Thursday, February 19, 2015

THE PROMOTION OF HAWGTOWN


T.O. DOES LOUSY JOB ON DEFENCE

The cottage potluck party is a pleasant affair. It also gives me an insight into life outside the bubble of Toronto where all the people live who either dislike the Big Smoke a trifle or hate it a lot.
My cottage neighbours gather in the dead of winter to exchange notes about how the cottages are surviving, to look at baby pictures of grandchildren, and to appreciate the joys of rum.
We don't go all the way to Burnt Point, now frozen above Healey Falls on the Trent River, but one of us has a lovely sprawling home half-way there, a beauty that is twice the size of my humble home in Etobicoke but is assessed at less and is taxed at more.
Which bugs the owner, a  C.A. who knows his way around numbers, and figures Torontonians are always whining about taxes when his municipality on the edge of the G.T.A. gets treated much worse at Queen's Park.
Which we discussed, loudly, over the fourth beer before the great food.
The potluck party is a grounding for me in life in Canada as seen through the eyes of some people who really don't follow current events. There is one couple who don't read newspapers or magazines or watch news or political shows on TV.  Talk to them about how awful it is that the Ontario voters keep ignoring the shenanigans and costly vote buying of the ruling Liberals and it might as well be  happening on an Australian island.
After half-a-century of working in the media and being submerged by what my colleagues are saying, I have often stubbed my toe on the fact that so many in this country really don't like Toronto. We are the piggies of Hawgtown.
There are two versions of how we got the insult. One is that we used to "hog" credit for everything that happened in Ontario, or Canada for that matter. The second is, that like Chicago, we slaughtered most of the pigs of the country before the stockyards of the Junction turned into plazas and super-box stores.
It was only a couple of decades ago, or so it seems, that the Junction was an area with pens and cattle and pigs and stink and sidings as far as the eye could see.
 Now it's gone but the name remains, and a dislike of the city by the rest of the country.
 The old joke is that hatred of Toronto was one of the unifying forces behind Confederation and is still keeping Canada united.
You would have thought there would be some mercy generated by the dismal Leafs, which were once called Canada's team, as if they had nothing to do with the city, but that's not about to happen, even if the old rivalry with Montreal died long ago.
It strikes me that when Mayor John Tory goes cap-in-hand to Ottawa, begging for more in his tax bowl, that he and the other 44 members of council are targeting politicians who really don't see any votes for them in helping Toronto.
Tory and the councillors have sung the song of need for so long, they don't realize that most of the people outside the Toronto bubble really don't know the words, or the facts.
And they don't care because they don't feel guilty.We must make them feel guilty.
I asked my cottage friend why I as a Toronto taxpayer should subsidize his trips on GO and the TTC when he and his wife drive to Oshawa and then use that public transit twice a day because they work inside Toronto.
Toronto has costly and additional problems in transit, roads, Hydro and policing because it is a magnet for all those who want to work here each day but avoid hassles by fleeing outside for the rest of the time to larger houses with more lot that cost far less than in the city.
Toronto has costly and additional problems in welfare and education because most immigrants want to come here because of the opportunity and all the special programs such as English as a second language. More people with income, employment and language problems live in the city than in the GTA. Social housing is clustered in the city.
It is a dirty secret at Queen's Park and Ottawa that they force the city to pay extra for provincial and federal programs that are forced upon the city and are not the responsibility of city taxpayers.
The list is endless of how the city is ripped off by the senior levels of government, which is how those pickpocket organizations dignify themselves as they extract more money in federal and provincial income tax and fuel taxes than they get from the rest of the country.
Instead of the usual mumbo jumbo of griping, the city must confront the rest of the country with several crisp pages detailing how the smaller rural ridings routinely get far more assistance than the larger Toronto ridings. We must embarrass them as freeloaders.
The wonder is that there hasn't been a move to secede by the 2.8 million Torontonians tired of being the financial anchor of a country that loves to call it names.






