Saturday, December 20, 2008



Three ways of describing municipal assessment in Ontario today. And if you want to disagree, say because you work for the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., be warned that one of those words is from Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Indeed, there is such an aura of stupidity, arrogance and sloppy arithmetic about MPAC and how it has screwed up, again, that I didn't feel it necessary to bellow.After all, even the premier doesn't think the latest barrage of numbers from MPAC are realistic. Of course, ever since the provincial ombudsman, Andre Marin, ripped to shreds how MPAC flopped at its task in 2006, MPAC has no defenders, other than a few profs who want to explain in Dick-and-Jane fashion how market-value assessment works.
So I was gentler than usual in a blog about the latest calculations from MPAC. And I conceded their task isn't simple. But observers like Penny Caldwell, the editor of Cottage Life, seemed to wonder about my restraint in a blog she writes.But I believe in the old lawyers' maxim. If you have a strong case, state it calmly. If you have a weak case, shout.
It's possible Ms. Caldwell has nerves scraped by all the incidents reported to her from cottage country about inane assessments. Yet I figure this time our case is so substantial, there is no need to bellow that these assessors may set a record as the stupidest bureaucrats on Planet Earth.
After nearly 6,000 columns and several thousand editorials, I am used to turning up the rhetoric. But when this fog of unreality hangs over an issue, let them stew in their own miscalculations.
In a blog, I said the assessment on my cottage on the Trent River has gone up 300% since Jan. 1, 2005, even though the only improvements made came after the MPAC deadline of Jan. 1, 2008, for the next round of tax increases.
Torontonians are also furious about their latest jumps in assessment, one of the two factors in determining your municipal taxes. (Councils set the other factor, the mill rate.)
And in the city, I've been hit again. But miraculously it was only a 27% increase. Of course my neighbour's house sold for $50,000 less than the asking price - and that was before the real estate market blew apart in this recession/depression - but the assessor once again ignored such pertinent info.
Up in cottage country around Burnt Point (where the Trent River curves south of Havelock) my neighbours are up in arms about increases far smaller than my cottage's 300%.
When the key people in the North Seymour Ratepayers Association get together to talk about what's happening with two massive developments that would ruin our area, they are furious about 55% and 60% increases.
The irony, of course, is that in columns for the Toronto Sun, and in pontifications on various TV and radio shows, I have predicted for several years that a slump in real estate was coming.
That was the "bust" part of the best-selling book by David Foot of U. of T. And cottage country faced huge problems in gasoline costs and cottage taxes. The spectre of pervasive unemployment hung over everything. This depression/recession didn't hit out of the blue. For several years if you went to the annual financial meetings of companies like the giant Fairfax insurance conglomerate, run by Prem Watsa, Watsa warned you that the perfect storm was going to hit the world economy.
It arrived right on schedule, but I don't think even Watsa realized just how many dumb jerks there were who could waste a billion dollars as if it was used gum.
Yet MPAC, plus more senior over-paid bureaucrats, didn't prepare for it. So major budgets were incapable of dealing with the emergenices. And all the assessment calculations for the coming years have been rendered meaningless because of the collapse of the real estate markets. We are supposed to pay taxes for years based on calculations that no longer make sense. Profs and politicians may argue that it really doesn't matter what the new market-value calculations are as long as everyone is treated the same. But, of course, they aren't all being treated the same when you have the assessments for some properties set below what the properties just sold for on the open market, and then there are all the properties where the assessment is higher than the taxpayers just paid.
What madness is this! When assessments are set too low on your property, your neighbours are screwed. When the assessments are too high, you're being screwed.
Where cottage assessments differ from those in the city is in the added value placed on water frontage. Yet around my cottage, and indeed in many stretches of shoreline in southern Ontario, there are now so many weeds due to zebra mussels, it's difficult to swim and some cottages have been up for sale for years. The carefree days when you couid romp or work in the water without water shoes and gloves is now just a memory. It's a regular battle against the snarls of weeds, and one you face with the active opposition of governments. There are gauntlets of permits, and if you do finally get permission to use a herbicide, it costs more than Channel No. 5.
Of course, cottagers hardly are given municipal services to match those routinely provided within even villages. The nearest real public road is 1.6 km from my cottage. The municipality sort of looks after another kilometre, leaving the vital final link up to us. We have, of course, no sewers, potable water, street lights and garbage collection, and, as we've found out during city strikes, don't even think of putting a child into the local schools.
Yet councils really don't appreciate all the revenue they get from their seasonal residents. Cottage taxes are useful to pay for improvements to infrastructure that benefit year-round residents most. But heaven help you if you have the gall to protest some local's scheme. Then you hear all about the NIMBYs who don't care about local jobs.
A councillor wrote the Sun after my column about this saying that I didn't have the right to criticize when I hadn't lived there year-round for years. The Trent Hills mayor mouthed similar malarkey after many cottagers had the audacity to show up to complain about a massive local development.
I proposed twenty years ago that Queen's Park stop this nonsense where cottagers were good only to be plucked as if they were chickens rather than golden geese. I said a royal commission should examine the fairness of cottage taxation and determine if they were paying more than their share, The commission could have been headed by someone like Frank Miller, a former premier and treasurer who owned two resorts. After all many hearings into taxation have produced some startling findings, such as the one chaired by Willis Blair, a prime-rib Tory and former senior councillor, who found in the late 1970s that there were thousands of properties in Ontario that paid no municipal taxes at all, due to corruption or stupidity.
Now that we face years of taxes based on unreal assessments, but the one man who could stop this does nothing but say he as premier hopes that councils will be gentle when they rape their taxpayers. And we're certainly not going to be aided by councillors like Toronto's budget chief, Shelley Carroll, who points out that homeowners don't pay that much towards the cost of services. (Of course, the way Toronto's council has sold out to the unions, the cost of those services has become obscenely bloated.)
When McGuinty asks councils to be reasonable, it's like putting a big steak in front of a pit bull and expecting it not to gobble it up if you ask nicely. Taxpayers will be lucky if their arms aren't chawed off.
The sad thing about all this is that it's only going to get worst. These MPAC estimates for what our properties are worth now for taxation purposes will seem like the cruelest joke ever perpetrated on the residents of Ontario who are no stranger to the jests of the clowns in government.

