Saturday, April 22, 2017

TRUMP BENEFITS 99% OF CANADIANS ON DAIRY


SUPPLY MANAGEMENT IS AN EVIL CON

Even a jackass can be right, as Donald Trump has just proved through his stupidity. When he goes after Canadian agricultural producers, showboating for dairy states, all Canadians who buy dairy products, eggs, chicken and other items protected by what the bureaucrats call supply management, which is just a fancy name for theft, should urge him on.
I have written about it for decades. So have many journalists not caught up by the careful reporting by the CBC on anything to do with the family farm and the callous disregard for the majority by Liberals and Conservatives.
I recall business writers like Mary Janigan winning major awards years ago when they detailed how much less the inhabitants of Buffalo had to pay for milk and eggs and chicken than we did on this side of the border.
Buffalo may be infamous as one of the major shrinking cities of the U.S. but one of the reasons their Anchor Bar chicken wings became so famous is not just because of the recipe but because they were so inexpensive.
I saw an estimate that supply management costs the typical Canadian around $275 annually because of the protection given our dairy farmers (significantly many of them in Quebec) forcing consumers like you and me to pay much more than if there was open price competition.
I think that guesstimate is far too low. As someone who buys six bags of milk and two dozen eggs on most grocery runs, and who salivates at suggestion that milk would be halved in price if our gutless politicians finally kicked supply management in its diseased teeth, I am sure my savings would be several times that.
(And let's not even get into our bread and beer where the cost of ingredients is kept artificially high.)
The ironic crusher is that the whole foundation, the rationale for our politicians to side with farmers against consumers, is that it was said to benefit all the farmers.
Hardly!
Thanks to all the rules 'n' regs which force dairy farmers to pay more than $20,000 for the right to milk just one cow, the experts agree that maybe 10% at most of the dairy farmers benefit from supply management.
So these milk millionaires are happy as hell to lobby to keep their lucrative flow of dollars coming from the 35 million consumers and have conned so many politicians with their supposed voting power that only one major candidate in the current Tory leadership race, Maxime Bernier, is willing to say without qualification that supply management is political BS that was outdated decades ago....that is if it was ever in the consumer's interest.
I started school in Chesley, a furniture town in Bruce County so rooted in the farms around it that we took agriculture in high school and I knew how to do the Babcock test for butter fat in milk.
I have lived on a farm and had two brothers-in-law which were farmers. I have listened to my fellow directors from the farm lobbies at the Canadian National Exhibition. (The myth is that when the CNE started in 1879 that it was an agriculture fair. Nope, it was an industrial fair.)
So I have seen the inside of the propaganda from agriculture as the 100-acre mixed farm started to vanish and agribusiness took over. I have read the stories of all the expensive equipment that the  farmer needs and how they need to be protected and subsidized on their now giant operation.
No one ever did that for me.
Surely at some point most Canadians will rebel and insist that all this has to stop, this favouring of farmers so their votes are more important than urban voters because rural riding are always much smaller in population than city ridings.
Surely we should demand that agriculture not continue to get all these special government deals, whether in property and income tax or even the right to gamble.
The victory of Trump is seen as the revenge of blue-collar voters who felt ignored by fatcat establishments. They don't care that he's simplistic and out-of-his-depth and that he lies and blusters and doesn't understand that trade and tariffs are two-way streets where Canada has weapons too.
Yet wouldn't it be delicious if this inept boor blundered into a fight against Canadian supply management that if he won would reduce the price of every one of our meals.
After all, supply management has been supported for decades by both Grits and Tories pandering to the rural millionaires. Now it may be quashed by a developer who specialized in bankruptcies and reality TV and is looked down on by all the politicians for life.
At least now The Donald has trumped the Benjamin Disraeli quote that seemed to sum him up. "He was distinguished for his ignorance; for he had only one idea and that was wrong!"
For Canadians, this idea is right!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

