Saturday, January 23, 2016

TRUDEAU WOMEN AS SONGBIRDS


CAN'T THEY JUST SING KUMBAYA

When the wife of the prime minister burst into off-key song and startled a couple of hundred people the other day, I thought here we go again.
I have been through this before with the Trudeau women.
Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau appears to be prettier than her voice, and I am glad she brings some youthful exuberance to the scene, although the wife of the last PM was certainly an interesting biker.
But it's pretty clear from all the listeners that she can't sing and the verse she composed "during a difficult time of my life" isn't destined for the Hit Parade.
Just like her mother-in-law Margaret Sinclair Trudeau when she pulled the same stunt on more important occasions.
I never realized back as a kid reporter that I was destined to have some really different experiences with the Sinclairs over the decades.
It started with the patriarch, Jimmy, the fisheries minister in the 1950s and rated as a very nice very clever politician.
He came to the Yukon for the 1957 federal election which was a really big deal since no cabinet minister had ever campaigned in the territories. He sure impressed me as the editor of the only newspaper there, the Whitehorse Star.
We flew in a bush plane to Dawson City. During all the downtime in northern flights, there is a lot of yarning and digging and kidding. It emerged that Sinclair had been blessed with five daughters. The other five of us, all men, commiserated.
On the return flight, we ran into a blizzard and made two forced landings with wheels on the rotten ice of Lake Labarge. Finally we walked off, with me tolting Sinclair's luggage since he had broken his back in Russia when a speaker's platform collapsed. So I was the only one to fall through, which drew much rye-reinforced merriment because it was only five feet deep.
We walked three miles or so through thick muck to the Alaska Highway and were collected by a car whose driver figured out where we were despite our static-confused radio messages.
Sinclair spoke that night and flew out via TCA. And my story made the front page of every newspaper in the country, for the grand sum from the CP wire service of $15. How could it miss? It was the last week of May and we were flying from fabled Dawson City among the highest peaks in the Americas when we were forced down by a howling snow storm on the lake made legendary by Robert W. Service. Only the bush pilot's skill saved us, since the ice broke up only a few days later.
This thrilling experience certainly cemented Sinclair's name in my memory. When the whispers turned out to be true, that Peter Trudeau lusted after an 18-year-old who he first saw on a Tahitian beach and pursued even though he was 30 years older, I needed no backgrounding on that family of the nice minister with the five attractive daughters.
In the final days of the Toronto Telegram, we were presented through a strange source with a wonderful erotic picture of what was said to be Margaret in a bathing suit when Peter first saw her as the justice minister.
I think it would have cost me $600 to run it on Page 1 of the Saturday paper that I supervised as the assistant managing editor. Not a difficult sum, but the trouble was that it sure looked like Margaret but only the photographer knew for sure. Our Ottawa bureau were no help.
It was a wonderful erotic picture, almost in the same league as the famous Marilyn Monroe nude calendar. Every man, and some women, who I consulted certainly took their time with the examination.
It never did run in the Tely or anywhere else since my bosses and I were preoccupied with the agonies of the death of the Tely and the birth of the Sun. I wasn't about to go into history as the guy who got sued by the PM for running a lascivious picture of his wife in the second largest circulation issue in Canada.
I always intended to ask Margaret but when the opportunity presented itself, we were too busy yelling assorted swear words at each other in the lobby of a Caracas hotel. In my defence, I emphasize that she started it. (I have touched on this many times, including in a blog on Dec. 27, 2014, headlined Castro, Trudeau and Bartleman.)
After the mother of our sunny PM tangled with me because I rebuked her for profanely chastising her husband's private secretary in front of dozens of American tourists, I made her so mad that she stormed into the state dinner and refused to participate in the receiving line.
There were a number of bizarre incidents on that trip in 1976 involving Margaret but the media left her alone because she had just had her third son and it was known that she was having mental problems.
The self-imposed gag started to slip more and more because Margaret was slipping, ahem, more and more. (On a  visit to a ruin in Mexico, she gave her baby to a startled Canadian backpacker and then wandered away. )
Two days later on the flight home to Ottawa, Margaret invaded the press section of the Canadian plane and started chatting with me as if we had never cursed each other. I said we had been told that she had made up a song in honour of the wife of the Mexican president and had sung it from the head table of the formal state dinner. I said we had been told she had just done the same in Venezuela to the amazement of all.
When she confessed she had, I asked her to sing the songs to us. She waited until all the tape recorders were primed and then sang them into the little thicket of microphones.
A day later, she claimed she had been betrayed, that I had promised that it was all off the record. And I was on TV saying I had never said that and wasn't the whole point that the wife of our prime minister shouldn't be singing her little made-up songs a cappella at huge formal state dinners as if she was back in kindergarten as a precocious brat.
It's a short slip from enchanting to embarrassing.
I had several more encounters with her but no more  over her singing her little compositions.  There are many famous stories of her escapades but they involve the absence of panties and dubious escorts and funny cigarettes.
And then she settled down and emerged as a respected champion for those who like her suffer from bipolar disorder.
I never did feel guilty that I was one of those who ended the blackout on Margaret's exuberant behaviour because the normal dilemma for the media is shredded when the person is persistent as well as being famous.
 Besides, it's hard to call Canadians too careful and stuffy when the number one wife is warbling like a sick robin. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

