Saturday, March 28, 2020



Ironically, the elderly said to be the main worry in this pandemic are survivors of a time when quarantines were as common as flu in January.
In the day, you worried about many threats. I am one of the growing demographic of old farts who remember the gauntlet of pestilences that could lay you low (sometimes six feet down) before the wonders of antibiotics and such miracles as transplants soothed the world 60 or 70 years ago and made more of us live past the Biblical three score years and ten.
Before Salk vaccine ended the parents' dilemma of whether Johnny should go to the municipal pool in case polio lurked there to put him in an iron lung
Before people thought twice about going to the doctor, and suffered, because there was no OHIP.
Before inoculations and vaccinations and idiots who attacked the simple flu shot.
As Steven Pinker documents in stunning detail in his bestseller Enlightenment Now, the world has improved tremendously in every possible way in the last decades. The good old days basically weren't. Then along comes this pandemic which is a savage echo of the past.
Margaret Atwood in an article in Saturday's Globe recalls her girlhood when warning posters were carried in that black bag by every family doctor to be tacked to the front door of the latest victim of a  host of diseases that would quarantine you for 14 days at least, from varieties of measles and poxes to scarlet fever, whooping cough, mumps, diphtheria etc.
If you were lucky, it was just tonsillitis.
Atwood is several years younger than me and she didn't spend all that time in Toronto but what she described would be familiar to many of us who were around when Toronto staggered out of war.
My father had a huge medical practice around our big home near Gerrard and Greenwood which like most GPs' homes in those days had a waiting room and office and a sign that lit up with the street lights. Quarantine signs were stuffed in his bag beside a cornucopia of cures, some of them mixed himself.
Dad drove a big car, usually with an assortment of neighbourhood kids in the back who went along gleefully for the adventure of the ride and the candies he also had in the bag. He didn't worry about more minor stuff spreading because he believed in getting all that over ASAP. He moved my two sisters and me into the same bedroom to make sure we all got the mumps before it would be really serious.
Dad died the March before the Second World War, exhausted from a flu outbreak, the normal burst of late winter sickness, and his work as chairman of the Toronto school board. It was then an important position, so all the schools got the afternoon off for his funeral.
My uncle kept the practise going so there was a Dr. Downing in the area that once was called Toronto East for more than 50 years.  He regarded the flu as a deadly enemy. My father had put him through medical school at Western but Lou headed first to Saskatchewan. He was the only doctor in Lanigan where a street is named after him. He was also the only dentist, pharmacist and coroner for the area. Of course the Spanish flu almost killed him because he could never rest. It took him six months in Vancouver to end his exhaustion and recover his health.
After I was orphaned, I ended in Chesley with grandparents who avoided the two doctors in town because they couldn't afford visits. (I remember spending summer nights with a feverish head pressed to cool linoleum to endure an ear infection which cost me the upper range.) I suspect that Dr. Morgan wouldn't have charged them because he, like my father and uncle, were used to not being paid. And in the 1930s and 1940s, even in Toronto, some payment came only in chickens, sausages and gratitude.
The middle decades of the last century were a magic time in medicine even for those of us flummoxed by the huge changes. Yet doomsday fears persisted, some times verging on hysteria, about polio and even blood transfusion since the great curses of health were so hard to cure.
For example, the western world doesn't think much about tuberculosis these days, even though it is said that TB killed 10 million in the world in 2018 and every immigrant still has to pass the test, but 60 years ago mass X-rays for TB were common.
 In the first year of what became Ryerson University, every student went through the preliminary testing by the Gage Institute on the campus. Suspicious results meant that you went for a larger X-ray and physical exam at the Institute itself.
To my surprise, I had TB and the Gage recommended to my family doctor that I go to the enormous complex which has been converted to the West Park rehab centre since the need for sanitariums has ended that brought thousands of patients to Toronto and Hamilton and other cities from every nook in the country.
Fortunately my uncle was that doctor and decided my being a patient for months in a sanitarium was not necessary because I was in great shape, even playing on a championship football team. So I dodged that bullet but for years carried a special card with my Gage number, like many other pensioners.