Sunday, December 14, 2008



There are few things more contentious than the assessment on your property, which is a key part in determining your municipal taxes. It's so difficult, the Ontario agency is almost in a lose-lose situation before it tackles, and fails, to determine accurately all the market values for all the properties in the 321 municipalities.
After all, there are around four million properties, so it's a formidable task for people who seem to have failed basic arithmetic. Or they may be just sloppy.
The problem is that if some bureaucrats screw up the assessments in your neighbourhood, every neighbour suffers because your property is judged by the value of all the other nearby homes, condos, shops and cottages. And if the assessments are too low on some homes, it means that home's owner is a freeloader on our taxes.
I have plenty of support for my argument that the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation is not doing a good job. Nope, not just the anguished stories that explode out of our newspapers and speciality publications like Cottage Life. MPAC, a non-profit agency, is just a decade old but has already been found wanting and condemned by its customer, the provincial government, thanks to damning examinations by its officials, and then came the scathing report of the independent ombudsman, Andre Marin.
But someone has to do the job. And, heaven knows, MPAC takes enough money from Queen's Park, more than $130 million annually, which helps run an elaborate appeal system. Is it needed! Too bad if you use a Mac, you're out of luck using any Internet links.
They err on both sides, too high and too low. I know of examples that will curl your hair even if you're bald.
Toronto's a mess, and cottage country is worse. Ratepayer groups are furious. I know of one property that sold a year or so ago for nearly $200,000. Obviously establishing a market value for that home is not hard, and that's a major fact in considering value at the crucial MPAC-decreed time of Jan. 1, 2008. Yet assessors, who knew that sales price, say the property is worth around $160,000. Then there's the house where the owners got a valuation a year ago of $330,000, but MPAC says the property is worth $100,000 less.
There are far more big increases, of course. On my cottage, of 300%. No, you didn't read that incorrectly. 300%!
Before I explain my horror story, let me emphasize the unreality about this entire process, which will determine the taxes we will pay until 2012. The foundation for what MPAC is doing rests on the assumption that the value of Ontario properties will stay the same or increase over the next four years.
Do I really have to point out that the value of 99.9% of the properties in Ontario has been sliding since Jan. 1, 2008, the point at which they fixed our assessments. Not only have the value of sales slumped dramatically, so have the number of sales. And it's only going to get worse when such giant employers as GM will either be closing or downsizing dramatically.
In my cottage area near Havelock, where many have commuted to GM jobs in Oshawa, not only will those homes and cottages be selling at lower prices, so will the homes dumped by city residents who won't be able to afford two properties when they're struggling to pay for one.
MPAC may want to argue that this won't matter since the same is true for all properties. Except councils will be slow to reduce the mill rates, which is the other factor for our taxes. Like almost all governments, those extra tens of millions will stick to the hands of the civil (?) servants and not come back.
Oh yes, about my own explosion in cottage assessment, which matches the horror stories in Cottage Life magazine. My assessment for Burnt Point on the Trent River was $76,000 on Jan. 1, 2005. I have the records. Except MPAC says it was $144,000. It appears this weird calculation is based on an assessment of $92,000 plus a new addition I built worth $52,000. Except MPAC knows that the addition was built and occupied after the crucial date of Jan. 1, 2008, because I had already appealed the occupancy date to MPAC and won. So the addition can not be used in the Jan. 1, 2008 calculation.
Yet MPAC decrees my cottage is now worth $226,000 for taxation purposes for the next four years. I have appealed, of course.
If I had made a string of basic mistakes like that as an editor or columnist, I wouldn't have lasted five decades in the media. The assessors shouldn't be free of the same performance demands that the rest of us face. Base part of their pay on the only market-value assessment figure that really counts, what properties actually sell for. Every time a property sells for less than what MPAC says is its market value, the assessors for that area are penalized and the taxpayer gets a rebate.
That's only a dream but it's better than this nightmare.

Saturday, December 13, 2008



An old wound ached the minute the Liberals and NDP fell into a passionate embrace in bed.
And afterwards the Bloc Quebecois smoked and said the coupling was a victory for separatism.
I remember when that happened provincially, fortunately without the BQ using the Grits and socialists in a coalition against our country.
It was early May in 1985 and the revolt was flourishing in Ontario over too many years of Tory rule.
Frank Miller just couldn't swim as premier with all that baggage on his back. So the Tories won only 52 seats with the Liberals under a new streamlined David Peterson coming close with 48. And the NDP were out of it. But...
Barbara Frum and the National needed a couple of "experts" to pontificate on national CBC TV on election night. So I agreed, even though I knew this was dangerous in only my fourth month as Editor of the Toronto Sun. I knew that Doug Creighton, the boss of Sun Media, hated his experts giving their views away on TV, especially the CBC, right in the heat of battle when they should be in the office.
I even knew when it all began, when Bob Frewin, the football expert for the Tely and Sun, was so busy with the electronic media that he couldn't file during the Grey Cup, leaving me to write the play-by-play of the biggest game of the year.
But I went to the studio convinced I would be back in an hour or so. But the election was so close, we did one National for the Maritimes, then a second for Ontario, then a final one for the West. And I returned feeling guilty.
At that time, the Sun was the largest Conservative paper in the country. And I wasn't about to jettison Miller when he was four seats ahead. After all, the Tories were masters at minority government. So I wrote the editorial that, of course, the Tories should continue in power.
Then my world collapsed. I was in the composing room putting in the final comment when Ed Monteith, the powerful news boss, said with a smirk that Creighton was furious and wanted to speak to me ASAP.
Creighton insisted my editorial say that the Tories had blown it, and Peterson, with whom he was friendly, should take over. I said no, that parliamentary tradition gave first crack at governing to the leader with the most seats. He insisted. I refused.
Creighton hung up in a fury. So I, as the new Editor, enlisted the help of the new publisher, Paul Godfrey, only eight months in the job. Godfrey was calm and sympathetic when I roused him in the middle of the night, saying I was right and he would talk to the boss.
That didn't work. Creighton was still furious the next morning but I only found that out through others. He rdidn't talk to me for days. I had worked with him and for him since 1958, but I might as well have been in an igloo.
Two days after the election, I was drowning my concerns about my perilous position at the Toronto Press Club. We were honouring the latest inductees in the news hall of fame. We had persuaded the Lieutenant Governor, John Black Aird, to preside.
Afterwards, Aird, a Bay St. lawyer with the bearing of a leader of the Establishment, took Knowlton Nash and me aside
Everyone knew Nash, the most famous voice in the country, and I had met Aird over the years primarily at functions organized by Creighton. But then Creighton, a Conservative, knew everyone, even Liberals.
I raised the growing controversy over the minority government and asked if Aird had seen it coming. I didn't expect a complete answer. But Aird then began a remarkable candid talk about what he faced.
He said he sensed it would be minority and several days before the election, had asked his lawyer, the legendary John J. Robinette, to come see him the morning after.
He then asked what we though about the need for another election. I said that Ontario voters had been averaging an election a year since the 1970s, if you added the federal, provincial and municipal elections, and were election weary. Nash agreed. And then, to our surprise, Aird said he did too.
So we chatted amiably about letting the Tories have a chance and then, if they floundered, letting Peterson become premier. And we had another drink.
Nash said later that he was astounded Aird had been so open about seeking our opinion and telling us what he was thinking. Then he asked whether I was going to write about it. After all, Aird hadn't said it was off-the-record. I said that the press club had an understanding that things said there stayed there. And I wasn't going to write about it because I thought Aird treated us as gentlemen who wouldn't run to the nearest phone. Nash agreed, which was important to me. After all, he wasn't just a talking head but a shrewd author who had been a wire service reporter and Washington columnist.
So there were at least three people not surprised weeks later when Aird ignored a possible election and gave the Liberal-NDP Accord a chance to work because of Tory turmoil. But not all our colleagues agreed. Bob MacDonald, the acerbic Sun columnist, said Aird had reverted to his days as a Liberal bagman and it was disgraceful.
The column was so rough, I expected a vice-regal call. But Aird never mentioned it. But then he was that kind of guy. A born leader who performed brilliantly in his post because he was a natural populist. He played floor hockey with the Variety Village kids despite the pain of a chronic bad back. He learned sign language. And when he left the job, I wrote an editorial that he had mounted in plastic and kept on his desk at the law office. Maybe there was some extra praise triggered by his forbearance when the Sun writers belted him around like a puck.
I'm sure he consulted widely, and not just with Canada's most famous criminal lawyer, the national TV anchor and a newspaper editor. I'm sure Governor-General Michaelle Jean did the same. One of the reasons they have the post is because they know how, like Mark Twain, to take soundings of their surroundings.
I was reminded in the Dec. 10 issue of the useful news letter called Inside Queen's Park (founded by that amiable expert, Graham Murray) about the negotiations in 1985 between key Grit and NDP members to work out the Accord and a Throne Speech etc.
They were fascinating days at Queen's Park. Of course the Accord didn't last, Peterson won big in an election, then got too cocky and abandoned his huge advantage for another election in 1990. And that spawned the horrible NDP government led by Bob Rae, who is still so tarnished by his record that some academic/journalist who has been wandering the world as an intellectual carpetbagger can easily win over the national caucus against him.
There are some who think back to Queen's Park and 1985 and say that if this coalition thwarts Stephen Harper, they should be given a chance to govern because voters again are election weary. Except the huge difference is that this coalition is propped up by a cabal of traitors despised by English Canada. Their blackmail makes an election so attractive, the Grits and socialists should be careful in their opposition or they will be decimated.

