Saturday, November 10, 2018



Just an easy drive down a street near my home but then a yuppie couple tried to lope through the stop sign and gave me an haughty glare when I didn't brake.
They wore the latest gear, which showed off her slim long legs, of course. She was towing a dog on a leash and he was pushing a baby carriage streamlined for 10 km/h. They were a postcard couple celebrating the idiocy of suburban life when you ignore who has the right-of-way when galloping along by foot or bike.
Earlier, I was driving east of Stephen Dr. on The Queensway where a traffic light delays all the traffic from the important Humber River crossing and the giant Food Terminal just so motorists can access the plaza jammed between the road and the transportation corridors.
(Plaza owners have more clout at City Hall than motorists on major roads, so we have to wait so they can accommodate shoppers.)
A flashing and screeching ambulance was zigzagging through the normal jam when it had to brake so quickly I visualized the patient shooting off the gurney. Why? Because some guy with a parka hood wrapped around his numbskull decided to run across against the red in front of the ambulance.
Unfortunately, all my anecdotes here are just from one week and aren't that unusual.
I was asking a cousin who is a retired Toronto fire captain about all the louts who interfere with the passage of emergency vehicles like fire engines, ignoring the lights and sirens, and he agreed it was far too common. He blamed air conditioning and stereos for all the drivers who just don't hear the sirens. (But then there are some jerks on foot who must ignore the sirens. And those who skulk down side streets at night dressed like robbers as if they want to be hit for the law suit money.)
I had crossed College at University on the way to TGH when a young woman yakking on her cell  walked into me. Her wingman was also on her phone. She kept talking and trying to push through me, ignoring my cane. When I bellowed into the one free ear, she looked up, grunted an apology and walked around me, continuing to talk as she then crossed eight lanes. Of  course the light changed long before she made it.
This column is not triggered by the unfortunate peak of pedestrian accidents on that recent cold and rainy day. Toronto is blessed by not having more such days because I find that a routine car trip around most side streets in this city is like playing dice with the Devil because of pedestrians who just don't seem to give a damn.
It certainly culminated this Halloween when there were so many hunting packs of kids in my neighbours, with parents and flashlights riding herd as if they were on a cattle drive, that I wished I had hibernated. There were a lot of lighted cell phones I threaded down the street.
What's the sense of worrying about proper X-walk use and blatant jaywalking if too many other  pedestrians concentrate only on their cells as they cross the busiest intersections. You can be monitoring  the other traffic when you want to make a simple turn only to find some pedestrian on a phone jumps off the curb without looking and starts striding across as if they were ambling down a beach.
Believe me, when it comes to this topic, the shoe really has been on the other foot. After all my experiences, no wonder I became a godfather of the RIDE program and a director of the Ontario Safety League, Ontario's oldest safety organization.
As a pedestrian, I was hit and thrown up on the hood of a car by a man making a right turn just blocks from my home. He still hasn't seen me.
 I was either the first, or one of the first, X-walk accidents in Toronto. On the first morning they were legal, I braked hard on the Danforth when a woman ran into the X-walk and I was rammed from behind in my beloved collectors' Austin Healey.
I have been hit twice by cyclists when leaving downtown Toronto restaurants and then as a cyclist crashed into a ditch by a dump truck.
There are municipalities who are considering or have banned cell phone use by pedestrians at intersections. Toronto should too. Surely extreme cases are as dangerous as jay walking or X-walk breaches.
There is agreement that the war against distracted driving is a great safety idea.
Why not a legal war against distracted walking? It doesn't matter that the result is not as dangerous as a car crashing into you. It's more than just an annoyance, as I can assure you when considering the bruise on my leg from my latest encounter.