There is one health menace from the past that is still around us, possibly in the ravine in which you like to walk. We don't talk much about rabies now, even though it is said to have killed 59,000 people just last year, but then it did that in far off  places, like Africa.
We used to have epidemics among our wild life, which was front-page news because if you were bitten by a rabid fox or skunk, you had to have 14 painful shots in the abdomen even before the test on the brain of the dead animal was finished because no one wanted to take a chance on what could be a fatal bite.
I was the rabies expert as a kid reporter for the lamented Toronto Telegram, possibly because I brought a passion to the writing. On the way to the streetcar one morning on a downtown street, I was attacked by a squirrel. I suppose it was a funny sight, me jumping in the air, the squirrel snapping at my ankles, then me running over to the curb and bringing up because I had had a fermented evening. But it was as deadly serious as stepping on a rusty nail before tetanus shots.
So there it is, rabies, not something we talk about in Canadian urban centres (fortunately the treatment is now much easier) but last year it killed more than double the number of victims claimed by this pandemic by March 28.
I was an enormous reader as a boy and the accounts of the great plagues over the centuries always fascinated me. I had the occasional nightmare where the chant would be "bring out your dead." The idea of bodies rotting in the streets because no one would collect them horrified me. Yet Black Death killed 50% of Europe and devastated China. There were villages in Quebec during the Spanish flu in 1918 and 1919 where no one survived to do the burying. One estimate said it killed 10% of the world.
Thank heavens, I thought in my boyish naiveness, those days have passed. But have they?
I had a cousin working at what was then called the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph. He got sick while treating a horse in distress. It is hard to know real details because what were said to be the authorities ordered him buried the day he died before his family could even gather.
Such a thing couldn't happen in Ontario, I said, as I tried to find out what really happened. But it did, and the whisper was that it was the plague, which they say still sticks a skeletal fist around a few throats from time to time.
But, you say, that's just a horror story with a rural twist. It couldn't happen in a big city. But it did, to a stalwart woman who worked with me and was one of those fun-filled good reporters who are an asset to any newspaper. Her boyfriend was a lawyer who worked with one of the famous families. She died, like my cousin, suddenly, and was ordered buried within hours because, it was hinted, she was killed by the plague.
No, no, you say, this is the stuff of a bad horror movie. The plague really doesn't exist, does it? According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, there are seven cases of plague death each and every year, and apparently I worked with one and had another victim as a cousin.
So bats hanging in undiscovered caves are now the sword of Damocles hanging by a hair over our heads and world health. No wonder I have the same feeling about pandemics as I do about that Biblical language about war and the rumours of war always being with us.
 Now it's pandemics and the rumours of pandemics.
 And all we can do is to try to reduce them to epidemics.

Saturday, February 29, 2020



If you are truly blessed, you have a friend like David Paul Smith.
Even when you don't much like his party.
Everyone called him Smitty as he moved as a gregarious insider from the political and legal circles of Toronto and Canada to travel the world as one of the great tourists.
But there were "brothers" inside his incredible circles of friends and admirers, and not just his two real brothers who in the family tradition are ministers. It started with his Pentecostal roots so when he called with some of the richest gossip in the Americas, he would say Brother Downing and I would say Brother Smith and then would come a tale that could topple a tower but he trusted you to be discreet.
He was small in stature when he died last week at 78. Yet he left huge monuments behind for his city and country, from famous buildings where he had been the shepherding lawyer from planning stages on to putting God in the Charter of 1982 that is Canada's legal cornerstone.
As the Liberal caucus debated the wording of the Charter that would be presented to the House and the Queen for passage, the PM made it plain there would be no mention of God. He quipped that he didn't think God gave a damn whether he was mentioned or not.
But David, the MP from the city where Pierre Trudeau was never quite comfortable, sat in every caucus meeting where he would watch the PM like a hawk and speak about all the Christians in the country. Trudeau got a little bored with the repetition but liked David because of his photographic memory with which he could wow the PM with little known facts.
One day Trudeau listened to David's usual speech but this one reinforced with figures about the high enrolment in Christian institutions like bible colleges, thought about winning elections, then stood and said that God would be in the preamble to the Charter.