Thursday, January 22, 2015

THERE'S ONLY ONE TAXPAYER


    NOT ONE BUT THREE POLITICAL PICKPOCKETS

I have been baffled by one weird taxation issue since I first covered politics.
And that is a long time since it was in May, 1957, that they tried to throw me out of my first city council meeting that I went to cover as the nervous editor of the Whitehorse Star.
After I appeared as the lone spectator at a meeting of Whitehorse council in the Yukon, the mayor demanded to know what I wanted.
I explained that I had just started working for the only newspaper in the territory and I wanted to cover the city news. He told me not to bother, he would phone me later. I didn't leave, arguing I had a right to be there for the debate. I didn't know if I did but from their faces I knew I had landed a good right.
I stayed, couldn't figure out anything, there was no debate, and I never wrote a word.
But there have been countless meetings at all levels of our governments ever since. A prevailing theme from the municipal level is that they need more money from the province, and the provincial level is always yowelling that they need more money from the feds, and the feds always preach that they need more money from everyone.
I am sure that if you were at those meetings with me, whether they be a council or a legislative or Commons session, you would also look around vainly for all these taxpayers who run around with signs on their chest that they are a municipal or provincial or federal taxpayer.
Of course you will never find those three taxpayers because there is only one.  Yet there is a daily con by all the politicians, a monstrous lie that dwarfs all the others in politics, that the cost of any scheme, whether it be a fare increase or a stadium or a welfare payment, goes down by some miracle if only the fibbers get another government to pay a share.
The poor over-taxed middle class Canuck loses about half of every dollar to taxes. There are these three governments whacking him whether he swims in a pool or buys gas or pays income tax or sales tax or municipal tax.
The sensible people know that. If the spouse suggests a frivolous purchase, you double the price in your mind because that's what you have to earn in order to cover the cost. If you treat yourself because slush is now gushing up through the floor of your car, that wonderful replacement that you say cost only $25,000 in cash really means you have to earn $50,000 because of all the taxes
  I  would avoid thinking of that too often if you don't want to sink into a black hole of despair.
So Mayor John Tory says Queen's Park has to give the city more money for the TTC. What he really means is that you and I must contribute more money out of our provincial taxes in order not to have our municipal taxes go up when the city helps the TTC.
It's a taxation circus with the con artists running a different kind of shell game. This version has the mayor sneaking millions under his shell from the provincial shell and the premier screaming because the PM is hammering her fingers every time she tries to get under the federal shell.
All the while they all pretend that they are the ones keeping taxes low. Sure!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

ORPHAN SOCKS


DO THEY DIE IN THE LINT TRAP?

Today I want to discuss questions that have always baffled me more than the deadly combination of algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
 What happens to the other sock? Where does the mate go to die? Is this revenge by my wife?
After I finished the last fruitless search for a sock that had disappeared into the great beyond, I decided this was a better topic for a PhD thesis than some of the stuff graduate students tackle.
Research should be sponsored in self-defence by a sock manufacturer because if we ever do solve this, there will be so many more useful pairs of socks around that they will have to close up shop.
You may think this a frivolous topic but I have seen some fascinating accounts of Socks Missing-in-Action.
It even brings back one that tugs at me where I wished I had acted differently.
I wrote a blog/column on April 11 last year about the death of Vince Devitt, one of those solid  reporters and companions in Toronto journalism.
When Vince was winding down after a nice career that had taken him from tough bartender to headline stories to premier's aide, he sent me a delightful column about socks that go missing in the wash.
At the time, the Sun had more regular columnists than we had spaces for them. Then there are all the writers who think that anyone can write a column and prove with what they send that they can't.
But Vince knew how to write. So I skimmed it and put it aside for vacation periods or emergencies where we kill a column for legal reasons or because the writer has become incoherent.
Vince phoned. I said I had no space then but I would save it. In the middle of my explanation, some crisis flared and I had to go. I think Vince took it as an old friend letting him down easy and he never sent me anything again. He moved south. And Socks MIA got lost in the flood of paper on an editor's office even in the computer age.
I think of this every time I rummage around a dryer looking for the other  sock. It was the kind of gentle observation of the passing scene that I long for after wading through newspapers jammed with politics because it cost less to cover politics than to really cover the city., where a State of the Union address is treated like the Second Coming when the president is mired in a Republican tar pit.
What haunts me is that I never got to the end of Vince's humour. Maybe he as veteran investigative  journalist had solved whether there's a black hole in the laundry room or just in space.