LESSONS TO HELP SYRIAN REFUGEES


TAKES MORE TIME THAN MONEY

Helping refugees is helping yourself.
After the wonderful, frustrating, rewarding and irritating year (at least) that it will consume out of your life, you will be a better person. You will even think so.
They say it will be good for the country. Canada can look after itself. Not even the Liberals can ruin it. Do it because it will be good for you as you watch the children blossom and the adults rid themselves of the horrors.
Read on, dear reader, and think of helping a Syrian, or two or 43 of the millions from other ruined countries languishing in refugee camps.
Believe me, I know, as someone who has been there in the thirst and typhoid with turds floating in the ditches, talking to the hopeless with fever flushing their faces, that they have a miserable life now.
It is impossible for the media to exaggerate the anguish.
And if you do help a refugee, you will warm yourself later with your experiences about the laughs and tears and the clashes with bureaucracy as you help the hopeless to be born again in your country.
You will also know that in the wee hours when you can't sleep, you can content yourself that at least you have done one thing right in your life even if the family and neighbours and boss aren't thrilled with your disposition.
I got the idea on Canada's birthday in 1979 to detail how Canadians were helping the Boat People.  As a result, there are 43 (now more) Canadians in this country who survived fate's gauntlet.
I told the story in the Suns as readers in Toronto and Edmonton sent me $300,000 to  help with my new families, as I introduced them to Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Leafs and toilets and elevators and escalators and snow.
There is a column in blog.johndowning.ca on Feb. 24, 2013, headlined Basking In Boat People's Sunshine, which tells how well it all turned out.
 It didn't cost you or any taxpayer a cent. It cost me a lot of time, and bought a lot of joy. A great trade!
The reaction of Canadians to the plight of the Boat People drowning in the South China Sea was greater on a per person basis than any other country in the world.
Hell, the 43 that I sponsored into Canada was a larger total than the combined intake for several countries. Japan, of course, but also, and I do love the Aussies, Australia.
Ironically, the various aid agencies, churches and politicians were so shocked at what a right-wing tabloid was doing, many surveys didn't bother to mention the Sun. Ironically, over there I was a hero, interviewed at length in Hong Kong, which had tens of thousands of Boat People stuck in old army camps.
So let's compare the great refugee issues of the last three decades.
The world mourned the picture of the drowned tot, face down on the beach in 2015. It galvanized action, and won more acceptance for the armies of need as they marched and crawled and paddled into an uncertain Europe.
In 1979 there was no matching outpouring of sorrow when a number of babies washed up on a Malaysian beach after a Malaysian gunboat towed a rickety junk in a zig zag course until it rolled over and more than 130 drowned.
They didn't even bother to bury the bodies.
The Malays, terrified at all the Vietnamese of Chinese heritage floating on their flimsy craft to the coast around Kuala Terenggau, left the bodies for a few days with the occasional wave washing over them as a warning to the Boat People to flee somewhere else and not upset the ethnic mix of their country.
The two largest paper then in this country, the Star on Page 1 and my columns after I visited the beach near a sleazy motel, told of the murders but our coverage disappeared into nothingness like an old boat overflowing with refugees in the sea.
 I found that the captain of the capsized boat was living in Ottawa and could easily testify in North America against the tragedy caused by the supposedly civilized Malaysians.
But nothing ever happened, and the UN, of course, turned its face away because there was no opportunity to attack the Jews or whitey.
I suppose it was the same gunboat that took a run at the flimsy fishing boat that took us for three hours over the dangerous South China Sea to a teeming refugee camp of disease and starvation.
The gunboat roared up, big gun uncovered, while the impeccably dressed officer yelled at us with a phoney English accent, demanding to know where we were going, and for Sun photographer Norm Betts to stop taking pictures. Betts just took more. And I yelled back he knew damn well who we were since Hamilton told me that the boat had been chartered by the UN for precisely this purpose and the Malaysians knew that.
Then they wouldn't let Betts and me into the camp until I cursed and bluffed and waved a document from "their minister" which was really one of Hamilton's expense account forms.