It became controversial and some say not that important because it wasn't in the Charter itself but David's monument lies within "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the superiority of God and the rule of law..."
It is actually a miracle of Biblical proportions that Brother David was around to become a major city and federal politician because he almost died in the head-on car crash near Peterbough that killed his father, a leading Pentecostal minister, and slashed his throat.
Paramedics taking a smoke break witnessed the crash. One held his throat together while they rushed to a Kingston hospital. One of Canada's leading specialists in the necessary operation was visiting in  Emergency because it was New Year's Day and he was kibitzing with a former classmate. He operated but he and the paramedics wondered whether they were just going through the motions because the incredible loss of blood would have starved the brain.
David survived but had no voice. One month later, a brother held a night prayer vigil at his church for his 21-year-old brother who wanted to go into law and politics but now couldn't speak because of a ruined larynx.
The next morning when an aunt brought breakfast to him, he thanked her, the first words he had spoken since the fatal accident.
I wrote perhaps the first account of this in a Sun column which caused a sensation at City Hall and had his beloved mother intervewed on religious TV where everyone proclaimed that David was truly alive because of a series of coincidences that added to a miracle.
It left David with a booming voice hard to modulate and a certain disregard for danger. In cities like New York and Chicago where few whites came near the giant black churches of districts like Harlem, especially when they were surrounded by hundreds on a Sunday, David plunged in with his friends, often dragging his gracious wife, Heather, who has just retired as Chief Justice of Ontario's Superior Court.
David loved gospel music, especially black choirs. We drove by the San Francisco Opera House one afternoon and discovered they were having mass choirs that night, which David interpreted as being giant black choirs from the South.
So back we went in the evening, entering to find we were the only whites among a sea of black faces regarding us with hostility. I wanted to sit in the back but David marched us up to three empty rows at the front and plunked himself down in the middle. Moments later, a mini flood of black ministers and their wives surrounded us, looking at us curiously.
The awkwardness continued while huge choirs thundered and swayed above us. Then a pretty imp came out and sang like Kathleen Battle. "My God, she can sing," I told David. The wife in front of me turned, beamed and said "my daughter." With that, we were in. Three rows of black ministers, and two white Canadians, sang together for the rest of the night.
David took stuff like that for granted because he liked and talked to everyone and he and Heather were natural hosts to a stunning variety of the humble and the great.
We were in Beijing in 1985 and our first engagement was tea with the foreign minister because, he told me, he had stayed in only two houses in North America, "the White House and David Smith's house."
Our group of 18 from Toronto, led by David and his controversial partner for a time, Jeff Lyons, were given favours during our visit because David let it be known that a relative had nursed Norman Bethune's family near Georgian Bay, and the doctor was one of the heroes of the revolution.
David could charm a stranger into being an admirer within an hour. He was sitting in a London club and struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman who turned out to be one of the few Law Lords of the United Kingdom and took him to a special seat in the Mother of Parliament for one of the major debates of the decade.
One quiet Saturday we were in the Prospect of Whitby, the oldest pub in London. David, of course, started talking to a trio, the only other drinkers, one of whom was a top executive of the InterContinental Hotel chain. By the time David stopped yarning about all the hotels he had been in around the world, the executive asked him to come chat about being a VP. David said his plans included a run for Mayor of Toronto and then there was this large law firm where eventually he became the lead lawyer.
He probably was happiest just driving down a strange road to a new town which had a good restaurant.
He read road maps like they were novels. In 1974, we were part of Toronto's coupling with its first twin city, Amsterdam.  We had a few days after the ceremony so in a borrowed VW van, with me driving, David navigating and Heather and my wife Mary in the back regarding the impromptu road trip through  seven countries with suspicion, we had a grand time.
He delighted in back roads. I was driving in the first snow along the side of a Swiss mountain and wondered why there were no road signs. David said he had been lounging in a tub one day and had seen this little road mentioned in a travel magazine. It certainly wasn't on the main maps. Over the agreeable years, the Smiths and the Downings went on to visit more than 20 countries together, and mysterious roads and secret wonders became routine.