MORE DELAYS IN TTC DECISIONS THAN SUBWAYS


THE SYTEM OVERFLOWS BUT STILL  LOSES MONEY

The university lecturer was explaining long ago that for centuries there had been a great argument about how many angels could dance on the head of the pin.
That actually woke me up for a few minutes.  I have never forgotten that metaphysical anecdote even if I never understood it. Yet I think of it regularly in terms of interminable baffling debate when the latest political fight is on an issue that I first covered 50 years ago.
I mainly think of it at City Hall when it comes to tolls, transit routes and parking. Gee, I actually recall when the elimination of tolls in Ontario was seen as a great accomplishment even though it deprived the party faithful of a lot of patronage jobs.
The other day, the stats prof asked me what I thought of the latest debate over a new subway line. Now I use him as a resource on the latest health theories, and he uses me as a seeing eye dog on politics so he doesn't overdose on his liberalism. But I told him that I didn't know what the latest arguments were and I really didn't care because these debates have been going on for so long there is a suspicion that Sir John A. may actually have talked about the best route to the Scarboro wilds at a Market rally.
Once upon a time, I was one of the experts of all things to do with the TTC.
It had started rather simply because my colleagues were lazy, and I was the rawest reporter in the Tely City Hall bureau, so naturally I was assigned to leave the comfortable surroundings there and trek to the TTC headquarters where a fresh deck of cigarettes always sat on the press table and the atmosphere was that of a club.
The gods smiled on me with that weekly assignment because it benefitted me on the great decision about where to buy a house. The decision about the western routing of a Bloor subway had not yet been made but it made sense to me - always a dangerous thing when it comes to transit - that the line would swing close to Royal York and Bloor.
That was already a prime hunting ground for me since three important Metro commissioners in works, planning and parks (Tommy Thompson was not yet just the name on a park) lived near the intersection. If the area was seen as the smart place to live by the top three municipal officials in  Ontario, who was I to argue.
So I bought there half a century ago and my wife and I, my three sons and now my grandsons, used the subway regularly for hospital, university and downtown appointments because parking has been so screwed up by a council that considers one cyclist more important than the five drivers of delivery vans and commuters who have to manoeuvre around each one.
Planning subway lines has always been a dog's breakfast even before Mel Lastman stuck us with that silly stub in North York. It got so bad that several young municipal reporters floated their own idea in two newspapers which had been suggested at breakfast by their landlady who couldn't understand the planners going on and on when the best idea would be to build a giant X.
Connect northern Etobicoke and the top of Scarboro with the bottom of the two suburbs with an X which would cross at Bloor and Yonge. It certainly would help all those riders in the corners with a difficult commute to the centre of the downtown.
For much of a year, the X extensions were high in the polls and the landlady served better breakfasts. Then it was only porridge.
I recall the verbal brawling over the routing of the Spadina subway because of the ravines north of St. Clair. The Metro transportation committee had so many alternatives that they were given numbers and letters.
After the triumphant meeting that was touted as making the final decision,  I wandered up to the clerk and the chairman, the weird Irv Paisley of North York, and said I was surprised at the winning choice because of some problems that I listed. Paisley objected, saying that wasn't what the committee approved. I showed him my notes, and then the clerk produced the official record which agreed with me. So Paisley cursed and muttered, the clerk ran around rounding up the committee members, and they passed a different route half an hour later.
I spent so much time writing about the TTC because the commissioners and councillors argued about everything. Killing streetcars became a big issue and I wrote about them so much that I am credited with popularizing their nickname of red rockets.
The TTC asked me to write its official history. Than it tried to hire me as the ad and PR boss. A lot more money, and the newspaper business was certainly crazy, but I figured not quite as strange as transit in T.O.
I suppose the high point was riding down Bay in the limousine assigned to the boss then, Mike Warren, when we were T-boned by a car. Warren never stopped talking. He opened the door, hopped out and hailed a cab without saying a word to his driver. When I questioned this, he said that if the staff didn't know how to handle a routine accident, there was nothing he could do about it.
And the low points have been all the times in recent years when I have limped on to a subway car at 10.30 p.m. after the symphony or the opera or the play and find not only all the seats taken with smug people even in the disabled seating, I had to compete for handholds.
And so I grumbled profanely to any poor sap stuck riding with me about how can the TTC lose money carrying more than half a billion people yearly when there are still crowds riding when many  are in bed.
Of course major problems are the union agreements which stick us with more staff than is needed in between the extended rush hours.
But let's not forget that at our political centres where they set taxes and routes and fares and impose awkward bylaws that too often our decision making is a mix of the principles of Peters and Parkinson. The theory that managers rise to their level of incompetence is combined with the rule that work expands to fill the available time. So does political debate!
The mayor and a gaggle of councillors, the premier and a giggle of ministers, and the transit CEO and a stall of managers, would rather talk grandly and commission reports and threaten tolls and demand more money from the government just above them - which means the taxpayer just pays out of another pocket  - than actually do something on time.
The Better Way would be if they talked less and did more, and stop stupid decisions like shutting down part of the system on important holidays like Labour Day when traditionally there was to be increased service because of the CNE.
The most dangerous word I hear about the TTC come from my friends and neighbours who have been riders their entire life. They talk about the "decline" of service. Unfortunately, they can't recall when the peak was. We all must have missed it in the fog of words.