Ah yes, that awful lumber city with its lovely necklaces of snowy beaches and people who spit in our face because we were there to help the enemy.
You certainly deal with many officials when you try to bring 43 refugees here. Almost all were wonderful and adroit with the red tape. I found all the immigration officials and the top Tory and Liberal politicians involved to be great, although there were a couple of jerk civil servants.
After all, I really didn't have any routine documentation, from passports and birth certificates to medical and school records, yet I enrolled nine children in Bowmore Rd. Public School without a problem. The principal, once a German immigrant, couldn't have been better, and the school secretary, always the key, was a sweetheart even before I found out my father had delivered her as the family doctor.
 I enrolled all the adults in ATL courses and said if they didn't stay I wouldn't pay them a small weekly allowance.  I found a job in the kitchen of a tough city hostel for one mother and she stayed for two decades.
There were glitches. A city building inspector said I had crammed too many people into an old group home that I had rented. I went to the mayor for an exemption  but then Doug Creighton, the Sun founder and loyal supporter of the adventure, said it would be safer to give in rather than game the situation and I found another house to rent which reduced the money I had to help them.
Creighton also came to my rescue when a teenager,  now an architect who chose his English name from a dictionary with my approval, got into a scuffle on a rink with a black gang. He was charged with assault. I went to court armed with a U of T law professor and the Crown, who had been one of his students, ran for the hills.
That was the nearest any of our Boat People got to trouble, and he wasn't guilty, not when he was taking on four bullies.
I had hired for a modest sum a former South Vietnamese military pilot to help me with my families and six young men, and he was worth his weight in gold just as an interpreter before his gentle advice.  Such assistance is valuable when no one spoke English.
And now my rules for having a lot of fun doing one of the nicest things you're ever going to do.
Or maybe just surviving when things get difficult.
Expect all the people who promised to help to melt away like the snow in May.
Mary and I started flush with assistance. Even our directors' wives helped us wash the walls of the first group home I rented, though one did present me with the parking tag she got.  I finished 15 months later without even my friends asking how it was going.
Expect a few refugees to be a bit calculating about just how much they can get out of you. They just don't know our resources and incomes.  Don't think badly of that. They're just acting like some of your neighbours.
I had one refugee say that surely a big newspaper could give "us"  more money. He descended on me unannounced as I was filling in for Editor Worthington in his office awash with material for fiery editorials. I remembered that this guy had been a government truck driver in Hanoi, meaning he had to have been a Communist to get such a job, and let loose the hounds of hell of rhetoric that Worthington always turned on the damn commies.
He never asked again.
Don't expect your refugees to think that everything you do for them is wonderful, and that all your customs should be their customs.
Make it plain, however, that you are a proud Canadian and like democracy and if the people you are helping regard Canada as a temporary hidey-hole from which they can launch their ancient grievances and prejudices and discrimination, maybe they should ship out.
I left my refugees alone for a week or so on a regular basis. Creighton got a little annoyed that I didn't write more about them, and I was tempted since I alternated then between five and six columns a week, but I wanted to give them some privacy.
Just because you are helping someone doesn't mean they have to be on display as social guinea pigs for everyone to marvel at how well they are doing on integration.
Expect some of the people around you to hate what you are doing. They will tell you there is already a shortage of jobs and resources for people born here.
Ignore them. When they curse you on the telephone, demonstrate that you have a larger vocabulary.
Or treat them like I did the guy at the gas station who demanded with crude belligerence when I was filling my car whether I was the asshole Downing who brought the @#$%^**%$ cows and shorties here. I asked him to open his pocket so I could pump some gas into his groin and then look for a match.
Nothing is quite as satisfactory as a stupid redneck response to a stupid redneck.  Made me feel wonderful! Just like those refugees did, every last one of them, except maybe that truck driver when he wanted more.






Tuesday, December 22, 2015

DEER ME, OUR WILDLIFE PROBLEMS?


