Wednesday, March 7, 2018



It symbolized the political meteorite known as Chris Stockwell that after he died of cancer at 60 - far too soon - there was no service but friends gathering in a Bloor St. W. pool hall to lift a glass to his memory.
Now The Crooked Cue is a vast improvement on the seedy ones of my youth where I lived, or died on the black, as I shot more snooker than I studied. (No drinking from a brown bag in the corner here either!)
Except Chris was once a young star in Toronto politics, both municipally and provincially. He played for keeps not on green baize but the carpets of power.  He had blazed there but then collapsed to a dreary end triggered by an expense account scandal involving a trip to Europe where he had been treating the family after marital difficulties. He was allowed to resign.
Yet he had once glowed in the media with apt quotes and fiery feuds. A veteran from his wars recalled Stockwell as one of the fastest man with a quip he had ever seen, one reason Chris made such a great Speaker in the bear pit of the Legislature where faltering words can blight a career.
Chris came from a family used to being in newspapers. His grandfather had been a character as the Argo trainer. His father Bill had been an acting mayor, veteran councillor and top administrator at the Ex and in GTA municipalities. He still is a Wasaga Beach councillor.
The Stockwell were so woven into city life that they kept the Grey Cup one winter behind the living room couch and the mother grumbled it made dusting difficult.
Chris was a terrible student because of dyslexia but he made up for early difficulties by a populist appeal, fearless common sense and a dislike of lazy BS from his colleagues that got him elected at only 25. A Tory who wasn't afraid to say the Grits could be right on the odd issue.
I recall a column I wrote supporting him when he ran later for Board of Control in Etobicoke. (We no longer have controllers, which were elected across a municipality and formed a cabinet selected by the people. Pity we don't because some tame councillors selected by mayors for their executives couldn't supervise a doghouse.)
Chris distributed thousands of copies of my column around the suburb. And one of the incumbents, David Lacey, sued me for libel, and Chris for the reprint, because I had punned on his last name, calling him Lazy because he walked through the job. So cool you weren't sure he even voted.
Chris had no money and phoned me quite upset. I told him that being sued was no big deal.
 I was named as Editor in all the legal actions against the Toronto Sun as well as suits against my column, and had never lost even though the complaints could be weird. One of the three from Jack Layton claimed damages because he had run into an "illegally placed" Sun box with his bike. A restaurateur sued, mainly, I think, because I wrote he used too much garlic on the steaks. And Anne Johnston, a friend who had once asked me at a municipal convention to beat up a Newfoundland mayor who had made a pass at her on the dance floor, sued me for a reason that I had never quite understood. It seemed the lawyer wanted the work.
I took pity on Chris in this case and talked the Sun lawyer, Alan Shanoff, into representing Chris as well, for free. Then Shanoff phoned one day saying that our interests, and those of Stockwell, had now diverged and Chris should get his own lawyer.
So I recommended a friend, a lawyer very well connected in Conservative and legal circles. And Chris and this lawyer waited while I laboured through the prelims, such as Examination for Discovery. Lazy, I mean Lacey, finally dropped the suit. Even though I don't think the lawyer did much for Chris, he charged him $35,000, as Chris lamented to me after he got over his shock.
Oh yes, the position of Etobicoke controller paid $32,000 a year.
Life often is unfair.  As Chris discovered then, and in the last years of his life, when all the promise had flickered out and he, once a lauded Speaker and capable cabinet minister, couldn't even get appointed by his former colleagues to fill out a term in a vacant riding.

Friday, March 2, 2018



Another in the long series of horror stories about Ontarians trapped in American hospitals with their horrendous charges because OHIP and the health ministry and hospitals claim they don't have one empty bed here.
This time the patient from London ended up in St. Catharines because closer hospitals weren't willing to rescue him from a Mexican hospital where he languished for more than a week after a fall burst vessels in his brain.
The family calls the experience, including being ignored by the ministry,  "unbelievable." But having endured the same atrocious disinterest from Ontario's medical system, and knowing of too many other cases, and remembering all the Legislature questions that showed the health minister really didn't care that much (and the medicrats cared less) I know tragically it's very believable.
I wrote about how Toronto hospitals refused to let me be flown back from West Virginia in 2011 in a six-part Toronto Sun series titled "hospital hell." My bills for eight days there totalled $85,000. Then when an air ambulance delivered me to that awful hospital, St. Joseph's, the lead doctor refused profanely to my frantic wife to admit me. He finally gave in to two sets of paramedics, perhaps because the air ambulance staff was refusing to fly me back to Charleston, as I struggled to get off the stretcher to punch the fat arrogant bastard harassing Mary.
I became seriously ill with a gall bladder infecting every cm. of my body cavity on April Fool's Day. My three sons came from three countries to support my wife. Even though they have six degrees among them, including U of T and Harvard, and are strong challengers to any system, even though my Toronto doctors include the noted and powerful Heather Ross and Bernie Gosevitz, no Ontario hospital would take me.
As I wrote the Sun series, I talked to Deb Matthews, the health minister and a major player at Queen's Park. She promised to have a task force look into the costly dilemma that I posed to her.
Ontario hospitals have a policy that Canadians needing a hospital bed in Ontario are at the bottom of the eligibility list if they are in an American hospital because they already are being accommodated in a health system. Except American charges are appalling and will bankrupt most families unless they have travel health insurance.
I did have insurance. Except TIC Claims, the company representing some major Canadian insurers, refused to pay, pretending there had been problems with the questionnaire before the policy was granted. My intro to the notorious con that is the travel medical insurance scam was TIC sending a copy of the refusal (but not sending me the original) to OHIP on July 11, which timestamped it on August 15, and notified me on Oct. 3.  TIC never talked to me in any way.
As one sympathetic specialist told me later, if the health ministry and the travel insurance industry screwed me deliberately or through incompetence, even though I was well-known as a columnist and editor who had served on a hospital board for two decades, with friends who served on or even chaired other hospital boards, even though I was a patient who could actually get the health minister on the phone, can you imagine how badly ordinary Joes and Janes without a bit of clout get treated.
Even though it took me a year to recover from the bed sores from St. Joe's, I had enough energy to go to war against TIC. I also wrote 54 letters to hospitals, paramedics, specialists, and assorted agencies, and told two collection leeches to go take a flying leap in Lake Ontario.
I enlisted Ross and Gosevitz and all the initials and titles that march behind their names. The family was mad at Gosevitz, feeling he hadn't done enough to get me home, but he volunteered the name of another of his patient, a "pitbull" lawyer who just loved to sue travel insurance companies because of their numerous infamous attempts to evade responsibility.
I didn't need him eventually, but it certainly was another ordeal. Nine months after I became so sick I spent three months in four hospitals and had to learn to walk again, the travel insurance sharks paid up. OHIP and the ministry never did a damn thing other than ignore me. Matthews moved on, the policy leaving us at the bottom of the priority list if you're stuck in a foreign hospital never changed, and MPPs are still getting up in the Legislature to complain their constituents are not being helped by our health system even when they're at their most vulnerable.
It's a disgrace, just like most of what happens these days under this corrupt Liberal regime which spends more time covering their ass and wasting millions on PR and ads where they try to put lipstick on the donkeys of their botched administration.