One highlight on that first trip came when David announced he thought there was a Michelin restaurant in the next town. And up it popped. We parked at its front door, climbed to the second floor, had a pleasant chat and then dined on the speciality of this two-star restaurant. Usually the reservation would have taken months but with David and his enormous memory and charm (and luck) it didn't even take an hour.
He loved to eat out. He also loved to cook. He would come home from one of Canada's largest law firms and cook an entire meal from a great roast to a variety of vegetables while charming a living room of guests. The anecdotes during the meal would be almost as good as the food. The chap at the end of the table would confide how Joey Smallwood used to drive him crazy with his idiosyncrasies. Smallwood is legendary as a premier but what I now remember most is that Joey never threw away his razor blades but tossed them on a big rusty heap beside the sink.
You had to be on your toes at these dinners because it wouldn't be unusual for a major judge or former premier or cabinet minister to be holding forth contentedly over a fine port. One night in a stunning display of fantastic memories, Conrad Black remembered all the ships of the Argentine navy and their tonnage, David listed all the teams in United Kingdom football and their divisions and home grounds, and David Crombie recited intricate baseball lore. (And I wondered if there was more rum.)
David's work in the backrooms of politics is celebrated, beginning as aide to famous Grits like Walter Gordon and John Turner and ending as national election chair.
But what he should be remembered for most is his tackfulness, almost a sweet forgiveness, when it came to discussing other politicians and their pet policies. Even when his party was out of power, governments rushed to include David in international delegations because he may have been on the other side but he could be trusted to give a competent speech on a moment's notice that wouldn't embarass anyone. The Conservatives and NDP knew that David thought politics was an honourable business with many pressures and points of views.
And he loved every footnote of politics. It was bred in his bones. I recall his sunny pride when we walked into Westminster Abbey and he paused at the foot of the statue of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, once a prime minister of the U.K. "I am his great great nephew," he said.
We should cherish the past of David Paul Smith and hope that more politicians at City Hall and the "Ledge" and the Commons remember that you can accomplish much and have a great family and career and life if only you treat the other guy with the respect that you think you deserve.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019



I have been a fan of flu shots even when it has been difficult to get one.
The family history indoctrinated me early. Uncle Lou, who came to help my father, the first John Henry Downing, had been a doctor out west during the flu epidemic that devastated the world in 1919. He almost died from flu and overwork and had to recuperate for six months in a Vancouver hotel before returning to Saskatchewan where a street is named after him in Lanigan.
So the Downing doctors took flu very seriously in their huge family practice around Gerrard and Greenwood. And they taught their kids.
So when flu shots became available, I got one, and moved the motion on a hospital board that any doctor, nurse or worker who didn't get a flu shot would not be allowed to work during flu epidemics, and would not be paid.  I wrote columns and editorials attacking paramedics and other city personnel who refused to get flu shots.
I couldn't have agreed more when Women's College refused to let me see two grandsons in incubators,  each only 40 ounces when they were born, until I could prove I had had flu shots.
Which brings me to the last few years and the great drive by government and drug chains for everyone to get flu shots. Of course! Hallelujah!
I am in my Shopper's Drugmart at Royal York and Bloor several times a week. When you stand at the back of the store (and remember when it was the headquarters for the world's first pay-TV experiment) you watch all the men and women over 80 who are turned away because the ordinary flu shot is not recommended for them.
Last year elderly people in Etobicoke, and perhaps much of Ontario, were faced with waits of weeks if not months to get the special flu shot if they were over 80. Ironically, or maybe it's tragically, even though I'm one of the Downings who didn't struggle and become a doctor, I would say the elderly are the most vulnerable in our city to damage or death from flu.
Right now the walk-in clinics in the giant suburb of Etobicoke have no special flu shots for those over 80. (Drugstores don't give the shots to the elderly.) The walk-in clinic at Six Points, one of the largest around, may get more shots for the elderly next week while other clinics don't even expect repeat deliveries.