 PROBLEMS WITH SKUNKS WHO AREN'T PEOPLE

We are besieged by wild life. It's an ironic mix of the good with the bad. One man's pet is another man's pest. A few examples!
 I was at a hospital Christmas party the other day - fortunately this time as a guest- when the hospital CEO showed me a picture of a large buck complete with a grand rack that was snoozing in her backyard. Nice!
Earlier I was reminding a friend that there had been a warning of a coyote in her mid-Etobicoke neighbourhood which was "harvesting" the population of cats, squirrels and other critters. Not so nice!
I live near the Mimico Creek which is the haunt of many skunks, fox and raccoons, not that they need a valley for a home when they can live around our houses.  I put out the little can of kitchen waste an hour or two before pickup because if I left it out by the road over night, the remnants would be spread far and wide.  The skunks dig up my gardens and lawns more than I do. Not so nice!
I noticed as I was closing my cottage on the Trent River, most of the time being spent wrapping trees in protective wire, that the beaver had already beaten me to an evergreen that I had planted several years ago near the little oak that it cut down last fall. Not so nice!
I was pleased as I cleaned the home gutters to note that the squirrel that keeps trying to chew its way into my eaves has given up the battle for now, thanks to the metal mesh that I've had to nail in great strips under the eavestroughs. Nice!
I have been busy trapping mice near my tiny wine cellar in the basement. The toll is now 11. No sign of rats, thankfully. I wonder if the Toronto Humane Society still stupidly returns critters to where they were live trapped. including Norway rats, which can gnaw through sewer pipe and just the sight of one can close a restaurant. Not so nice.
A big doe routinely walks calmly to the point at my cottage and then jumps in to swim across the river. Nice! I wonder if it is the deer that nibbles the tops of my shrubs in mid-winter. Not so nice!
But let's go back to the top.
I  won't tell you exactly where because you never know what ideas hunters get but that big deer in the CEO's yard has made its peaceful home in the Humber Valley south of Bloor St.  Now I've done a lot of walking and even canoeing in that area and I'm surprised that a big buck, complete with a harem of four or five does that occasionally gather around in admiration or obeisance, would find enough hidey holes there to escape man.
There are those who argue that there are more deer in southern Ontario now than there were before 1793 brought John Graves Simcoe. I do know that my late brother-in-law, Gord, got so annoyed at deer cutting up his crops with their sharp hooves that he bought a crossbow (the game warden might hear any shots) and dined on venison. Nice!
As for the marauding coyotes. I read in the International New York Times that the experts figure that at least 4,000 coyotes are living in Chicago but calls of complaints and sightings have eased because residents have got used to them. Besides, they're not aggressive, just going after dogs generally when they're not on a leash.
Of course coyotes are rather tame compared to what the Times writer had discovered in other countries. Like the 35 wild leopards living inside Mumbai that leave the people alone but dine on cats and dogs in the dark. Or the wolves living beside Rome's airport. The mountain lion in the Hollywood Hills that has its own Facebook page. The great white sharks frequently cruising Cape Cod beaches. A Florida photographer recently snapped a bobcat grabbing a shark out of the surf at Vero Beach.
We're lectured by the humane movement, which often make a good living from it, that it's because of urban sprawl that more wild animals now live around us. We've moved in on them, and they were here first. So leave them alone, the dizzy minded say.
That's a lot of nonsense. There are exceptions, of course. For example, in Mumbai, one of the world's most crowded cities has engulfed the national park where the leopards roam. But I doubt, for example, that the big buck would have lasted long in the 1800s as muddy York grew into Toronto.
I wonder if that lodge of beaver that have cost me and my cottage neighbours so many mature trees would have lasted long a century or so ago in a  country that was built on the back of beaver.
A woman and two dogs were injured  by a sow bear within a few kilometres of my cottage. I think that when nearby Havelock was still a bustling railway and mining centre just a few decades ago that the bear would not have lasted long that close to farms and a town.
I love to watch wild life, like the muskrat that lives under my dock, the martins that live in the point, the pileated woodpeckers that chisel chunks out of my tree, that deer that comes for a swim. I leave them alone and they almost ignore me. But then they didn't eat the old outhouse like the porcupine which I introduced to a prickly hell.
I listen to the politically correct division of the humane activists - but never to the crazies of PETA - and wonder why they put animals ahead of people, so much so that this city is not quite as pleasant as it could be because craven  politicians refuse to allow tougher measures against animals  in the wrong place munching our woodwork.
I remember one rabies epidemic where I produced a story a day on the latest human and animal patient/victims. The treatment then was a lot more painful. One day on the way to the TTC about 6 a.m., a squirrel kept running at me and snapping at my ankles. I kept jumping in the air assuming it was rabid. After several passes, I ran half a block to the streetcar, pausing only to bring up in the gutter. On my arrival, the Tely editor said that it appeared the rabies epidemic was easing. Oh no, it isn't, I said, but didn't include my attack in the day's collection.
We now have another rabies epidemic and other great blights -  the flying manure spreaders known as Canada geese, the raccoons which overturn our garbage cans as fast as they can rip apart the bird feeders,  the fox that take up light housekeeping in the traps at the better golf courses. the coyote that are now the size of wolves that walk down the street like a young hooker.
Not so nice! If they are really more important than me, let them start paying taxes!