Friday, December 12, 2008



About 40 years ago, when I first started going across the street to the Christmas concert at Sunnylea Junior School, some prof in the United States invented a black celebration that he called Kwanzaa.
He was jealous of Christmas, you see. Too many white people dreaming of a white Christmas.
Who would have thought four decades later that the Christmas party across the street can no longer speak its name. Now the politically correct folk have called it December Traditions. And Kwanzaa is right up there with any celebration of angels watching their flocks by night.
The phone rang the other night just when I planned to veg in front of the TV with a mug of tea. My son and his wife wanted to know if we were going to their sons' Christmas party. No, I said. Then I asked what the grandsons were doing and it turned out that Matthew, 10, was the MC and Mikey, 9, was playing a chicken.
So that is why I was the first person sitting in the auditorium to make sure we could see Matthew strut his stuff.
It was fun watching the kids' faces. They even snuck in a few references to Jesus, I think. Though it was almost submerged under all the other stuff, such as a Yiddish play in honour of Hanukkah.
The Jews I know are almost embarrassed that the PC folk have elevated one of their religious events to a major status when it used to be rather a minor occasion. As for Kwanzaa, it really is a superficial challenge to the centuries of religion and tradition that have created the modern Christmas.
But I come not to denigrate the other celebrations, no matter how artificial. Celebrate them and God bless you as you do so.
But they really aren't a match for Christmas which has certainly exploded into the secular world far from its roots as being a mass for Christ.
I have noticed in the annual de-Christianizing of this holiday season that the defenders have grown ruder as the attackers become stupider. All this stuff about whether it's a Christmas tree or a holiday tree has become laughable since its Christmas roots are so obvious and come from pagan times..
But this year I'm not going to waste energy on the jerks who so obviously don't get the basic message of Christmas which is acceptable to all religions. That is all religions that aren't busy killing their neighbours.
Nope, I'm off to sing some carols and drink some rum nog. And don't bother arguing with me that in this secular country we have no business letting a religious event dominate our calendar. I will defend your right to argue about that, just as I am happy to call you an idiot who doesn't understand that Christmas outgrew the Church and Santa Claus some time ago.

Sunday, November 30, 2008



I don't got to church much - blame Richard Dawkins - but I love gospel music, particularly at Christmas.
The Christmas concert has a special niche in my nostalgia and to hell with those who ban them.
Life wasn't exactly great for my sisters Joyce and Joanne and I when we were kids, but the Christmas concert in the little Baptist church on the hill was a highlight of the season.
Mary is a faithful Mass goer and ignores my idiosyncratic approach to religion where I listen to the Gaither gospel hour on TV but church is for weddings and funerals these days.
As Editor of the Toronto Sun, my intense evangelical past was no secret to faithful readers who not only perservered through my defenses of Christmas but also noticed that the replies at the end of our letters - a Sun tradition that became so popular, polls showed more read the replies than the letters - often had a Biblical flavour, thanks to my boyhood where we read a chapter of the Bible after every meal.
I'm reporting to all who figure I'm backsliding towards hellfire that I've already attended my first Christmas concert of the year. And I hope it won't be the last.
The local Anglican church, All Saints, like other wonderful Toronto churches, has an out-of-the-cold program every Friday for the homeless. The first twenty get a bed for the night, and there's a hearty meal and free warm clothing for another 60 or so. They start lining up at 3 p.m.
Other churches, families and groups help the 100 or so volunteers at this Kingsway church. And then there is the annual Christmas concert, now eight years old, held in Our Ladies of Sorrows church where five other churches gather in the Catholic church to listen to a combined choir of 120 voices, reinforced by the Kingsway Ringers and an orchestra called The Talisker Players. And of course we sing too.
The Kingsway business association supports it all, and so does Etobicoke"s Guardian newspaper, which means there is free chocolate and doughtnuts after, plus a chocolate Santa in tinfoil, and the offering during the concert, which last year was around $8,000, goes to the out-of-the-cold program.
It is a community effort, and feels like it too, in all its warm and hearty detail. There were mistakes during the program, like the troupe bringing gifts during a play came down the aisle too soon, but we all laughed as if a neighbour had just said something funny over the fence. ( And I remembered as a child soloist that I discovered half-way through that I had screwed up the hymn and I stopped in awkward silence.)
I've lived near Royal York and Bloor since 1963 - the longest I've lived anywhere after bouncing between 13 addresses as I grew up. But it's only because of such events that I feel like I really belong on these familiar streets, that the Kingsway really is a grand name for a place to call home.
The city may be 2.5 million strong, with another 2 million just outside. But it really is a mass of neighbourhood and villages, and it is possible to go to a big church on a busy street near the subway, and there sing the glorious music of Christendom in an event that is possible because the doctors and restaurants and shops I patronize - even the local pool hall - unite to help an honourable program during a wonderful holiday season.
And then there are jerks who want to cloak the Christmas in this holiday. How dare they when surely all religions believe its fundamental message of peace on earth good wiil to all. Humbug to them, and not to us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008