I haven't had the flu for years, even though an encyclopedia of other ailments have struck me. I think the flu shot program is a great PR and smart health move by the provincial health ministry.  But this annual stupidity is just dumb even for a ministry that certainly knows how to screw things up.
As a veteran hospital board member and, damn it, a consumer of health services far more than I want to be, I am baffled that such an important ministry seems to spend more time on reorganizing than actually helping patients get better medical service.
I have known 15 health ministers, mostly on a professional basis but some have been social acquaintances. Generally the ministers have been among the best in cabinet. The current minister, Christine Elliott, is so competent that I have written she should be premier. So I just don't understand why we continue to have huge glitches like this even in a program that everyone supports except for some stupid people who get their wisdom from fish entrails.
Perhaps if they spent less on advertising the need for flu shot and more on actually providing them, more of the elderly would last to spring.

Saturday, October 19, 2019



CJRT is celebrating its 70th anniversary this Halloween although the scramble at the birth of both the station and the university that launched it actually produced two openings.
The first words on the ceremonial opening broadcast on Nov. 1 were nothing fancy, just student Bob Leitch saying “this is your educational system CJRT broadcasting from studios in the Ryerson Institute of Technology, 50 Gould St., Toronto.”
After H.H. Kerr, Ryerson's founding principal, spoke cautiously, novice instructor John Barnes broke from the straight and stuffy to become almost lyrical at 7 p.m.
“Today is Nov. 1, known in the church calendar as All Saint’s Day. And so last night was Halloween. You were no doubt visited by certain ghosts who introduced themselves to your home in spectral fashion. Tonight we bring up a new ghost, using radio waves to knock upon your door and enter your home. Like last night's visitors, this one is also useful and the first of its kind in Canada. That infant ghost is Station CJRT, Canada's first education broadcasting station, a new venture in this country...We are licensed to program a wide variety of broadcasts with the only exception of nothing commercial.”
It was a humble start, symbolized by the oddity that the first staff member was a teacher of English who was insisting he return to teaching his subject. The station would stay at Ryerson for half a century and then become the popular non-profit jazz station in Liberty Village which was then just an expanse of factories.  It leaned on music at the start, too, but mostly classical. It was the cheapest format for radio, first 30 minutes of recorded music as a dinner concert, then when it finished at 7 p.m. a 15-minute documentary on broadcasting and CJRT’s history. For the next 45 minutes until sign-off came recordings by little-known composers. You didn't get to hear the big hits of the year like Blue Moon or Baby, It's Cold Outside.
Everyone at Ryerson was proud of the station even if they didn’t really know what FM was. The institute listed it on its official letterhead (CJRT-FM 88.3 meg Education's Own Radio Station) because after all it was a first even if it was unknown.
It was the early FM days and no one then predicted that eventually FM listeners would dwarf those of the AM giants like CFRB. There were few home receivers because legendary media entrepreneurs like Roy Thomson in Timmins and Ted Rogers in Toronto had not yet hit on the strategy to sell FM receivers at cost and gain more listeners. Still, it was rare for a school to operate an AM station for even a few hours, so there had to be an official opening.
Or two!
The bureaucracies of education and politics fiddled the calendar for the public ribbon cutting and finally decided on Nov. 22. Premier Leslie Frost and Education Minister Dana Porter agreed on that date just to get it out of the way because it really wasn't important. Yet Frost did have more than a casual interest since he owned the radio station in his lair of Lindsay.
It all began at the CJBC station just up Jarvis St. and then moved to the historic but uncomfortable gem of an auditorium in the main building surrounded by military prefabs that had been used by the Normal School and even Egerton Ryerson for almost a century. There the equipment that supposedly put the station on the air was activated, although insiders knew the station had really been operating for three weeks.
Then the modest festivities moved to the primitive plywood studio for the station that had been fashioned out of a weird room built originally to train fighter pilots. Mini documentaries and canned dramas were broadcast to show how it would operate.
Kerr didn't want to pick fights with the big Toronto radio stations so he emphasized to anyone who would listen that CJRT was aimed at supplementing existing radio fare by offering a distinctive  service for listeners who were not being served, either because of small numbers or minority tastes.