Saturday, December 12, 2015

STICKING UP FOR CARS IN TORONTO


WHY LET ACTIVISTS STRANGLE OUR ROAD

I still remember my shock reading a Toronto Life article about the "new suburbanites" because "the reasons to abandon the overcrowded, overpriced, not-so-livable city are beginning to outnumber the reasons to stay. More and more of us are tempted by the 905 and beyond. Screw Jane Jacobs. We're out of here."
Readers who dislike this theme would point out that it appeared in September, 2011, and the great rush to buy condos downtown since then shows that many love living close to what is important to them and so put up with the costs and hassles.
What surprised me about the article was not that it made so much sense but that it appeared in Toronto Life, that trendy journal that celebrates a life style as far removed from the mortgaged middle class as Gatsby from a street beggar. It was a good read!
Thanks to Toronto Life and the Toronto Star and urban activists who worship at the shrine of the foot power of pedestrians and cyclists, Jacobs became such a Toronto god that it was ignored that most of us allowed the choice would not live on a street that she ruled was ideal.
I suspect her books were idolized by the intelligentsia but never really read except in urban planning courses where the profs put her on a pedestal because by their standards she was a safe rebel. I once made these points about the Jacobites to a MIT professor writing a book on her who interviewed me when he was here for a conference.
The problem with Jacobs and John Sewell and all the other guerrilla fighters against urban sprawl is that they ignore the middle ground between the Yonge St. condo and the two-storey four-bedroom  attached garage home on a 50 by 120 foot lot on a wide street.
I live near Royal York and Bloor in a 1 1/2 storey home on a smaller lot and a narrow street with no sidewalks. It's a great area, in fact so great that there is pressure to build condos, replace smaller homes and increase density. Like all such areas, in-fill is a fact of life.
I have the Royal York subway station for support when I have to go downtown and don't want to drive because of the congestion created by ineptitude by politicians, officials and police.
And the congestion isn't going away, not with the current thinking of politicians and planners because they still think it's fashionable to hobble vehicles.
Here's a typical paragraph in a Star column. "The Toronto the car built is giving way to another city, one that's dense, high-rise and compact. It is a city where bicycles make as much sense as cars, and in which pedestrians are demanding freedom of the streets."
That was so dumb and offensive and lacking in reality that it prompted another Star columnist, Norris McDonald, to point out that the car's a necessity for many commuters and there is a life for many outside the "tiny piece" of the city from Bloor to the lake and Bathurst to the Don.
Since the Star isn't a great place to work if you don't like their missionary approach to issues, and writers are not encouraged to attack colleagues who are their evangelist columnists, McDonald summarized by saying merely "a gross misunderstanding of current realities" was demonstrated.
I would say it was bullshit!
City Hall and Queen's Park have been terrified that they may be made to be seen as caring about the car. Yet this city continues to have to move four out of every five commuters by car. They have been so defensive about helping the car that it ruined Black Creek Drive, which was supposed to be, heavens, an expressway. They also let the Gardiner deteriorate when it would have been so easy to repair and improve its looks.
I think it is wonderful that a nice and impressive couple are giving $25 million to prettify under the Gardiner. Yet the idea of dressing up the Gardiner is an old one, proposed to me a couple of decades ago by Charles Templeton, a brilliant inventor and communicator, who suggested that if people hated its looks so much, cover it where it crossed major roads with the reflective cladding used on buildings. Nice plantings along major roads have been routine in countries like China for years.
Writers like Christopher Hume denigrate the "ugly scar"of the Gardiner and ignore that many more people get a great view of the city from driving along the workhorse road than are bothered by the view on the ground.
Critics like Hume and planners have never figured out that more people will enjoy the view if  a subway line goes through a valley than ever hiked through the same valley.
I just love this stupidity that bicycles "make as much sense as cars." The space consumed by bike lanes and the interference of the cyclists with the traffic around them is a contributor to traffic congestion and all cyclists should be banned from major streets from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The lame answer is road tolls to the latest burst of stories that Toronto has the worst traffic of any Canadian city, or even Hades for that matter. We've known that for years, as we've burned while our politicians fiddled.
You know those funny plays where women withhold sex in order to achieve some victory. How about if everyone outside the subsidized burghers of downtown not drive downtown for two weeks.
First, the TTC would stagger to a stop because it just wouldn't be able to handle the crowds.
Second, the provincial and federal governments would have a huge increase in their deficits because of the loss of gasoline taxes.
Third, all the stores and offices downtown would be crippled
Fourth, it would prompt many more to work from their homes or encourage the boss not to just think about moving outside the city, like all the other head offices.
When people look back from 50 years in the future to our era, they will be baffled as why we so interfered with the vehicles that deliver all our goods, and the cars that transport four times the daily crowd on the TTC, and think we really were a primitive people.
And we were rather stupid too. Transit riders are hurt by congestion too. The smartest investment in transit is improving the flow of traffic for everyone instead of politicians cutting off their economic nose to spite the angry faces of the driver. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