I will never forget the first time I heard one of the greatest anti-war song ever written. The memory floods in every time I hear John McDermott sing And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda as if he was looking into the face of a mother yearning for her fallen soldier.
So when I heard McDermott sing it the other night, with its composer Eric Bogle sitting off to one side staring at the floor, it was a magic moment. Bogle had never heard McDermott sing it live before, for various reasons, and tried to shrug away the emotion it must have stirred in his soul by saying the experience was "better than sex."
Then he added "more profitable too." Of course it has been recorded by at least 80 singers, although the best of them can only tie McDermott.I first heard it on a downtown trip to celebrate a family birthday. I missed the start on the car radio but insisted everyone wait in the car until it finished. But I didn't know who was singing it and who had written it. Joe Lewis had played it on his Saturday show on CJRT and when Lewis came to the Sun office on his rounds as a ballet publicist, he filled in the blanks. It had been sung by an Aussie group the Bushwackers and composed by an Aussie named Bogle.
( Bogle grew up in Scotland and still sounds like it despite decades of living in Australia. But Australia and its pubs have given him a certain bawdy charm when he sings and yarns. )
Of course I immediately told McDermott, at that point the Sun's staff troubador, about this great song. But I didn't know any more. So he searched and asked and finally a CBC producer gave him a copy, and the song became almost as much of his program as Danny Boy.
Bogle also wrote another great war song to tug out your tears called The Green Fields of France. And soon, I predict, we also will be listening to a new song called "Buddy's never coming home" which McDermott and Bogle will be singing to all the American troops overseas on a simulcast from Boston on Dec. 12.
And that will complete a musical trilogy. Bogle didn't want to denigrate the soldiers from the States and Australia who fought and died in Vietnam when he was writing a song about war. So he set the message from And the Bands Played Waltzing Matilda around the great Australian slaughter in Turkey in the Great War. The Green Fields of France is set in World War Two. And the new song, Buddy, which has not yet been recorded, is about the grim American toll in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bogle and McDermott are touring and did two nights at Hugh's Room on Dundas St. W, which is a great place in its acoustics and sight lines to watch music. (And the food's good too. Have the steak.)
This is a warm-up for McDermott's annual Christmas concerts in Toronto. (This year at Roy Thomson Hall on Dec. 22 and 23.) Bogle is busy writing for the concert because McDermott explains that the Christmas songs that Bogle has already composed are decidedly too risque. It must be all those years in the pubs.
McDermott now has 20 CDs out for his fans. I love Christmas music and when McDermott sings the queen of carols, Silent Night, I am carried back to my childhood and the charms of Christmas even if you were living in modest circumstances. I'm still playing his music on Boxing Day.
Yet it's the CD that doesn't have his signature song Danny Boy that has a special place on my shelf. There are 17 songs of war on this CD titled Buy Victory Bonds. And I studied the history carefully of each one before I wrote the liner notes. It was a frustrating experience because how can mere written words match the nostalgia, passion and pathos as a great singer doesn't glorify war but makes its wistful waste a trifle more tolerable.