Saturday, November 3, 2018



I think it's time for the election survivors of an inept city council to come clean on an unfunny practical joke.
 Or was it just a plot to so massacre the replacement for the east-bound York/Bay/Yonge ramps from the Gardiner that the voters would seek revenge on the anti-car councillors to whom the Gardiner is the Great Evil?
Now the Gardiner, one of the great work horse roads of North America, has always been hated by those politicians and planners who believe we should just walk or TTC or bike to move around this urban behemoth.
For years they cheated on the incredible amount of  traffic it carried, trying to lower the stats even as they ignored that the waterfront had grown around the Gardiner like coral around a sunken ship and prying the super road  out of the skyscraper woods would be as difficult and costly as it would be silly.
Yet the Gardiner has outlasted most enemies because it is one of the vital arteries of the city and blasting it out of downtown would cause cardiac arrest to thousands if not a congealed core.
Which brings me to the current mess which you and I have plenty of time to contemplate as we try to manoeuvre to make simple turns into the core of a city that is vital enough, fortunately, to survive even this looney bin of a City Hall.
I don't feel like repeating at length the obvious reality which was true even when I was enduring urban geography lectures at U of T  in the age of the dinosaurs.
Most people and all goods move around this city by vehicles and will continue to do so even if the transit is vastly improved and ridiculous bike lanes don't strangle major streets.
I live near the Royal York subway station, the renovation of which is another municipal embarrassment, and try to TTC as much as possible to avoid $20 parking and the molasses movement of traffic. But Mary uses a walker and like many older people with medical appointments finds the car superior to the complications of Wheel Trans or the gauntlet of regular transit.
So I have had to negotiate through this stupid replacement for the downtown ramps. According to what I can decipher out of the Y B Y internet site for this project, the contractor will be back. We just got the first stage in January, which is like saying we just got the first act of a horror movie.
My son Mark, who spends half his time in China where he has worked for almost a decade, returns to sit in the car as I curse my way through any drive which lasts more than five minutes. He is used to road and transit construction in most modern Chinese cities taking a fraction of a time. They built a new subway line in Dalien, his lovely home city, in the time it takes for one council debate on new routes.
Of course, I apologize to him as we muddle through traffic, it is easier there in a dictatorship with tens of millions of workers. But, he replies, it looks suspicious to him when we try to drive around Etobicoke or to the Kawarthas when the same roads and bridges are under construction year after year after year.
I admit that the lackadaisical timing is suspect. It certainly drives up the cost for taxpayers along with our tempers. Unfortunately, not that new! When I was a kid reporter covering politics, some construction contracts came with a whiff of scandal about the cost, the politics of the company owners, and indeed, the necessity.
And then we often come to another stalling point in our drive where the road has been under repair for years and we both heartily agree that something stinks to high heaven about how we build in Ontario.
Repairs to our infrastructure have boils deeper than our potholes!
So I look forward to the mayoral media conference where John Tory says that it is rather obvious now that what is being done to the Gardiner downtown is a terrible mistake and it's back to the drawing board for our traffic engineers after a few have been fired and planners told to start acting like they live in a real city and not one just in their dreams.
And while Tory's at it, he should chat with his colleagues who sit on the board supposedly supervising the police force (stop this semantic nonsense it should be called a service) to order that either the chief and his deputies improve the dire quality of traffic policing in this city or face review.
Present policing procedure in this city favours paid-duty work for every cop even as every year it sticks more and more organizations like the CNE with higher policing costs.
When you consider the taxes we pay for municipal services. TTC and policing, it is obvious that either our councillors can't manage a doghouse or we are being played for suckers.
 The quality goes down as quickly as the costs go up, thanks to union and gutless management. No wonder there was a foul mood during the last municipal and provincial elections, oceans of unhappiness with what we've been getting.
If you know anyone who really is satisfied, she or he is bound to be making more than $100,000 annually that is paid in one form or another by you and me. And they don't even feed us before they screw us.
Something to ponder as you contemplate your next attempt to drive around T.O. without dreaming of just getting to hell out of town, and staying there, that is if the light ever changes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018