The station had limped into an early life before Ryerson evolved to an institute of technology after its rehab days for veterans returning from World War Two. A few vets, coached by local radio personalities, ran what was really a major ham radio operation. Then Kerr and his key assistant, Eric Palin, who had laboured to keep the station going after the rehab days that ended the previous year, went before the governing board in Ottawa and were granted a licence because there really wasn't any competition.
Kerr told me for my book Ryerson University A Unicorn Among Horses that Ryerson perhaps wasn't the first in Canadian education to get a broadcasting licence."I think Queen's may have had one for AM and there were one or two out west but we were FM and the first to run a station on a completely professional basis."
The broadcasting industry had big hopes for the station because it worried about what organization would do the training if the expected boom happened. As proof, A. Davidson Dunton, a famous broadcasting name as chairman of the CBC's board of governors, came to the bureaucratic opening. No need to give him one of those rare FM tuners but Ryerson presented one to the premier and one to the minister because it was important to keep them happy. After all, the premier was in the business even though he generally was baffled by anything that Ryerson did, and Porter was the local MPP.
It would be years before FM radios were common even in cars. On some nights, the rookie announcers from the Radio and Television Arts course were heard mainly over the loudspeakers hung in the battered halls outside the studio. Now they are remembered in the CJRT call letters that stand for Journalism, Radio, Technology.
There are many grads in Canada from CJRT/RTA, including some working at the station today. One famous one is Glen Woodcock whose Sunday Big Band show is one of the oldest radio programs in the known world. It goes back so far that Glen claims that Eve was the first Big Band singer.
The Ryerson of today has few traces, other than the facade of the famous building from Egerton's day and pioneer names on buildings, of the historic jumble of buildings and courses  that the early grads like me survived.
Yet it has climbed rung by broken rung to become a major university, and its radio station that started because there was some left-over equipment after a war has climbed even higher to broadcast from the top of the CN Tower and earn an international reputation.
Happy Birthday, CJRT,  let me buy Woodcock and other stars there many beers at Steele's. Oh darn it, it's gone, isn't it, under the Ryerson footprint, and the days have vanished into nostalgia when Lightfoot and Hawkins romped there with Sam the Record Man promoting next door. Lucky days for me when I still had enough money to drink there or at the Edison.
At least I have 91.1 to keep me happy as I contemplate the mists before Ryerson became famous and everyone had several FM radios.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019



I don't pretend to be an expert at many things but after moderating dozens of political debates at every level in forums ranging from Nathan Phillip Square to TV studios, I really do understand how the best debates come to be.
Let me declare without expecting any valid objection that what we're experiencing is so inane it would be a miracle if they helped one voter.
That farce involving what was billed as the political "leaders" of Canada was so bad that I kept flipping to other channels but then coming back to see if this verbal mess had sunk even further into a swamp of horrors.
Then we have the American versions featuring most of the registered Democrats and a media desperate to fill the endless news cycle.
Too many candidates! Too many moderators! Too much emphasis on timing! As a result you have candidates under the pressures of the clock and the others talking over top of them resorting to the talking points that they can recite in their sleep.
If you have more than four candidates in a debate, you have a problem.
If you have more than one moderator for  a debate, you have a problem, especially if each moderator wants to show off how clever they are with words. A moderator should be like a traffic cop at an accident: Keep the vehicles moving and not give preference to any lane.
The smart candidates are going to talk about what they want to get across so the question from a moderator is really not a probe but just a trigger for the topic. Any moderator who wants to make a rep should realize they are the least important person and the voters don't really give a damn about them.
Don't give me guff about fairness, democracy and all that because the blunt reality is that what most of the audience wanted the other night was to compare the Liberal, Tory and NDP leaders because they are the only ones who have the remotest chance of forming a government.
The other three aren't even window dressing on the process. It's just a waste for us to listen to tales about an unrealistic world of electric everything where one of the great economic drivers of our country, oil, should be sacrificed on the international altar of activists.
What we need is depth to the arguments because currently even a fish pond is made to appear an ocean. It benefits the shallow actor, like the drama queen from the stage world of costumes, makeup and sincerity in a can who is the latest gLiberal to try to spend their way to our popularity.