Thursday, November 13, 2008



I'm amazed at the increase in illegal sports fishing in Ontario. But when you try to figure out the fishing regulations, some of it is understandable.
For 28 years I've had a cottage on Burnt Point. Because the current of the Trent River sweeps around my point after it circles Burnt Point Bay on its way to Seymour Lake, fish love to hang out just off the point with their snouts stuck in the flow to feed.
It's long been famous for fishing. Before I came in 1980, my shoreline was reinforced with flagstones to reduce the wear from all the fishermen. It's not just the family and friends, there's are always some sneaking in. The rumour was that the point had been mentioned in an European fishing magazine, which was probably a myth, but it seemes the point is discussed whenever fishermen get together to drink and fib.
I have a ringside seat, unfortunately, on local fishing since it's normal rude behaviour for people to fish within a few yards of my shore all daylight hours. So I see boats keeping everything from big minnows to stringers fat with catches beyond the limit. When the family sat down for Thanksgiving Dinner, I looked over their heads and saw four boats so close I could talk to them without raising my voice.
And I used to raise my voice. In fact, Dave Garrick, a friend and bass fishermen, gave me a birthday gift of a sign with a comic fish standing on its tail with the circle symbol for prohibition painted on top. Underneath it says The Dog Is Fine... Beware of Owner. I don't have a dog, and, of course, the sign only can stop legally those fishing on the point and leaving their garbage behind, occasionally taking anything that isn't nailed down.
But I've stopped doing that, after encounters with drunks who threatened to come ashore and beat me up. And then are the drunks who are bright as boards. And then there was the jerk who boasted about all the people he employed and said that he could tell I had the Big C and would die within the year.
Not exactly nice people, which you can tell from their manners, curses and peeing on top of my water line.
What I do now is watch them carefully, although this year I didn't have to be that attentive to see all the fishing a day before the walleye season opened.
My score for the last three weeks shows the sad state of fishing in cottage country.
I asked one chap where he lived, since I thought if it was close by, I would go and sit in front of his home for a few hours. By his own admission, he had been fishing in the same spot within 10 yards of my shore most days since Labour Day. I asked if he was fishing with two lines, which, of course, he was. No. he sad flatly, without explanation, but disappeared when I walked away.
I took a picture of three men in a launch who had been around most days. Since there were several other boats nearby, I thought the picture would illustrate an article I'm going to write on manners in cottage country. Two days later, one of the men was stalking my cottage and when a neighbour asked, he said he wanted to see me. She gave him my phone number in Toronto and he used it to trace my home address through the Internet. He drove 200 km. and knocked on my door to apologize, in a stumbling fashion, for the fact they had been fishing with illegal bait. He said they had thrown the fish back and he couldn't sleep and would never do it again. But he's returned, with his brother, fishing just off my shore although he promised never to do it again.( I will keep checking his bait if he stays.)
The worst example came from three men who acknowledged they had fished off my shore for two weeks and caught their limit each day. They said they were from Ohio and one of them had been coming for 40 years to fish there. I said they must be lazy if they come all that way and just sit in the same spot. Sure, one said, this is where the fish are. You must like to eat bass, I observed. They became suspicious and slow to reply. I pointed out they were saying they had caught 252 bass, and the possession limit allows them only six bass daily, and that includes what they have in storage. I asked if they were pretending they had eaten 18 bass each day for 14 days. One said they had had three fish fries back at the camp. (But fish you give away is included in your possession limit.) I told them they could explain it all to the game warden. When I turned away, they skedaddled. (Of course the neighbourhood knows that wardens are rarely seen.)
Because of these encounters, I double-checked the rules, first the paper version of the Ontario fishing regulations and then the Internet version. Once again I cursed how complicated it is to figure out basic rules regarding the main fish of my area of District 17.
I Googled bass closing for my area, which was Nov. 15. And that's what I confirmed after 10 minutes of punching keys. (But I also found a date of Nov. 30.) One problem is that I kept getting listings for brook trout when I searched for bass.
Many of us get our info about fishing from friends and neighbours because our fishing regs are as murky as the bottom of a swamp, I tend to check with a cousin, a retired banker who is so precise on the rules of everything from golf and fishing to cards that he's been an official at the Canadian Open and is often consulted by friends.
But I've just discovered that even he and I once broke the rules on fishing for pickerel, which have now been reduced to a catch or possession limit of only four daily, and only one can be over 18". It was a few years ago and it was a surprise to both of us that the rules had changed, although I'm not about to go further. After all, the punishment is extreme, or so I'm told, not that I've seen it written down in the booklet of fishing regs or the Internet. But perhaps the rules were different then. It's hard to tell.
Trouble is, the fishing regs are put together by insiders. You have to wade through info that is only interesting to biologists. And then there's the old stuff that should be pruned, like press releases that are two years old. So it all clouds changes, such as the one that you can now only keep four walleye a day, and only one can be over 18.1 inches. This is news to most people I've asked.
Years ago, I watched a Toronto City Hall committee trying to demystify bylaws. Karl Jaffary, a brilliant lawyer, said that what was needed was not something that would be a guide for the guilty and a trap for the innocent. David Crombie, later the mayor, who is gifted in communications, and Bill Archer, another great lawyer, agreed.
And that's what we have with Ontario's fishing regs, a trap for the innocent, who just want to catch a few fish, and a guide to be ignored by the jerks who want to catch 252 small mouth and large mouth bass off my point for 40 years and never expect to be challenged.
I called Walter Oster, head of the Toronto Sportsmen's Shows, who I know through such great projects as the Great Ontario Salmon Derby. Good person to give advice. He gave me the name of a Ministry of Natural Resources official for whom I left a message. That was weeks ago, but then my experience in 50 years of newspapering is that civil servants seldom rush to call you back, if they do call.
So I will complain to the minister, Donna Cansfield. A blog I wrote on July 11, 2008 describes how she ended up on page one of the Sunday Sun holding the biggest fish she has ever caught, thanks to Oster and kibitzers like me. She comes to her ministry as an outsider, not indoctrinated in hunting and fishing. Just the minister to cut through the gobbledegook and bafflegab that you face when you're just trying to check on provincial rules, even on such simple things as the minimum length of fish that you keep.
Government is filled with windy reports. In order for senior officials and the media to understand what it all means, someone produces an executive summary, a short, hopefully clear precis, without all the ifs and buts and don'ts.
That's what we need here. The basic rules for the main species that we catch in the front of the rules booklet. A synopsis. We don't need mating habits and biological history. Just the facts, ma'm. After all, there are enough people fishing illegally. We don't need more cheating by accident.

On Jan. 29, 2009, in a blog titled A GUIDE TO ONTARIO FISHING, I give Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield's answer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008



We take Remembrance Day more seriously than when I was a boy, although I grew up in the long, awful shadow of war.
But then Canadians take their holidays more seriously each decade. Even Halloween has become a major occasion. Perhaps because we got rid of Sunday as the pause day. Now we search for an excuse to retreat from the world, if only for those terrible two minutes.
As an editor, I always wrote about our wars and tried to do my best for all the families who were changed forever. But it never matched those who had heard the brazen throat of battle and did not flee.
Farley Mowat is a egotistical twit but he wrote a wonderful war book called And No Birds sang. Once I worked with a bomber pilot named Jim Emmerson who, as I said in my farewell at his funeral, could look at his typewriter keys and find his soul. There is a yellowed Telegram clipping in my basement treasure trove where Jim wrote about returning on the last raid of the war and seeing the plane off his wing crash into a Belgian hill. His friends burning as the first victory bonfires began.
The fact that Canadians, bless 'em, now honour Remembrance Day more than a few decades ago, and that the young have taken to it with zest, came home one tearful evening when I watched the Remembrance Day memorial at Richview Collegiate on TV. The entire school gathered in a huge circle around the Etobicoke school, teachers and students holding hands, and high on the roof, my son Mark played the Last Post. The tape is stored with Emmerson's clipping.
We live across from Sunnylea Junior School, which was designed by the famous architect John Parkin (who helped finish City Hall after the creator died.) It was supposed to be the model for elementary schools in Canada but is now just another 60-year-old school. My sons know each creak in the floors, and now two grandsons use the same classrooms that their father Brett once squirmed in.
And so each Remembrance Day I find myself in Royal York United Church for the service that the school holds there. It does heal some aches. Matthew, the 10-year-old grandson, is part of the junior singers and the choral speaking group, while Mikey, 9, is part of the audience, After all, he says, someone has to listen.
The parents arrive early to get a good photo location before the teachers arrive like mother hens shooing chirping chicks. And it all begins after the principal speaks - if only my principal had been that pretty - with a lusty singing of O Canada. I have a friend, John McDermott, who does a magnificent job on our anthem but it doesn't match the hearty singing of the kids from Sunnylea. (I do have a quibble. The anthem goes down on the last line, not up. That's the way Calixa Lavallee wrote it, and since I have a minor connection to that Quebecer, since he's the ancestor of my daughter-in-law Marie, I don't like tinkering with national anthems, especially those Americans who look on the Stars and Stripes as a musical experiment.)
When I was in high school and the Korean war was somewhere on the other side of the world, I figured war was inevitable, what with bomb shelters and the Cold War. So I decided to pick how I was going to fight and joined the RCAF Reserve. I became a radar expert, which didn't help me with speeding tickets.
So that gave me a taste, since for some around me, war had been their textbooks. Then in 1958 I joined the Toronto Telegram and I was a kid surrounded by veterans, including the graceful Emmerson. The air force and the Tely vets certainly reinforced my respect for those who fought and died or were maimed forever.
I used to think in the early 1970s as a columnist that Remembrance Day would become minor under the fire of the politically correct and the apologists of the CBC. For those born in the 1930s, like me, who were too young to fight, it still hung over us like a spectre. As the depression did.
But Remembrance Day has blossomed like a field of blood-red poppies. For a time it seemed we were going to end, as the legless veteran in Eric Bogel's great song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, wondering who was going to be left to march.
But Afghanistan has put an end to that. The country has moved from a rainy day subject for desperate editorial writers to a killing ground for our sons and daughters.
The service at Royal York United ended with the kids singing Let there be peace on earth. It was beautiful. And as their voices bounced off the plain red-brick walls, I wondered how many of the parents around me were worrying about how in 15 years or so, these kids might march off to war, again.
I thank the heavens that my three sons didn't have to face the world war that I thought was inevitable. Now I have to worry about four grandsons. If only history didn't repeat itself.