Saturday, April 15, 2017

ALTERNATIVE FACTS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FAKE


TRUMP IS JUST THE LATEST LIAR

Facebook is warning and instructing us about false news. (I prefer using fake to false because fake has a circus feel of clowns and charlatans and false is formal legal talk.) Yet no experienced journalist, or sensible adult for that matter, needs to be told about liars because they have been with us since cavemen exaggerated kills and conquests.
We all know at work or school or play who the Bullshitters are and who the people are that you can trust to give a reasonable view.
Whether you lie a lot, or just tell the occasional white lie so people aren't hurt, is determined early in life. It starts with fibs to the parents, gets rooted in kindergarten and blossoms when teenagers chase each other. By the time college or jobs arrive, the jerks who have skidded through early life by cheating whenever they discuss anything more serious than breakfast can't be trusted to be truthful about anything.
Then the stakes really grow on the card table of life, from CV entries and stats at the office for ordinary folks to political promises and records of accomplishments for those who con their way into being our stewards.
Donald Trump has been notorious for decades for lies and cheating. It's just a waste of space and time for the media to detail even a fraction of them. When a vacuous aide talked about his "alternative facts" on Meet The Press on Jan. 22, she was just trying to gold-plate the usual lies from a man infamous for not telling the truth.
For decades, when I heard of a scoop in a newspaper or the electronic media, the first things I wanted to know was who the reporter was and who was the source. All you have to do in Toronto, or for that matter in any settlement larger than a hamlet, is find out those facts and then you have a good idea of whether the story's true or possibly true or probably fake.
There are reporters who goose every story, just as there are politicians who exaggerate every minute. Any reporter, whether they're covering police or politicians or stock brokers, knows that it would be nice to have at least two sources for anything more important than a tiddlywinks championship. Politics is really slippery. But in most news stories, when reporters discard the onlookers who don't have a clue,  50% of the people won't talk to them and 49% lie.
Unfortunately, the size of the newspaper or the reach of the TV station isn't always a guarantee. Mistakes slip through, or become glaringly obvious, since newspapers publish in each edition the equivalent of a book.
 Even the big guys goof, but not most of the time, so that can't be used as an excuse in today's silly argument that the world really doesn't need healthy newspapers.
I recall a headline story in the Star saying the rail line cutting through the centre of the city was going to be removed. Great news for developers and the people who lived near the tracks. Except the story was as phoney as it had been years before when the same newspaper ran the same story by the same reporter and baffled rail executives again told the other media they didn't know anything about it.
 Oh yes, the tracks are still there but the reporter who didn't give a damn about the truth has been dead for years, which has reduced the number of his hoaxes.
I was successful as a City Hall reporter at the start of my career because aldermen and department heads would only talk to me. They wouldn't deal with other members of the Tely City Hall bureau because they occasionally wrote the opposite of what they were told. An example was the city treasurer telling them there was no plans to have an extra tax bill. Their headline story in the final edition that day warned that Bill Campbell (who incidentally was Rob Ford's grandfather) was contemplating a supplementary tax bill. Campbell didn't sue because he was busy threatening to kill.
Google has become a wonderful tool for journalists. But as I remember warning a journalism class, the Internet is a vast ocean of information into which the observer dips a tea spoon hoping to find a reasonable version of the truth and not be drowned by misinformation, or as Kellyanne Conway would say, alternative facts.
A fact is a fact is a fact. It's real, the truth about what happened, not a wish the fibber would like to be true. The Trumpites may want to challenge the size of crowds or jobless figures but when the photographic evidence is overwhelming or the agency charged with the estimation disagrees, then the alternative facts are really alternative fibs.
At least Google, Facebook and the other wondrous information sources on the Internet present the public with endless information. It is up to you and me and journalists and voters to sift and sort while checking the sources.
Too many bloggers and trolls like to pretend that they alone really know what's happening and that the media organizations are so bloated and beholden that they are not a reliable authority.
It's ludicrous for a blogger informed only by partisan conviction to pick the lint out of their belly button and weave a yarn of what really happened in an incident hundreds of kilometres away which was covered by trained reporters under the direction of experienced editors.
The harsh reality is that the professional liars like President Trump will never be unmasked by bloggers and that today's media with all its warts and failings are the only watchdogs that will bark and bite when the alternative facts become deadly to the public interest.