OHIP: LONG WAIT FOR WONDERS


TREATING PENSIONERS LIKE PATSIES

The joke among snowbirds at the first flocking in Florida, or with friends gathering for the first eggnogging, is that you are only allowed to talk about your health for the first 15 minutes.
During a lifetime of reasonable health, if you don't count gout and some screwy wiring in my heart, I used to look on such accounting of operations with rum-and-coke indulgence.
Then on a trip home from God's waiting room in Florida, I drove into what I called in a lengthy Sun series, hospital hell.
Three months in four hospitals, punctuated with trips in ambulances, including an air ambulance home. I lost the ability to stand or walk or joke about health. Then a year later, two operations a day apart in two more hospitals.
After a career which included medical reporting, important jobs and lengthy service on a hospital board, I ended up as just another file number stuck on me on a gurney lost somewhere in a hospital corridor.
And this bothered more than just me and the family. Some insiders too!
As Todd Penner, a noted surgeon at Western and prof at U of T,  said a year later when he wandered around in my innards for more than two hours, much longer than expected, if a connected guy like me is gamed by the system, what hope is there for Joe Canuck who doesn't even have a family doctor.  He will get screwed routinely by the system.
After decades of journalism, you do acquire certain access. I didn't infuriate everyone I wrote about. So after my hospital hell, I could vent. I talked to the health minister twice about painful glitches. I suggested changes in the Sun. I could howl at the moon.
It had helped over the years that my family doctor and friend, Bernie Gosevitz, has clout. The proof of that came when 12 hours after he diagnosed atrial fibrillation, a wonderful and famous cardiologist was checking me out.
It almost made up for the endless delays and months when specialists were too busy to see me.
I won't let anyone forget those horrible two month in St. Joseph's, where the staff were too few and too tiny to handle anyone over six feet and 200 pounds. And some were lazy, hiding from patients.
So the three bed sore ulcers around my tail bone were so enormous and deep that afterwards community care access nurses (CCAC) came 128 times to the house for treatment and I spent almost a year tethered to an air  pump machine which was a helluva less fun to sleep with than my wife.
I survived, even when the travel insurance company tried to renege on $85,000 in American health costs and I had to use every gambit in journalism, including flaunting my doctors and their titles in health organizations and at U of T, to scare the hell out of their doctors.
Now I've just used up my 15 minutes to talk about my health.
Except...
I just took Mary to three medical appointments in one week where she always waited at least two hours past the appointment time.
I finally got an appointment with a specialist six months after it was requested. I showed up early because I had another medical appointment in 2 1/2 hours. Didn't work. Three hours later, after I bugged technicians, I made it in. He was nice enough to sort of apologize. I replied that I was now too late for the next specialist and added sarcastically "you take out cataracts but she takes out hearts."
Hope he forgets that before he operates, but then that won't be for another six months.
I have defended OHIP and Canadian medicare in some heavy-duty confrontations with some major Americans - once with one of the original seven astronauts - and I will continue to do so. It is incredibly satisfying that you can no longer be ruined by hospital bills, that everyone, eventually, gets cared for.
But there are so many things that could be fixed to make it all run better, including penalizing financially any doctor or hospital clinic who keeps a patient waiting more than two hours without a  good excuse that they would have to document to the ministry.
There can be a competent and pleasant doctor at the end of the wait but the system in which they are the stars cares about their time and to hell with the rest of the human race.These long waits are agonizing and exhausting for many patients and seniors. It can ruin their week.
Eric Hoskins, the current health minister, seems to be an able doctor with good ideas. He says a major restructuring of community health is underway, which may kill the current CCAC system,  Good! I found the CCAC system on weekends to be unhelpful and on wonky auto pilot. The evidence was obvious that it was a cumbersome, expensive system speckled with careless waste.
I tried for months to find out what each visit cost so I could write about the large cost just because a careless hospital gave me bed ulcers.
A flood of figures poured over me. I was confused, which, I suspect was the idea.  I finally concluded that it was $70 for 30 minutes, which was ten minutes for me and the rest for the forms, but it could have been more.
It all adds up to the current $2.5 billion annually, for around 713,500 ''clients." Perhaps if they called them patients, they would be more patient with better care.
The Auditor General's latest report dealing with the inept stewardship of the province said patients are still waiting too long, some for up to a year, just to be assessed by the CCAC.  I remember my assessor. He showed up in the evening, five hours late, and interviewed me while I was sitting on the hospital toilet.
The AG, Bonnie Lysyk, pointed out that her watchdogs criticized this wait five years. ago.
Dipika Dameria, the associate minister for long-term care, reacted typically recently when the Star showed her pictures of gaping infected bedsores in nursing home "inmates." You know, she was saddened and troubled. It has to change, she said. The ministry will strengthen compliance, she said.
Sorry but I'm not impressed. I've heard that from countless ministers.  I remember stories like this when I was a kid reporter half-a-century ago. The name of the game for operators is to keep costs down as much as possible to make more money.
There always will be a few who will want to cheat and cut corners by reusing dubious sheets and not having enough staff etc. There has to be regular inspection to catch them and an easy way for families to blow the whistle on incompetent care.
Hey, I know what I'm talking about. If a modern downtown Toronto hospital can give me bedsores that were so deep that doctors marvelled at the depth, what hope is there for no ugly holes in patients in a cheating nursing home.
There have been horror stories abounding about this for years. I can testify as a long-time board member of the modern Runnymede Health Centre, which grew from a rehab/chronic care operation in an old school while health officials kept trying to shut us down.
The relatives of our patients were ecstatic about our care in long-term care, despite the humble surroundings, because they knew how grim and costly many alternatives were.
The auditor's report critized a host of issues in elderly care, including lengthy delays in investigation and inadequate follow up after complaints of violence or abuse.
 Let's not forget, Dr. Hoskins, that any review of Ontario health care must included the parking costs at Ontario hospitals. Even the Canadian Medical Association says medicare is being harmed by the high parking charges because patients cut short their visits to clinics and some families just can't afford to visit.
It isn't as important as hospitals not having enough nurses or other staff but to me the costs of parking on hospital grounds is almost as galling as the municipal parking enforcers who infest streets around hospitals and prey on the vulnerable - the patients and their families who never have a quick visit because doctors treat everyone's else time with contempt.
I know of a lawyer who after the doctor kept him waiting for three hours past the appointment time, billed him for three hours. We should raise a monument to him. It will be needed quite soon, I imagine, because the medicrats are not going to rush to save him from passing. His bitching could grow into reforms if it was allowed to spread.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