Sunday, January 18, 2015

DON HARRON THE WORDSMITH


A LONG AND ARTICULATE  CAREER

Don Harron cared about words. He could make me cringe with how he mangled the language in his Charlie Farquharson rube act with some obvious and rude contrivances, but he was the quickest punster I've ever seen.
And I loved adroit puns. Those who don't just haven't the wit to appreciate them.
Harron was a graceful actor, gifted performer, insightful writer and critic, and a familiar face around Ontario. Anyone smart enough to sidle up to him at an intermission got a clever sentence about the strengths and weaknesses.
He may have had an international rep but you would see him at some humble performances.
One evening at the Fourth Line Theatre, held in a barnyard near Cavan, there was Harron watching with appreciation. An actor who had strutted the boards at Stratford and Broadway, who had been a fixture on long-running TV shows like Hee Haw and major radio, watching anonymously with several hundred others a performance that was obese due to the ego of the producer/inspiration behind the summer theatre.
"Needs a good editor like you," Harron said to me quietly at a break, not wanting to bruise local egos. He was being too mice to me but his message wasn't that. Less of the play would have been more.
Then we chatted about current events where he had  cutting insights about our rulers.
I remember a frigid Ottawa evening when Fraser Kelly, the TV anchor and political commentator, and I ended up in the House of Commons watching a boring debate by backbenchers. The only other spectator was Harron.
I said our excuse was that Fraser and I had had a very busy day with MPs and we were unwinding before a Chinese meal.
Harron said he had been writing night and day on an overdue movie script that he had just mailed to New York. He was too tired to sleep, it was too late for a movie, so he had come to the House hoping at least to capture some business for a skit.
Off we all went to an undistinguished meal. At midnight then on a weekday, there wasn't much  choice.
I said I was staying at the Skyline rather than the Chateau because I liked its pool and assortment of saunas, even though one of them, a dry affair redolent with eucalyptus resin, wasn't worth the money.
"Oh," Harron said, "a real you-clip-tus room."
In the early days of the two brigantines in Toronto harbour, I helped in a race to get the sailing program some publicity. The crews were media and regulars on the scene like Harron and Catharine McKinnon, then his wife.
It was the start of a fine summer day. Catharine  perched on the bow spit and as we brought 60 tonnes around into the wind and the jib billowed above, she sang her anthem Farewell to Nova Scotia.
I shivered. For one glorious moment, I could have been on the Bluenose as it again showed its stern to the fastest competition, or with Nelson at Trafalgar, not on a thick old ship used to give teenagers like my son John Henry a real sailing experience.
I remember that moment fondly, along with all the wordplay from a man who over 90 years may have tried to carve a pun out of every word in the  language.
I know some dunderheads say a "pun is the lowest form of humour." As Oscar Levant riposted,
"when you don't think of it first."
 Harron usually did.




Tuesday, January 13, 2015

RUIN OUR KIDS BY PROTECTING THEM


    SAVE THE CHILDREN

Of course we should ban tobogganing. I'm all for the municipalities which do that. The politicians aren't being silly chicken-shits in the face of liability problems but protective of our young.
 Let them continue too with the plan to develop an all-purpose cotton batten armour that  must be worn by all children off their property.
Let's not stop there. I have a long list of how we must do more to save our children from scrapes and bruises as they grow up. Let's not continue the savagery that surrounded us when we were kids and vulnerable to all the menaces of life. Let's put J&J out of business because obviously it is part of the underground pushing such activity to hype the sale of Band-Aids.
At the head of my extinction list is the unforgivable slackness in how we have childproofed our playgrounds. That they even still exist is an outrage. A child could fall from a swing, one of those devilish creations of orthopaedic surgeons looking for business.
As for municipal pools, why even wading pools, hat we let kids wade in even inches of water is just asking for trouble. They could slip. The idea that we should teach everyone how to swim is silly. Canada may have more lakes and rivers than useless politicians but there's no reason why people should learn how to save themselves if they're dumb enough to actually want to go out boating. To me, that's just hunting for trouble.
It is rather obvious that the best way to save our children is just keep them inside. Let's not have recess outside because who know what hi jinks might start. Blow fresh air into the gym and let them do calisthenics after, and this is mandatory, a proper period of warming up and stretching.
Have municipal curfews at 7.30 p.m. for anyone under 16.  There are all sorts of vapours in the night air and the idea of letting kids play outside, on the street even, until the streetlights come on, is just asking for trouble.
I can testify under oath about how dangerous it was for me to grow up. In fact, I have written that I'm slightly amazed that I lived to retirement age, because just getting to become a teenager was a miracle.
Tobogganing, I admit, was a helluva lot of  fun. But it must be banned. I skinned cheeks and bruised knees and backsides about every second time I wooshed down a hill, laughing and screaming and having a great time. But the risks are too great. At least one in every 5,000 tobogganers may be hurt, so that's good reason to ruin the fun and exercise for 4,999 people.
The schoolyard for me was a dangerous pit because I was the smallest kid in class, one reason, I guess, that in Grade 2, Dick Klefford, the bully a year ahead, cut me across the face with a whip he made from a pussy willow, one reason I think that we should cut down all the pussy willows in Canada. After I had my growth spurt and became the biggest kid in the class, I knocked him out with one punch. That's the way the school yard used to function but rough justice can be unequal so it's just best that pupils should be only out there in small groups and closely supervised in case someone starts to giggle.
Unfortunately, I heard a parent the other day talk about tag being a lot of fun. It made me shiver nervously. All that running around means someone is bound to fall.
Playing tag can really be dangerous. One day my chums and I were playing tag on top of piles of drying lumber outside the Chesley sawmill.  There were gaps of a couple of metres between the piles, which were about the height of a two-storey house. It was a golden, dangerous time that we all were savouring.
 I jumped from one stack to the next without looking, only to discover that there was no "next." I remember my stunned amazement as I fell and fell and landed on a pile of rocks on the banks of the Rocky Saugeen River  which seems suitable named.
Everything went black. I came to looking up into the faces of my buddies who knew, of course, that I had killed myself. Damn it, I felt awful, my chest acted as if it had been caved in,  but I never even got a decent bruise out of it, nothing to show off in honour of my near-death experience.
So as I say, playing tag can be dangerous and should be banned, although there are probably no longer piles of lumber there because the sawmill has burned down.
What we  need is to get a little organization into the ordeal of protecting our kids. We could do what they do in cities in China and have neighbourhood committees generally headed by a couple of grandmothers who make a Marine drill sergeant look like a softy.
Each parent would take their child before the committee and have a proper program of exercise worked out for them. I know that tobogganing and anything to do with unsupervised play would not be considered and anyone actually doing that would be subject to  family court discipline.
Which is the way it should be. Growing up is just too dangerous to just happen. Look how awful we turned out to be, some of us emotionally scarred forever by following off the toboggan just before it hit a tree.. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