Friday, April 14, 2017

GIVE ME A BREAK FROM TRUMP


MY DIRTY SECRET - POLITICS IS OFTEN BORING

Once upon a time when a handful of people started the flagship of what became the Sun chain, I covered everything in Canadian politics 24/7.
 I spent more time with the mayor than my wife, and talked more to the premier than with my neighbours.
It wasn't that I was that brilliant an observer - although some days I was happy to pretend - but the baby Sun didn't have reporters at the City Halls of Toronto, or the Legislature, or the Commons. If  I didn't cover the budget or the fare increase or the Throne speech in my daily column on Page 4, the editors had to scramble to put together a news story.
Fortunately in those days in my mists, there was no television coverage of Question Period or the council meetings. So I could rush around grabbing the first draft of Hansard or glean some coverage of debates from the faulty and egotistical memories of the participants.
My accounts of a verbal duel was often the first time readers knew what happened. That was a break for me, but some coverage today is stuck in that past. Today it would be reported ad nauseam because of the frantic need of the electronic media to fill 24 hours with something, anything, besides old movies.
As I was saying to Steve Paikin the other day at, damn it, another retirement function for a Sun stalwart eased out the door, I really don't miss those frantic days when politics consumed every waking minute.
When the pressure eased and the Toronto Sun actually boasted an array of reporters and columnists, I rebelled a trifle and played hookey. I didn't always write about politics in the thousands of columns that I had to churn out.
I wrote about my family, the cottage, movies, anything rather than the same old debate in the Legislature that happened every spring. It was a welcome break.
The brass didn't like my departures from political coverage but I explained it helped me keep sane.  Yet one publisher finally got his grumpy revenge when I retired but agreed to continue to write a column for more than a decade. The letter of agreement stipulated, and he pretended it was a joke but it wasn't, that I could only write about the cottage occasionally.
So you may well ask, what the heck has this to do with that headline about wanting to dump Trump coverage and confessing that politics is often boring?
I  confessed this at a luncheon to a lawyer who said he had once dealt with me and other directors when our charity was planning to fight Betty Fox in court. (We decided that while the law was clearly on our side, the public would hate us for any legal action against the Terry Fox organization.)
He loved politics and couldn't understand that I would find the overdosing on political coverage today so boring because of my background.
I said that politics was relatively cheap to cover compared to investigative journalism and that thoughtful coverage of ALL the events of the day would require far more staff than newspapers and television now want to devote to real news and not just the latest bloody accident and what city council is going to discuss again for the tenth time this year.
I said that the previous night I had switched from the talking head panels of CNN discussing another Trump flipflop to the usual suspects on the CBC discussing federal politics in careful terms. I turned off the TV in disgust and picked up the latest Time magazine. I rather like Time (and have written for it) but it seemed every para was devoted to Trump.
 So I picked up the latest Maclean's, which I rather like because (I have written for it) and it has improved recently even though tragically it has been forced into those Internet editions. Canada's national magazine had nothing much beyond provincial and national politics and politically-correct coverage of Indigenous issues (what we used to call native issues even when most natives were still calling themselves Indians in interviews.)
The ironic tragedy is that at the very same time that the voters of Canada and the United States demonstrate an incredible stupidity in their political choices and their lack of knowledge of the issues, there has never been more political coverage for them
Perhaps the problem is that so much of it is just talking head stuff. Then there is this infestation, particularly on the CBC,  of what I have always called "equal time for Hitler." My argument is that if Hitler was running Germany today, there would be many authorities, especially CBC lawyers, who would order that his views be given equal time and space to the views of those great politicians opposing his evil.
There aren't just two sides to every issue. Generally there are many. There also can be confusing partisan smokescreens. But democracy is not served when gutless brass insist that their anchors and commentators refrain from telling us obvious majority views of the best proposal. It would be nice if there was some digging into the issue rather than just recording the flimflammery of politicians whose level of competence is often not getting elected.
Remember that environmental and humane activists may be on the side of the angels in what they are protecting but it would be nice not to exaggerate their clout and numbers and let their science go unchallenged. As for all the sacred cows, let them flee to the protection of India!
So my thesis is that there is too much political coverage these days. Democracy and stewardship of the public purse would get a great boost if there was less but better coverage.  Right now we are boring all those men and women who we really want to understand the facts, and to realize that there are no alternative facts in the real world.
The typical political session is boring repetition. We have to hire more observers who can dig the nuggets out of the BS and not just think a good day's work is repeating the usual arguments from the usual suspects.