A good debate has the only candidates with a real chance debating issues for more than a minute a pop. It should take several hours. Any time a electronic device detects two people talking at the same time their microphones should be shut off.  The leaders can even sneak in their five-minute stump speech at the end just in case any voter hasn't heard it already. This would be a reward for them actually baring themselves publicly to the slings and arrows of outrageous opposition in an assault that lasts longer than a quip.
Of course it will never happen. And so I will never watch one completely since I no longer have to.
Oh no, the CBC would have a hissy fit, along with the sanctimonious Star, and myriad commentators and PC professors would trumpet that it is more important to have a garbled debate that really isn't watched than a lean version that might reveal something about the leaders.
All hail the politically correct political process in North America where anyone who can mouth a trite slogan about the environment and saving seals and banning drink straws and the joys of bike lanes can shove their way into a debate in front of an audience which then mentally heads for the exit.
So we have 28 people run for mayor of Toronto, and most of the known world competes to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. president, and people are so revulsed by these phoney debates, histrionics and posturing in today's shallow politics that we have blithering fools running the States and Britain.
One reason for the revulsion is all these people who think they should run for office because they can run for office. What we need is more critics who don't suffer fools gladly. If public resources are going to be used for a debate, the public has a right to demand that only those who really have a chance should be included.  Let the chuckleheads go argue in a bar or lineup to be interviewed by the CBC.
Right now, the admission bar requiring some glimpse in the polls or number of candidates in a party has been set too low. So the debates are crowded with more clamouring to get in. The chaos on the stage means you're lucky to hear even a coherent boast. So I spend my time instead watching very old reruns of M*A*S*H.
At least there they get a chance to operate on each other!

Monday, October 7, 2019



In the days of power and glory that was the Davis Government in the 1970s, Tom MacMillan stood head and shoulders above all the backroom players in ministers' offices.
I'm not sure when I became aware of him as a force behind the powerful provincial treasurer but it may be the day he was lounging at the big wooden table in the (illegal) bar just off the Legislature's press gallery and announced pleasantly that I was full of shit in my column that morning and gave such an impressive analysis of my errors that I used it the next day after subtracting the sarcasm.
And for nearly 50 years I listened to anything TeeMac had to say, other than any golf tips with his buddy Andy Donato, because not only did he always think outside the box, he could kick the crap  out of anyone who took refuge there.
He was agreeable with sharing his torrent of ideas that he had on every imaginable topic as he participated 120% in life.
I have read comments about his passing and think it should be made more obvious that he could be essential to any political party or club or newspaper if given an opening because his mind was so quick.
He wasn't a believer in bureaucracy with its forms, protocol and the way things were always done. It was a very minor thing, perhaps, but I've never forgot his mini rebellion when he tired of renting the Syd Silver tux on all the occasions where he had to represent his ministry and bought a tailored tux and saved the government money in the process. The auditor refused to pay but by some mysterious process the story was leaked.
He was the ideal committee man. I am sure that Saint Peter has already put him on the harp board because he was always at the head of the line when it came to committees for charities and reunions and where should we go for drinks.
The refreshing part of his volunteering was that he always did more than his share and was quick to harvest any suggestion from the rest of us if it wasn't too lame.
So if we were honouring the doctor for our informal club of friends, and Bernie Gosevitz loves to flaunt colourful socks (he does it with more class than the PM) and I suggested that we make that a  features of the fund-raising dinner, then TeeMac's committee would seize the idea and even Donato's invitation told all the men to flaunt really wild socks.
He could seize any gimmick, large or small, and incorporate it into the event, as fast as any trout rising for a lure.
The rejigged politically correct cliche is that behind every successful person stands a surprised spouse. I have found that behind every good leader in politics and business stands an assistant or two  capable of dealing with any situation from a crazy man in the reception lobby to a gift for the wife on the forgotten anniversary.
Behind Bill Davis as premier stood Clare Westcott, behind Paul Godfrey as Metro chairman stood John Kruger and Ray Biggart, and behind Doug Creighton as publisher and president were a handful of trouble shooters, especially TeeMac, no matter what his formal title.