CASTRO, TRUDEAU AND BARTLEMAN


          AND LET'S NOT FORGET MARGARET

The seeds for Canada being the honest broker of the talks that led to the thaw in the Cuban boycott by the U.S.  were sown in a remarkable visit in 1976 to the island. It was sandwiched between state visits to Venezuela and Mexico, like a prison between two meadows.
It starred the Three Mouthketeers of Fidel Castro, Pierre Trudeau, and Margaret with baby Michel on one hip when she hadn't lost him in Mexico.
What a trip! The press corps had a wonderful time. So did the islanders. The Cubans turned out by the tens of thousands  (although many were forced to.)  Canucks were more fun that the dour Soviets and their grim faces and  monolithic architecture. Secret police were obvious everywhere. You had to write down your currency transactions.
It was an Iron Curtain country floating in the Caribbean, which led to a zany touch to the coverage. There are still bizarre bits about that trip floating in myths soaked with Cuba libres.
For example, there was a story that Trudeau once tried as a youth to canoe to Cuba from the Florida keys.
For example, John Harbron, a professor and editor who had studied in Havana and boasted a personal relationship with Trudeau, told me the reason the PM's Spanish was so good is that he had attended university in Cuba too.
For example, a good source told me that one reason for the rapport between Castro and Trudeau, besides the fact that neither gave a damn about what anyone else thought, is that a Jesuit priest who had taught Trudeau and made a great impression was later one of Castro's teachers.
For example, the media left Margaret alone for a wacky week, despite her stunts, because we believed she was mentally ill. For starters, we wondered about postpartum depression because Michel was only four months old.
So we cut her a break, so to speak. It was an uneasy truce because after all Trudeau was thrusting both his wife and his son into our faces when he knew she was having problems. It got so bad that Castro at some points carted Michel around as if he was the babysitter.
Finally I discovered Margaret in the lobby of the Caracas Hilton, very sexy but also shouting curses at her husband's secretary. When I intervened, she unloaded on me. Turned out I knew more swear words. So she fled to the state banquet where she gave a Nazi salute as O Canada was played and turned her back in the receiving line.
Almost matched her giving Michel in Mexico to a young Canadian backpacker to cuddle and then wandering off, forgetting about him, which led to a frantic RCMP search.
On the plane trip home, I got her to sing childish songs that she had composed for the wives of the leaders of Venezuela and Mexico into the media microphones. The next day I was on TV to refute her claim that I had pledged it was off-the-record.
But back to diplomacy. Castro and Trudeau had open admiration for each other. Trudeau generally wouldn't speak to me but when I asked him about SCUBA diving with the Cuban dictator, he was almost giddy in his praise, saying that they had gone deeper than he had ever been before and that Castro and his bodyguards just cut the fish apart in the depths, not caring a whit about sharks.
Ironically, years later, another Canadian that made an impression on Castro also went SCUBA diving with him even though he wasn't experienced.
As James Bartleman, our former lieutenant-governor, says in one of his fascinating four books on his life as our ambassador to countries like Cuba, he went to clear his mask when he was with Castro and one of the bodyguards held him up out of the water so he could do that without difficulty.
Years later, after the able Bartleman had been a key advisor to Jean Chretien as PM, the Liberal government dispatched him back to Cuba for secret talks when Canada was trying to improve the relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Nothing much happened that time, Bartleman told me, even though he had had a relationship with Castro who had routinely dropped in on him unannounced and talked all night when he was stationed there. Bartleman said he was fascinated by the attention until he realized that Fidel was probably just looking for an audience. His feelings for the Cubans cooled a trifle when they poisoned his beloved dog.
Various partnerships between Canada and Cuba, even when the Soviet Union kept the island economy from drowning, have blossomed over the years, along with Canada being the largest source of tourists.
In recent years, the Americans dreamed up strange reasons for charter flights even though it was illegal technically for an ordinary Yank to visit.
 Yet Canada continued to be the major source of  tourism  from the entire world, and Canada continued to be the secret neutral territory when the two wanted to talk, all due to the personal chemistry 38 years ago between two dictators, a giddy dame and a drooling baby.