Canadians are blessed with so much fresh water flowing around us and from the tap that it is baffling and embarrassing that we spend billions on bottled water that then clogs garbage with empties.
I have to admit that my wife and related offshoots buy and guzzle bottled water despite my unveiled antagonism.
I also admit the purchase cost is a pittance. It's the principle that counts with me, and the garbage left behind. It's such a stupid idea to throw away even small change on bottled water which is often only our tap water run through filters by giant corporations and then marketed using computer-generated nonsense names.
Now there are municipalities around the world which have toyed with bans and have stopped providing bottled water at civic functions. They should go all the way and not just dip a toe into the issue.
My boyhood was spent in a town in the Bruce Peninsula which we boasted was famous for its deep artesian wells flowing with the sweet necessity of life. There was even a small brewery that boasted of its water before it was swallowed by a giant that concentrated more on distribution than taste.
When I returned to T.O, the populace would have giggled at the idea of buying bottled water. Then came preening bottled water from exotic locations and grumbling from activists about fluoridation (an important health improvement despite the silly poison claims.)
I remember only two major stories about southern Ontario drinking water (although the north had major problems on reserves) which meant that what came out of our taps here has never really been an issue.
We had the awful scandal about lengthy water pollution that ruined people in Walkerton (ironically the capital of the Bruce) and official mutterings from a radicalized city health department where a lefty listing himself as a doctor (his doctorate was in African studies) warned pregnant women and others that it would be best not to use Toronto tap water.
His warning didn't fill Toronto's councillors with alarm but it sort of roosted there ticking. Then I pointed out as a columnist in a private conversation with the head politician over the water supply that he as a chemical engineer and the engineers involved with the pumping stations from the lake were leaving themselves vulnerable to professional challenges of their credentials if the issue turned from a tickle to a flood.
Which led Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey, who apparently went on to work in baseball and publishing, to lead the charge to spend $135,000 on a major scientific study of the quality and safety of Toronto tap water compared to various bottled waters which were then mostly imported.
The results put to rest for all time any health claims that Toronto tap water was bad for you. In fact, in taste and quality it was rated superior to every bottled water sold in the city including the effete Perrier.
(Which reminds me of the chap who looked after all the drinking water for Expo '67 VIPs. This included the water that all the kings and PMs brought from their homelands so they wouldn't get tourist tummy. He showed me some of the giant bottles which actually had little "things" floating in them.)
But back to my recommendation that the new city council ban all bottled water from our store shelves on the grounds that city tap water costs less, may occasionally be safer,  and is environmentally friendly because it doesn't jam our landfills and suck zillions of litres out of our ground water supply.
It would be so simple to do. It would save us money and hassle. Among the minor benefits would be that I would no longer have to lug the unused bottles of water home when I close the cottage for the winter. It hurts my back even as I fume about the fact it's just a dumb fad.