Believe me, I studied the symbiotic relationships with more than casual interest having turned down being an assistant to Creighton and Godfrey because of the hectic life. But TeeMac thrived.
In the early Toronto Sun, a few of us were expected routinely to do myriad chores far outside our job description (not that there were job descriptions.)
Nothing quite captured the complicated relationships between Creighton and his key people better than the night that TeeMac as Albany Club president was presiding over the annual Sir John A. dinner at the club that is the Tory holy of holies.
Creighton had just had a brainstorm at dinner at his "club", Winstons, then one of the best and most famous restaurants in the country. So he sent for TeeMac to immediately take action. TeeMac explained that he was chairing a dinner that had several past PMs and premiers in attendance but Doug insisted. So TeeMac left the dinner, talked at length to Doug and then returned to a puzzled head table.
I sympathize with those labouring in the beleaguered Toronto newspaper market today when the old farts and Sun Day Oners reminisce about the knuckle wars between the Star and Tely and the glory days when a tabloid upstart of overworked journalists followed the Pied Pipers of Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington from stunt to scoop to adventure.
These are tough times for Toronto newspapers, but please forgive and allow the diminishing corp of old timers to boast about how great it used to be because it keeps us warm as the sun goes down. And we certainly are growing fewer with Tom MacMillan and others going on before us. Yet I am sure that he has advised Saint Peter that the Golden Gates would look a lot better if there was a Sun box just outside and each and every day the paper should get a little fatter.
Not that it ever could grow to match our nostalgia of the little paper that grew and grew and then ....

Monday, September 30, 2019



When I see some jerk wearing torn jeans, I curdle inside with rage, since once I had to wear ripped pants because I was poor.
It's not fashionable but offensive to the many in Canada and millions in the world who are forced to wear torn clothes or even to go without and shiver through the night.
Thank heavens that none of my relatives or friends or neighbours think it's really great to show strips of their flesh with fluttering strands as a frame because I would have to fight the temptation regularly to tell them to smarten up.
What exactly is the appeal? To say I want to demonstrate to everyone that I really can afford to buy jeans that haven't been torn or beaten but I've decided not to even as I climb into the latest hot car that cost more than many families make in a year.
Now I confess that my hatred of this dumb attempt to be fashionable was born that day in Grade 5 when Miss Thompson asked me to stay behind when the class broke for lunch. She said that I wasn't decent  and I couldn't come back to class unless my grandmother fixed the crotch of my breeches because various parts were in danger of swinging in the wind.
So I trudged home wrapped in a cloud of mortification. I didn't dare tell my grandmother because she probably would slap me for being too rough on my clothes. So Joyce and Joanne, my sisters who also had embarrassing clothing when they went to their grades just ahead of me, came to my rescue with some scraps of cloth that they wove into a form of basket with clumsy stitches.
So I waddled back to school (there was no cafeteria) and the approval of Miss Thompson who stood at the class door and inspected me, apparently not noticing the threads and unmatched cloth that sprouted below the military grey breeches.
It was an awful few months with me waddling around with a scratchy crotch and the resulting stubborn rash. I only had one other pair of  breeches. which are the worst form of clothing ever to be inflicted on a boy, but that pair was for church. Then came spring and the freedom of short pants which were a lot cheaper than breeches so I actually had a second pair. And in the fall the grownup joy of long pants.
You learn to be careful with clothes and money and just about everything else if there is no cash around when you are a boy. Indeed in all of Chesley money was tight as the town limped out of the depression only to be hammered by war.
So I can't shake that past when some of the nostalgia is more sour than sweet, especially when I see some plump teenager lounging on the subway with flesh bulging out of the slashes at the knee as she ignores the pensioners standing around her.
The idea of paying $70 or $250 for jeans that have been cut in the very latest style, or so the ad says, or buying jeans that have been bashed by stones and washed within a thread of their useful life, is so offensive to me that I list it as one symbol of how screwed up a wasteful society can be when trashy fashion survives even when it is offensive to common sense.