Friday, October 31, 2008



Tis the season to be jolly about the past in newspapers.
The National Post has been flaunting its decade of putting out a very readable, attractive newspaper.
And on Nov. 1, the Sun is 37 years old - I was going to say 37 years young but the Sun lost its bounce, its edge, some time ago.
Robert Fulford, the insightful writer who shows you don't need to go on from high school in education, took a passing swipe at the Sun in his celebration of the Post decade.
It's time to remind Fulford that the thin tabloid he disparages revolutionized newspapers in Canada. Not only did it show that new technology made newspapers a lot easier to produce than the old hot-metal days of printing, the Toronto Sun became the flagship that at one point was the second largest in the country in circulation and readership. It daily walked the tight rope between the profane and the profound, and often fell on either side in the same column.
We had Mountie investigations and for a time were boycotted by city council and the Toronto Board of Education. I was the editor who put the offending column by McKenzie Porter in the paper and never heard a peep of criticism from the brass as we lost those bureaucracies ads for months.
Even though the Sun has set on its former gigantic energy and cheekiness, the Sun chain is now the largest in the country. Hardly an eclipse.
But enough about the Post. As it demonstrates daily, it's used to blowing its own horn.
I want to recall the birth of the Sun from an unusual perspective, the editor who was in charge as the presses produced the last Telegram and then the columnist who was in the first Sun edition that Monday.
That column talked about stadiums (we didn't much go for affectations like "stadia" at the Sun) and how this was one of the perennial municipal issues that was going to have to be settled.
I had an unusual ringside seat on what happened to stadiums, and just about anything else in the city's affairs, because I wandered from City Hall to Queen's Park to Ottawa. The amateur historians of the Sun persist in calling me a municipal columnist. Basically however, I was a political columnist who wrote about everything out of sheer desperation at having to produce a column five or six times a week for Page 4. I occasionally even wrote the editorial too when Editor Worthington was away.
Turn to my column and you might find anecdotes about the family, the cottage and fishing, or a rant against City Council - even though it was a thoughtful highly-tuned political machine compared to the modern clutch and grab of Millerites - or what happened in Question Period.
I recall the day I almost forgot about the provincial budget. My column was our main coverage of that major political instrument. Or I would be off for the Throne speech in Ottawa. Thanks to the gigantic presence in Ottawa of Doug Fisher, and the bitchiness of Claire Hoy when he started at Queen's Park and wasn't being repetitious, no one noticed just how few editorial staffers we actually did have.
Bill Denison, a speech therapist, was the grey mayor when the Sun began. Then came the Pillsbury doughboy, David Crombie (whose nickname of the Tiny Perfect Worship was coined on Page 6 by Gary Dunford) the municipal goliath of Paul Godfrey, and a series of mayors and councillors that were superior to the current crop.
Too often when we grow nostalgic about the good old days, we forget that the good old days really weren't. But it's easy to say after this turbulent fall that the stock market was better then, and so was traffic, city services, movies etc.
Of course nostalgia does cloud the senses, but I remember when people had a substantial down payment before they bought their homes, and cautiousness and frugality were not scorned by the conspicuous consumers.
Perhaps Toronto's history with stadiums illustrates the decline in prudent stewardship of taxes.
Godfrey as Metro chairman (and the regional government worked better than this one, something I thought I would never say) was responsible for a tweaking of Exhibition Stadium that allowed the Blue Jays to play here, after one day when we thought it would be the Toronto Giants stolen from San Francisco. It cost only $17.5 million, and that was the last time anyone used "only" about stadium costs.
Contrary to the myth, the first cost for SkyDome was not $150 million. Godfrey and his aides picked that figure out of the air to shut me up, as the columnist who kept bugging them about costs. The first estimate was around $228 million, and then the madness took over that resulted in a final figure of $628 million.
In the end it was such a tangled confusion of fact, fiction and fibs that how much the taxpayers eventually lost is a smeared mess. Let's just say it was at least a third of a billion dollars, which used to be good enough to be a major scandal, but the players in this debacle had all moved on. I would like to take part in any public debate where I would argue that over the years the cost was half a billion for the savaged taxpayers.
Stadiums continue to bedevil Torontonians. The establishment tore down Exhibition Stadium, using the $5 million that the users had contributed for its upkeep. Then they built a $72 million stadium only a few meters away, where Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which control this soccer stadium, has already got twice its money back after contributing the smallest amount to the pot.
Another scandal!
As I've said, how our politicians have handled stadiums here is almost as bad as how they've handled our garbage. Remember when you put a couple of cans at the curb and they took our crap away and burned and buried it without ever escalating costs. Now we have giant awkward cans to store and manoeuvre and the prospect of special payments which will go up and up like our water costs.
Oh yes, things have certainly gone all to hell since 1971, although, for a time, the Sun really did shine all over this town and filled all the ordinary people with warmth and gave a sunburn to all the jerks.