Monday, October 29, 2018



Why have we allowed politicians, pollsters and foreign salesmen to transform our telephones from a vital part of our lives to a nuisance?
My childhood was spent in a home without a phone. I spent a couple of decades in journalism searching daily for pay phones before cell phones became common.
So there are few people who appreciate a phone more than I do. I spent too many nights in exotic locations trying to get a line back to the office from the latest crisis not to love the fact that I can walk into a hotel room on the other side of the world and actually dial Toronto and get through in seconds.
But the wondrous convenience of it all has been ruined by the barrage of crank calls, particularly that one that comes early every morning and there's never anyone there.
I realize there are do-not-call lists and various ways to block unwanted calls but the practitioners seem to slither around the latest shield as if they have taken lessons from the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Why should we have to buy options to block calls or have call display, or buy answering machines and let devices protect us? It's like hiring someone to stand at the door to deal with visitors.
I have neighbours and friends who are ditching their land lines because it's cheaper and they can guard their cell phones better from intrusion. But I am sure that any temporary protection is going to vanish like deodorant on a hot day.
As proof that the Robo Call menace is only going to get worse, I suggest you check the various outfits on the Internet promising to unleash a tsunami of canned calls for customers for only 0.7 cents a minute.
Of course I hang up immediately, as I'm sure most people do.
Yet I think I'm also going to organize a group with important initials to pledge they will never vote for any party or politician that use Robo Calls.  In our spare time, we will lobby for Robo Calls to be made illegal. It's bad enough when there's a real politician calling and not just a computer.
I have known John Tory since he was a kid radio reporter who came before meetings to ask my advice on what were the important issues on which he should concentrate.
If I had received one more Robo Call from Tory, I would not have voted for him, even though his major opponent had silly policies that were not improved from having been raised first decades ago.
To be brutally frank, I would make illegal ALL telephone calls for votes from politicians or parties. Just end political telephone solicitations. Let  them spread their message in pamphlets delivered by campaign workers or by Canada Post at a special rate. Ensure these pamphlets have real meat, real policies in them. not just the usual bunkum and puff pastries. Have real confrontations in election debates, like the dozens I moderated in the 1970s and 1980s in Nathan Phillips Square and on the community Rogers channel which has disappeared.
The easiest way for politicians, pollsters and companies to contact people with the least hassle is by email. We can just skim over the nonsense without wasting much time. Except I find the Internet in general to be so unreliable, so filled with routine glitches, that when the cut-rate brokerage outfits run by two giant Canadian banks kept crashing for days, it was not considered that unusual. In fact, TD officials seemed miffed when I complained.
I have a son working for a giant computer company who just spent eight hours trying to get his special computer to work again and grumbled that it happens weekly if not daily.
So I think any system that depends totally on computers is not going to work, just as this dream of driverless cars is going to go through a long nightmare stage. We have to have the post office as a backup (and believe it or not, I think our postal service works just fine.)
We have climbed to a peak of annoyance and we don't want to go higher. Limiting commercial and political use of our private telephone lines just has to happen or there is going to be a stampede back to smoke signals.
I realize there are arrogant outfits that think they have a right to bother me. They claim they are "allowed" to because they have done business with me in the past. I would squash their calls first. As I said on Facebook recently (FB certainly ditched the post in a hurry, not wanting to offend Rogers I guess) what is the point  in Rogers calling me every few days when I already buy most of their services? Then there are the calls from Bell. You would think its officials would not do anything to poke customers when their rates are so high.
If Rogers and Bell really want to sell more, they should improve their services and lower their costs. As it is, they are sinking into oblivion because technology and competition is drowning them in quick sand. I doubt that in a few years they will be getting the same monthly dollars from me. Only laziness has stopped me from cutting already.
Technology has overwhelmed our politicians and agencies like the CRTC. We have become a city  where most people no longer answer their door in the evening (some times never) but we have also become one where electronic intrusion by con artists is routine on our telephones and Internet.
Official spam is allowed to flourish by the politicians who think they will piggyback their way to the next election victory by bugging the hell out of anyone who is too stupid not to immediately hang up.
But what about pollsters, you ask? As someone who has spent many hours pouring over polls, that does concern me because I find polls interesting and useful.
I have trouble separating the real polls from the scam ones over the phone but if the real pollsters were given a special low postal rate, not only would the mailed polls be able to contain more questions, there could be more supporting material too. You don't get that on a call.
It is ludicrous that we have huge rooms in foreign lands filled with unintelligible people trying to sell us duct cleaning on the telephone, and exotic towers filled with hackers infiltrating our emails with dangerous solicitations, and our authorities say there is nothing they can do, that is when they aren't phoning and emailing with their latest scam.
I drove by the house recently where I lived as a boy in the small town of Chesley. It was a sleepy peaceful scene.  And I luxuriated in it for half an hour. Then I headed back to Toronto and my cell phone rang. The electronic madness had returned.