Monday, April 3, 2017

HYDRO REALLY D0ESN'T GIVE A DAM


FOR HYDRO,  LIVING BETTER ELECTRICALLY IS CHEATING

I told you so about Hydro so many years ago that glass fuses were more common than circuit breakers and the great salvation of power bars hadn't yet been invented.
I told you so before the last three provincial elections. These Liberals couldn't wire a doghouse if they had a million dollars to waste. And they certainly couldn't guarantee uninterrupted service.
I have listened to the tidal waves of indignation about meter gouging and fat salaries and incompetence and shouted out to anyone who pretended to listen that Ontario Hydro blew every fuse it had in common sense and proper business behaviour about three decades ago and there have been many commentators and columnists beside me who noticed.
Yet people tuned us out.
I let out a sick chuckle yesterday when I opened Hydro One's two bills for my cottage and the bunkie. The bunkie is used only several weekends a year. I use the cottage about a third of the time from May to October.
The bills were for the period from Dec. 23, 2016, to March 25, 2017. No electricity was used. Yet the delivery of electricity cost me $112.66  on each bill, the regulatory charge was .75 cents on each bill, the HST was $14.75 on each bill, and the grand provincial rebate on each bill was $8.26.
So in the dead of winter when my cottages and thousands like it were not used, I paid $239.84.
Ironically, I felt almost lucky. Six years ago, when starting on a cruel April Fool's Day I spent three months in four hospitals, the Hydro bills for the unused cottages were much higher.
Some city folk not used to the problems of cottage country may wonder why I just didn't put Hydro on a seasonal hold as you have been able to do for years with your phone and cable. Nope, Hydro won't allow what other "public" providers routinely permit.
Some might also wonder why I just didn't scrap the second meter and run all the power from the main cottage. A good idea except local contractors and the incestuous bureaucratese who support them make this an expensive tedious operation.
Once upon a time,  cottagers used to get a break on seasonal use but Hydro grabbed it away without explanation or even a lame excuse.
One problem is you never actually know how much power you are really using because you can never trust the readings from the so-called smart meters. Mine are so stupid that I have paid for the empty bunkie three times what I paid for the main cottage which was all we were using while I recovered from my hospital hell.
The Internet is filled with examples of cheating Hydro meters. There are also many suggestions that they are a health hazard. I have never believed that but I have a thick file filled with examples of exorbitant charges. The north and cottage country have more horror stories about Hydro than they have residents.
Last year I paid $1,237.62 for the power I used in Etobicoke. I paid $2,040.83 for the Hydro at the cottage. Something smells!
Fifty years ago when I entered Toronto journalism as a nervous cub reporter, the best Christmas party in town was thrown for the press by Ontario Hydro. We all got a gift, like warming plates or a big turkey. The booze flowed and the shrimps were like baby lobsters.
We were a rowdy lot, throwing buns at the Hydro chairman who officiated. So  next year there was only sliced bread.  So we sailed the slices at his head. He laughed, because he had to keep the three papers happy (TV and radio didn't matter yet).
Gradually the media stirred itself into throwing tough questions and not just buns and bread. The coverage grew ever more critical. It didn't help Hydro that former employees never managed to hide the fact that expenses there didn't matter a damn.
I had a secretary who wanted a new typewriter (yes this did happen back in the mists) and when I told her the typewriter she already had was the top of the line, she said that when she had worked for Hydro she got a new typewriter every few years without question.
I have never forgotten. When my stockbroker told me that Hydro One was selling some stock and it looked like a golden opportunity, I said I would never invest in a company that I considered to be sloppy in its spending, efficiency and corporate morality.
But as I began this column saying, I have said this all before. And so have others.
On April 7, 2016, my blog in johndowning.ca was headlined Hydro One Cheating. On April 25, 2015, my blog was Stupid Toronto Utility Billing. On April 14, 2014, the blog was headlined Let's Give Liberals The Electric Chair. On April 18, 18, 2014, it was Blowing Ontario's Fuses. On Feb. 24, 2014, my blog headline was Hydro's Cheating Meters.
And before that Hydro was a regular target in four decades of thousands of my columns and editorials in the Toronto Sun.
You can't say you weren't warned.