Thursday, October 30, 2008



The bullet train glided into the curve at close to 300 km/h. And David Wilkes, a stockbroker from central Etobicoke, looked out happily at the Japanese scenery whizzing by and said "you've just got to write about this when we get back. We need one of these."
And the entire group from Humber Valley United Church agreed. Maybe for the first time. We were an agreeable mixed bag - nurses, teachers, architect, lawyer, consultant, writers - and some were used to running big operations. We all longed for such a bullet to be flying around home.We did all the normal things on our visit, from solemn quiet at Ground Zero to drooling at the prices in Akihabara, which bills itself as the largest collection of electronic appliances and devices in the world.
But we always came back to talking about the Shinkansen, those famous sleek trains which the envious world has oogled for 44 years.
If only we had those in the transportation corridor from Windsor to Quebec City. Maybe Air Canada would actually be civil because of the huge loss of its business,
Now it's not news that various governments have thought and consulted and procrastinated about having fast trains across the bottom of Ontario and along the St. Lawrence. Maybe even with a siding to Ottawa. Any columnist who wrote occasionally about transportation, as I did, used to mine the endless reports on that topic because it made so much sense, particularly Toronto to Montreal.
But nothing's happened, even as the wait times at airports increased, along with everything else. The price of aviation fuel. The fare. The security, which seems to be the Third World revenge on the middle class, which has become so onerous and dumb I would rather drive on short hops.
Or take the train.
My introduction to bullet trains came in Kyoto 15 years ago. I learned, almost to my sorrow, that all those stories about jumping aboard as quickly as possible are not exaggerated. If I hadn't pushed aside some chap lumbering out the door, I would have been a day late for Mt. Fuji. (And I actually did see it, which many tourists can't say.)
You queue where numbers painted on the platform say your car is going to stop. And it does, precisely on the spot and on time. And you get aboard ASAP. Actually the trains this time seemed to give the traveller more of a pause, but then I wasn't about to test the system.
And there you sit in comfort, munching, drinking, reading, getting to your destination often in the same time as it takes to clear most airport gauntlets.
We took the Shinkansen train to Yakayama from the lovely resort area of Hakone, and a stay at the costly Prince Hakone Hotel, which is worth most of what you pay. We transferred once for the 412 km trip, which took four hours and nine minutes. Talk about arriving refreshed.
We also took local trains, including one which was a glorified subway, and then the Shinkansen Nozomi 005, which travelled the 381 km. from Kyoto to Hiroshima in one hour and 44 minutes, and then the Nozomo from Hiroshima to Osaka, a 324 km trip that took one hour and 29 minutes.
We stayed in several railway hotels during our gawking, grand structures with giant train sets in the basement. Remember when Canada's railway hotels were world-famous. Why in Toronto, we can't even convert Union Station to anything worthwhile after four decades of fights and lawsuits.
We stayed in two Granvia hotels where you could look down on the bullet trains speeding in to unload a few hundred yards from the lobby. One Granvia had a huge lobby and a cascade of escalators that rose to the stars. Actually they went up and up and up to the roof. It was such a shining hillside of escalators that at one landing, so help me, they hold outdoor concerts.
Remember when railways and the other side of the tracks were the stuff of seedy movies and cheap mysteries. In Japan, and in other countries, such land can be the anchor for grand developments.
The bullets started flying in 1964, and the trains did around 200 km/h. Now they claim 300 km/h and the Japanese say they hold the word speed record. But I was in Paris the day a TGV train from Lyons hit 350 km/h and the French said that was a world record.
It's unimportant to me because any of those speeds dwarf what we see in Canada. Just look at the dregs of the Canadian passenger train service which once knit a sprawling country together like it was a warm shawl in winter. I've gone to Vancouver and back by train twice, but that was decades ago. I don't fancy the trip now.
Actually, I was a witness when Canada decided to try to match the bullet trains and launched its version in December, 1968.
The Turbos began with great flair. On the first day, they filled one Turbo with media in Toronto and sent it to Montreal. And the Quebec media filled another Turbo to Toronto.
The driver of an empty meat truck near Kingston was used to beating trains across a level crossing and tried to outrun the Turbo. I had just been standing behind the engineer and saw his speedometer at 97 mph. So we cut the truck in two, like a hot knife through butter, so cleanly the driver wasn't seriously injured.
I ran to a nearby farmhouse to phone a story to the Toronto Telegram. When I walked back to the Turbo, with its damaged nose, I saw that the Montreal-Toronto Turbo had stopped beside us. Overhead were the planes and helicopters of the international media recording the maiden trip of what was going to be the super train for all of North America.
Some farmers in pickups, with bales in the back, were waiting for the trains to leave so they could cross amd go to town. One eyed me and my notebook, and all the planes and cameras and tape recorders, and said "you fellows sure get to the scene of an accident in a hurry."
All the networks were there. It was really was the last time the Turbo was big in the news because it was never a success. Its brakes kept freezing and so did its passengers.
It stopped around 1982. And that was Canada's last real venture into super trains.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could have another maiden train trip, with the media perched overhead in wonder, and have a Canadian version of the Shinkansen speeding between Toronto and Montreal.
We can always dream, can't we? As we did a few weeks ago in Japan as we flew between cities almost as fast as if we were in a plane. And without the hassles.