Once upon a time, believe it or not, the federal government made it illegal to call yourself Canadian on the forms of StatsCan, particularly at census time.
I challenged this at provincial and federal human rights tribunals which ignored me on their grounds that I was just the Editor of the Toronto Sun and tabloids really didn't count with the Establishment.
Except the not-so-secret weapon of the Toronto Sun was columnist Doug Fisher, who before computers was the trusted memory of official Ottawa.
 Fisher had been a MP thanks to being the giant killer who defeated C.D. Howe, one of the most powerful pols ever to walk the Commons. Then he became a columnist feared and respected by every political leader in the land, particularly on immigration and native issues, and as a librarian by training, had the best files on any issue you could think of to buttress his opinions.
I was at many a party in Ottawa where leaders like Jean Chretien talked about Fisher's files as one of the best resources in the country.
The politically correct armies were just getting rolling but when it came to issues as sensitive as Indian/native/indigenous affairs, no one dared tackle Fisher even when he pointed out that the PC police were often full of crap and as a result too much money was spent and wasted on and by native leaders.
I began a Count Me Canadian campaign, in editorials, columns, speeches and electronic appearances, saying that Canadian should be allowed to call themselves exactly that when official federal questions involved ethnic origin.
With broadsides from Fisher and some immigrant leaders, we won, the census bureaucrats actually crediting the Sun for the change. So Canada as the next century approached actually went from fines for Canadians who dared call themselves Canadian on forms (we had to write it in) to formal recognition that as a country that was actually older than half the countries in the world, it was O.K. to say it was our origin. We no longer had to say our family originated in failed foreign regimes that specialized in driving their people to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
I hadn't thought of the issue for years. But I just read a letter-to-the editor complaining that the writer had to complete a form in which listing Canadian as an ethnic origin was not allowed.
Do we really have to go through this war again? Do we really have to go back to one of the sturdy roots for the good change, the great campaign by John Diefenbaker around 1960 to end hyphenated Canadianism?
Look at my family history. My father was born just two years after Confederation and came here from Cornwall a decade later. My mother came here from Holland in 1909. More than a century later, I visit the smuggler's coves of Cornwall and the canals of Rotterdam that my father and mother left behind and enjoy myself but don't really feel kinship.
Since Mary's parents came nearly a century ago, my three sons have our century-old roots in England/Holland/Slovenia, but their base, their source, is Canadian, not some hybrid gruel loved only by academics and those who boost the mosaic rather than the melting pot because they have more power (and grants) when they divide with hyphens fashioned as swords more than links.
Whenever I write about this, I still smell the stench from the past when ethnic origin and religion mattered more than the capability of the person in question. It's really not that long ago that politicians and businessmen found it necessary to fib about their history, and I'm not just talking about serial liars like Donald Trump who pretends he doesn't have German ancestors.
Religion doesn't count any more. Orange Toronto died a long time ago. Roman Catholicism may have been an issue in the mayoral election of 1972,  and it did take the city 146 years to elect its first Roman Catholic mayor in Art Eggleton in 1980, but we have just gone through a number of elections when religion wasn't important.
Or so they say.
I would just as soon not return to the days when our officials forced us to remember foreign roots that should instead be lost in the mists of history.
Count Me Canadian on every question about my ancestry or I will shove a bushel of forms down the throat of every official/professor/politician who wants to drag the baggage of other lands into this, the best country in the world. (Sorry, but the daily gush of patriotism south of the border is a tad infectious even though it must be obvious that we Canadians are much better and have a much nicer country.)

Monday, June 4, 2018



After a lifetime of political immersion, I ignored most of this provincial election.
I'll vote Tory because the incompetent Liberals bordered on fraud and the New Democrats want to give away even more of my money to the lazy, the unions, and every special interest group that has even a vague leftwing cachet.
 Naturally the teachers and civil servants want the Tories to lose.
I have covered politics since I was thrown out of my first council meeting in Whitehorse as editor of the onlyYukon newspaper. Then I had my vote thrown out in my first election when the territory court decided there had been too much fraud and voided the federal election.
My introduction to politics and journalism.
 My first taste of international media came via the same election when my story in Time magazine about the strange election in the land of the midnight sun appeared with seven errors not of my making.
 You would have thought I was a political reporter for the Star.
Since then it has been too many decades of covering elections, turning down invitations from three parties to be a candidate myself, and thousands of columns and editorials on politics.
Once upon a time, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to represent voters, whether as a trustee, councillor, mayor, MPP or MP. My proudest family boast was that my father had been chairman of the Toronto school board. Now who knows who that is, and who cares?
Over the years, most politicians seemed to fail us. So when the parties came calling, I said no, even when victory was practically guaranteed.
That got easier every year as elected representatives, which I thought was honourable work, slid down the slope of public opinion past even journalists.
I was at three recent gatherings which once would have been a hotbed of political debate - several hours of meetings of the CNE board, a Ryerson University reunion with three fellow grads of the class of '58, and a family party celebrating the 80th birthday of my cousin Paul Plewes.
I was surrounded on these occasions with avid critics and current and former political partisans who have been mayors, deputy mayors, councillors, senior party officials, MPPs, reporters and failed candidates.
In the day, there would have been fire in the air, along with cutting insults, volleys of facts and ambushes of insider data.
Not now. I am sad to report that for too many, and it was illustrated at these occasions, the battlefield is silent, littered with broken promises and pools of indifference and contempt. The voter hates the choices.
One reason is the fatigue over being bribed with our own money, and excesses being justified with lies and cheating.
Another cause is the 24-hour news cycle and the desperate search for news by skeleton staffs so what passes for political coverage is used to fill the yawning expanses and is often boring and shallow.
Then there is the poor quality of the candidates. It matches the reporting.
A third cause is social media and a general contemp by too many for facts and their acceptance instead of lies and hokum dreamed up propagandists and egotists who couldn't report what was happening in a flea circus.
It's difficult to be a good reporter. It's even more difficult to be a good columnist. Yet we are surrounded by fools who think they can play journalist without ever leaving their couch.
So the U.S. now is ruled by a corrupt president who has lied and cheated his entire life. And in Canada we have a minor drama teacher who inherited money and a family reputation.
In Ontario, the only choice is so flawed, it's enough to bring one to tears. The Ford family is a caricature sketched by a drunk -  a boring father and awful mother produced one bumbling clown who became mayor and another smarter son, both of whom won simply because they preached a populist message that conventional politicians waste money and are lazy jerks.
They promised change, the most seductive of all political messages, because so many hate how we have been  governed. So they go for a Trump and a Trudeau despite their huge flaws of personality and inexperience,  and Ford is a real possibility despite being a lurching rookie.
Thank heavens there are good Conservatives who can prop Ford up, including Christine Flaherty who should have won as leader. Give me this lawyer who raised triplets and was a good cabinet minister instead of this strange premier and a union flunky who may have been a good steward.
Since we have to have an election because that is the way democracy works despite this contempt for what it is producing, let's go with some women and men who promise us real change instead of old ways to give money to all the civil servants and teachers and bureaucrats and consultants and ad flunkies and....