   

Sunday, December 21, 2014

CARPING ABOUT CARP


SUFFOCATING ZOOMERISMS

The latest crusade by the CARP / Zoomer / Znaimer empire is for the feds and Revenue Canada to reduce the mandatory annual withdrawals from RIFs. Talk about a fat-cat crusade!
There are much more important and significant issues for pensioners. As I wrote recently, the way the CRA cheats us on the value of deductions we are allowed to make for medical bills and charitable donations is nothing more than a dead hand slapping wrinkled faces.
Throw in the health system, the economy, and charity too.
After all, surely more pensioners would continue the health insurance they enjoyed with their former company if they got a better break in deducting those high premiums. And that would help with those huge public health budgets because that would be beneficial in improving the general health of seniors who worry about the costs if they seek help for the latest malady.
As for charity, the deductions allowed are laughable, about as funny as the fact you get more when you donate to obese politicians and their parties.
Saying that we shouldn't be forced to withdraw the current percentage amounts from the RIFs after they are converted from RRSPs may concern those getting rich running the CARP business, because, remember, it is not a non-profit organization.
The forced deductions for many  are irritating but not a major concern. You can always take the withdrawals and deposit them as your annual $5,500 TFSA deduction and reap the benefits later when it is advantageous.
The New Classical 96.3 FM is a station I listen to, alternating with Jazz 91.1. What drives me away is those awful sugary testimonials for Marilyn Lightstone's program at night.
She is a talented woman and creates a delightful ambience despite some of the poetry being incomprehensible. I will try to forget her silly TV commentary that tried to take the Jesus out of Christmas by saying that festivals at this time of the year have been common through the ages. Of course, they were. But this one is based in Christianity despite this Jewish attempt to explain that away.
No doubt, however, we are bombarded with regular promotion for her because she lives with the boss of the Zoomer empire,  Moses Znaimer, the legend in his own mind, who is a great broadcaster but is known to be a controversial control freak.
Obviously he is upset about his compulsory RIF deposits.
I find the Zoomer empire fascinating, but not so fascinating as to take its crummy magazine run by Suzanne Boyd who calls herself elegant. Believe me, you're not elegant if you preen that way.
Then there's Susan Eng, who has settled down from when she wrecked relations with the police while running the police board. She states the obvious in her representations to government which are repeated ad nauseam by the Zoomer empire.
CARP is now just initials but started off as the Canadian Association of Retired People. Then Moses saw you could sell more memberships and insurance etc. if you broadened the reach. I heard hosts on the FM station, which is now the oldest "new" station in the world, talk about CARP issues being of interests to those in their 30s and 40s which is, of course, nonsense because younger people really have different concerns than seniors issues.
 So he went to initials and said it was an organization for those over 50,  although I notice the magazine, which I no longer inflict on my mailman, says it's aimed at 45 plus.
Moses is on to a good thing and keeps expanding. And despite my dislike for the idiosyncratic promotion of CARP and the Znaimer family in all the media he controls, I do wish him well, sort of.
After all, the clever investor, Prem Watsa, known as the Warren Buffet of Canada, owns 28% of the Zoomer empire through Fairfax. And Watsa, a modest man I have met a few times, is noted as being as smart at the legendary Buffet when it comes to buying into good companies. And  I do have a titch of the family fortune invested in the giant Fairfax financial empire.
So I wish you well, Moses. Just don't go wandering too long in the wilderness in your incessant drive to promote you and yours.