ILLEGAL CIGARETTES KILL TWICE


DANGEROUS SMOKE SIGNALS

The first time I heard this radio ad against illegal tobacco, I was driving through a suitable setting.
It was Alderville First Nation, where Highway 45 is lined with signs, often crudely lettered, about the cheap native cigarettes and tobacco products to be bought in all the outlets that form a deadly gauntlet.
The ad warned of an incredible fact, that is if you believe this province is law-abiding. One out of every three cigarettes sold in Ontario is illegal. And that is the foundation of the evil treasury that provides up to $75 million each year to fund, the ad says,  "the guns and drugs and gang violence we see on our streets every day."
Apparently only Panama has more illegal smokes than this province on this side of the Atlantic.
Drive from 401 into the Kawarthas and about 30 km. north of Coburg you find this Hades of cheap smokes. Just to the north is Roseneath, which features an antique carousel that I once enquired about buying for the Ex. But the main feature for everyone is bargains in smokes and gasoline.
 Only about one-third of the Mississauguas, around 325, live on the reserve at the east end of Rice Lake with the rest clustered along the highway. The strip attracts a lot of traffic because there are two service stations selling gas that is always at least a dime cheaper than in Toronto.  There used to be just one, which is cash only, but then the Esso outlet dropped its prices so it's one cent above its competitor.
 Unfortunately, the natives get it much cheaper than even that. They don't have to pay those government taxes, just like all the other tax breaks they get although there is a growing feeling that there should be a statute of limitation on making the victors pay eternally since that doesn't happen in most of the world.
The ads in the media, one featuring some acting about a gun death, are placed by something called the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco.  I really haven't dug into the outfits behind the coalition because I really don't care if it's cops, giant tobacco companies, governments and do-gooders because the cause is just.
Please don't get your knickers in a twist because I have had the temerity to mention native Canadians in connection with any crooked schemes to avoid taxes on tobacco.
I haven't sampled the tobacco wares of Alderville as to the prices, what taxes are charged or fiddled,  and the quality. But my friends who smoke certainly boast of the bargains there. And I assume there are a lot of people who keep mum about the real bargains to be had that slip under the government's tax radar because they don't want to screw up a good thing..
Unfortunately for the huge majority of natives who not only are not involved in this lucrative trade but hate those who are because the bad PR fallout hurts their causes, the evidence is overwhelming, from what Christie Blatchford unearthed in her great book about Caledon, and from what senior cops have told me, that much of the ugly civil disobedience by masked native activists  is supported financially by the underground factories that produce cartons for up to $20 when the legal cartons sell for nearly $90.
At those prices, I thank heaven that I was a non-driven smoker, so it wasn't that difficult to quit.  (Although I do miss my Brigham pipe and Cuban cigars  - but not Cohibas at the later prices) After all, apart from the cost, the evidence is iron-clad that smoking kills. And so, the ad says, do all the guns that gangs can buy because like the terrorists in Syria from oil, they have all the money they need from their black-market product.
I have no idea what proportion of the illegal cigarettes being sold around me come from native sources. One problem is that the Mounties and OPP are careful when talking about any of this because they just don't need the hassles from chiefs, politicians and the PC patrols.