Saturday, May 5, 2018



I have sifted the fallout from the White House Correspondents' Dinner and concluded that despite some chicken-shit commentary from media who have been covering too many politically-correct protests and got infected, I'm firmly on the side of ridiculing politicians.
In my blog about my memories of the dinner, I grumbled about Michelle Wolf at this one separating her good lines with foul expanses. This doesn't mean I thought she should be cast into outer darkness for her criticism of the president and his White House denizens, including the official liar who doesn't even seem embarrassed when the boss is caught out on another whopper.
Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher and all the professionals who earned their spurs doing stand-up who have refused to cry Wolf because of her gutter bits are correct in saying that Trump and his staff deserve to be roasted here on earth before they go on to burn in Hell for their utter contempt for truth, facts and the ordinary Joes and Janes who haven't bought their way into Republican hearts. (Assuming this lot have them.)
The president, who has been counterfeit since 1980, likes to talk about "fake news." Now he certainly is an expert at fabrication. But he needs the media to distribute this insult for him. Why then do we go along?
It has been left to the comics to be the most effective weapon against his bluster, although they should use more rifles than blunderbusses.
I have written thousands of columns, editorials and blogs. I even have been called upon anonymously to help write putdowns and gags for speeches about major figures, including premiers and prime ministers.
Now it's easy to write diatribes, as jerks demonstrate hourly in social media, but it's much more difficult to be subtler and clever in your lines.
So I have often sought advice from those who also have had to write for living...but have to be funny too.
 I remember grilling the greats, like Jack Benny on an exercise walk down Yonge Street to the Royal York Hotel. (And if you don't know who he was, that master of timing and the stare with one hand to the mouth, then you haven't done rudimentary homework in judging comedy.)
I'm told that when you write a humorous column or a roast routine, you start by putting down every  pun, crude gag, insult and double entendre that you can think of. Let it all hang out, from toilet humour to slander to rusted kitchen sink. Then you go through with a thick black pen and take out almost all of it. What's left can be funny.
The problem with Wolf is that she needed a good editor, one that would let her say almost everything  she wanted, but would get rid of the worst smut. If you get rid of the groaners, then the rest is funnier.
Of course even when Donald Trump sticks to the Teleprompter script written by his confused and terrorized staff, he Trumps the worst line delivered by Wolf who just did what she was supposed to do and then is criticized by media apologists who don't have her guts.
You know if the Washington media were really serious about criticizing Huckleberry and the mistruths of her regular briefings, they just wouldn't show up. Boycott the liars and let Trump and Fox marinate in  their swamp.
Then the rest of us could watch old TBS movie classics and take a break from the weird reality of this weird reality president whose behaviour for more than three decades has been worse than anything that Wolf could say.