little like buying a ticket to a lunch with skunks at the local dump.
I was taught long ago that you didn't buy stocks in  companies that you and many people didn't like which have been criticized for inappropriate treatment of their customers.
There has been a distrust of Hydro since the 1940s, particularly by farmers enraged by the cost of poles down their lanes. As a political reporter, I quickly learned that the various elements of Hydro were considered fat and wasteful and difficult.
I have written many columns and blogs about Hydro One's glaring contempt for its customers - and I throw in the Toronto municipal power outfit which screws up most of the outages.
At least last year I got value for my $1,428.24 that I paid in the city for my power.  The comparison with my cottage bills is laughable since they totalled $1,152.73 for me being there several days most weeks for six months. The bill for the bunkie was $340.42 even though it was used only 10 nights at most.
In a  blog titled Blowing Ontario's Fuse on March 18, 2014, I complained about a standby fee in winter for each cottage which was then $75.28. Now it has gone up $36.14.
As a columnist and editor for many years, I am familiar with the squabbling over meters since deadbeats are notorious for cheating on utility bills if they bother to pay them at all.
But their inaccuracy has become legendary.
I have kept every Hydro bill for the cottages because they are always suspect. There was the year when my bill for the bunkie was three times the bill for the main cottage when the bunkie hadn't been used except for one weekend.
There have always been talk about provincial probing of the faulty meters and dishonourable conduct of Hydro  One but in the end nothing ever seems to happen.
No wonder there is frustration out on the concession roads and in Cottage Country which produces bitter lawn signs about cheating meters. I have written about the two women whose sign grumbled about not even getting dinner before they were screwed by Hydro One.
It is bizarre that some employees at Hydro One are so dumb that they pretend they have read my meters on the holiest holiday in the year. I suppose that it's some computer doing it, or trying to do it, but I didn't bother to try to find  out because dealing with electric utilities in this country is like extracting potable water out of a swamp.
Since it seems rather obvious judging from past behaviour that neither the Liberal government nor Hydro One are about to soften these charges when Hydro isn't even being used for months, I will have to stop this wastage of hundreds of dollars.
The simplest move is to take the power out of the bunkie. Since 90% of the activity from people staying there revolves around the main cottage, why give Hydro $340.42 a year for some night use? As someone who lived on a farm where there was no power, lamps and candles are not exotic to me.
Some readers will wonder why I don't just run all the power through one meter. Except the red tape and expense when you want to do that is quite high. When I did a major improvement to the main cottage, the very competent contractor ended up doing the wiring himself because the electrician just didn't show up after quoting a figure that shocked everyone but the contractor's brother who had just paid a ransom for wiring his new home.
And they were local, not city folk who are "taken" too often in Cottage Country.
 Guess that electrician was trained by Hydro One!
Too bad the inept Grits at Queen's Park haven't installed a circuit breaker in their dealings with the pygmies that now look after the electricity in this province which was built on the back of efficient and inexpensive generation from water dams that was famous throughout the rest of North America.