 I have the wish, which I suspect will always be an illusion, that when I continue to drive Highway 45, which I do about 40 times a year, that those '"cheap smoke" signs will disappear in a year or two. (I also have another vain hope that those two service stations will no longer be pumping all that cheap gas for anyone who shows a native card. )
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimated a few years ago that up to a billion dollars annually is lost by federal and provincial jurisdictions by this avoidance of tobacco taxes.
Just imagine what our governments could do with that money. That also would be a billion that you and I wouldn't have to fork over in extra taxes. Of course in a Utopia, we wouldn't have to spend all those billions in health care looking after smokers.
This may be the only ad campaign I will support this year. In fact, I would welcome more of these ads, which really would be a first for me. And I suspect many Canadians agree, but not, of course, brazen smokers, and those quick to take offence who will say that this has nothing to do with any ethnic group.




Friday, November 13, 2015

DISABLED BUNGEE JUMPING


NOTHING DISABLED ABOUT MERCER SHOW

There is nothing I treasure more than a great line from a show or a book or a speech. And for years I've been wanting to ask where this one came from.
It was in 2009 that The Rick Mercer Report telecast a wonderful stomach-churning segment that had Mercer push Rick Hansen and his wheelchair into a gorge at Whistler.
As the Man in Motion bounced up and down at the end of the bungee chord, he shouted from far below: "I can't feel my legs."
Surely all of Canada guffawed because all of Canada knows that Hansen can't feel his legs because he's been a paraplegic since that pickup truck accident nearly 50 years ago.
Hansen has been a member of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame since it began in 1993. As a member of the selection committee, I recall there was no debate about his induction because of his stalwart work as an activist and example.
Just as there was only approval when Mercer was proposed for the Hall this year because he has done many stories about people with disabilities. "I just stumbled on this amazing group of people who happen to make great television."
I asked Mercer whether he suggested that gag line after the launch. Or did a CBC producer or writer for the show? Was it a standard Hansen gag to put people at ease. Turns out that
Newfoundlanders never push and tell.
Mercer claims not to be a social advocate, that he has no altruistic reasons as he searches for what he says must be entertaining for his "comedy" show. But his love and respect for Paralympic sport has been a gold mine of useful publicity to educate the public and to encourage those locked in that wheelchair that there can be life after the accident.
Obviously he has fashioned a close relationship with Hansen, demonstrated by a program late in 2015 when he went sturgeon fishing with him for another Mercer Report.
The Internet was alive after that televised bungee stunt with disabled youth who had renewed hope they could make their lives better.
There's nothing like creation of a risky real adventure to make the point better than any lecture that medical setbacks can be conquered. Mercer does it routinely and deserves the honour.
(I think too of my cardiologist, Dr. Heather Ross, who demonstrates that her heart transplant patients can have a great life afterwards when she and the retired Thunder Bay firefighter in whom she installed a new heart travelled in the hostile environment of the Poles.)
The other inductees couldn't have been more different. Lauren Barwick is a determined paraplegic equestrian who has won more medal at major games than any other Canadian athlete. Bernard Glickstein is a passionate personal injury lawyer whose work for his clients extends far beyond the law.
What buoyed the three recipients at the 22nd induction luncheon, and the largest crowd ever for the annual event, was the realization that, in the words of a patron, Governor General David Johnston,  the stigmas associated  with physical disabilities "are slowly being erased thanks to the dedication of those in the hall of fame."
The good new days!