Saturday, September 6, 2008



Torontonians, along with all those Canadians who are jealous of Toronto, should look back on the Beijing Olympics with gladness that it didn't happen in Toronto.
Sure the waterfront would have been transformed. (And some construction companies would have had record profits.) Sure the eyes of the world would have been on Toronto for several weeks. (If that is so important to you, move to New York.) Sure the rest of Canada could have basked in the reflected glory. (If they don't like us when we pay more than our share of federal taxes, they may not like us even then.)
What wouldn't have been so nice is that we would have had a Olympic-record debt that would not be paid off for the rest of our lives. All of us. Every Canadian.
And I don't want to hear someone shouting from the cheap seats that the Montreal Olympics has been paid off, sort of, and it's only been a few decades. The Beijing Olympics was so expensive, their costumes and fireworks would have bankrupted most Third World countries.
I had a taste of how the aging rulers of China were breaking their bank over their Olympics a couple of years ago when on a visit I found that the infrastructure in Beijing already made Toronto look like a shabby hamlet.
I will stay away from giving cost figures here because I don't believe anything that any government has to say about costs. From Canadian Conservatives and Toronto councillors to the dictators of China and Olympics bureaucrats, they all lie like a kid in the house with an empty cookie jar.
So if they say that the Beijing Olympics cost $40 billion or $400 billion or $400 trillion, it doesn't particularly matter because I don't believe them.
All I do is thank God or Allah or Buddah or Zeus that I'm not paying for it. We dodged the bullet, but it may well hit us in Vancouver after the Frozen Games.
Even the fallout from Toronto's failed Olympic bid was costly, and I'm not talking about the expenses of the usual suspects behind the Toronto bid, or our futile attempt to entertain or con every tinpot jerk and faded royalty associated with the IOC.
We used the bid as an excuse to tear down Exhibition Stadium even though it was built so well, it cost $5 million to demolish it, which just happened to be the money that had been set aside from each ticket to pay for improvements. We improved the stadium by tearing it down. Thank heavens Toronto City Hall only can ruin within the city limits because with such thinking, every famed bit of infrastructure in the world would have been improved right out of our sight.
(Of course, a decade later, the same chuckleheads built a smaller stadium just a few yards away from Exhibition Stadium. The cost in land and construction was over $70 million, but it ended up in control of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which has already made a profit of double the money that it contributed. That outfit knows how to make money but not how to win Stanley Cups. Obviously it's more in the money business than the sports business. It should sicken the voters when they see how MLSE gets control of facilities when it pays far less than taxpayers do. Another example is the Ricoh Colosseum. I used the name to distinguish it from the much grander one in Rome which would never have lasted 2,000 years with the thinking of this City Hall.)
The scheme behind the Toronto bid was to build grand structures that could be used for a NFL team and other toys of billionaires who are so rich because they manage to get us to pay for their dreams. Oh yes, it would have allowed them to tear down the Gardiner expressway, ignoring that in major cities like Beijing, they are still building such workhorse roads, although they never allow them to look as unsightly as the Gardiner. Beijing has more flowers along 100 metres of their expressways than Toronto has along the Gardiner, Don Valley, 401 and 427. But with the construction industry pulling hidden strings at City Hall, the socialists are always after the Gardiner pretending it's for our good, not theirs. They even cheat on the usage figures, and of course, the costs.
What is forgotten about the Toronto bid is that the clutch and grab of volunteers who put together the documents, with the help of the usual costly consultants and millions of tax dollars, did so while ignoring the rest of us. They may say there was consultation but I can tell you as someone active in the affairs of the Exhibition that they just drew their pretty structures without regard for the views of those who actually thought they controlled the lands.
The annual fair, car race and trades shows would have been eliminated for a year with no promise of compensation. Some of this would have been eased by an Olympics in late June, when the weather is usually better here than late August, but that argument was dismissed with a laugh. I have been president of the board of directors which runs the CNE and vice chair of the board of governors which is the landlord and controls the park. I can assure there was no consultation on how the Olympic bureaucrats would have changed one of the major venues, tearing down any building that was in the way.
Now this is ancient history in the world of Toronto politics but I remind you of it because there will always be someone at City Hall wanting us to bid on some games or exposition or world junior tiddly winks championship. There will always be grandiose promises of the benefits, of the world attention, all the money flooding in. Ad nauseum, and mostly BS.!
You must never forget the hangover.
Remember when everyone goes home and the locals are left trying to figure out how to use purpose built facilities which just had to last for two weeks. Remember the tax bills from City Hall and Queen's Park which can't even handle the tasks they have now. All the city councillors know how to do is threaten to close pools, not to build bigger ones with exercise rooms that don't look like a failed fitness club.
Sure it's nice to see that China put on a grand spectacle, even if the aerial fireworks pictures were souped up by computer. Even the controversies were rather minor. Having a cute kid pretend to sing a song is hardly unusual because the same thing is done for most anthems at the Roger Centre. So what if some Chinese acrobats were too young. What about the East Germans who used to have men compete as women. Or was it the other way around? What about the 100 metres where every finalists was presumed to be on drugs but the Canadian lost because he spoke thickly and the gutless Canadian officials didn't support him.
In Beijing, it's back to normal. Smog is back over Beijing. The millions of homeless can sneak back into the big cities. The poor can starve. Prayer meetings will land you in prison if you're not careful. No mass demonstrations. It really doesn't matter what the dictators do because the world will trade with you as long as you space out the killings of students on the largest square in the world.
Here in Canada, we should be thankful that the games of sports we seldom watch was not held in its largest city. And we should worry about what happens in Vancouver once the politicians and bureaucrats start trying to show off to the world.

Thursday, August 7, 2008



I am a big fan of the Canadian flag and love wearing a flag pin and handing out these pins to strangers when I travel.
The rewards are often great. I recall a contingent of Ontario reporters pressing flag pins on waiters in some Italian city on some visit by an Ontario premier and getting a bottle of wine for each pin. Our stories that night were quite interesting for those of us who could still see the keyboards.
My sons have followed in my footsteps, although they are more generous with the pins and have travelled more than I have. (And I've been to half the countries of the world.)
My son Mark, who lives in China and finished an MBA there on an exchange between U of T and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has given away Canadian flag pins by the hundreds. It can get expensive because our former Liberal MP, Jean Augustine, charged me for them. I resented that because MPs and senators don't have to pay for the pins. I guess it was retaliation for not being a supporter.
Mark has just returned from a visit home to Dalian (a port city in China known throughout history as Port Arthur, a battleground between the Russians and the Japanese.) He left armed with two sacks of pins compliments of Senator David Smith and MP Alan Tonks. Both nice guys, and friends, and we will forgive them for being Grits.
Mark has been several years in Asia (now working in marketing for Dell) and talks fondly of how pleased people there are when he gives them a Maple Leaf. A real mixed bag of recipients! There is a secret cop in Cambodia who wears a pin from Mark, and a few diplomats, camel jockeys etc .
Mark just sent me a message telling me of his trip to Beijing for the Olympics. Quite a nice way to celebrate his 37th birthday

"I flew on China Northern Airlines from Pyongyang-Dalian-Beijing back in May 2002. The next day, the return flight (6163) crashed off the coast of Dalian. Since then, I've been drawn to flying China Southern, as they bought out the assets from China Northern after Beijing quickly shut it down.

"As usual, today I chose China Southern to get to Beijing, a day before the airport in Beijing is closed to avoid a 911 into the Bird's Nest.

"As luck would have it, the highly respected U.S. Track & Field team (25 medals in the 2004 Olympics) were on the same flight. They have been in Dalian for a few weeks practicing by the sea side, needing cleaner air, cooler temperatures, and fewer hassles than they would face in Beijing.

"At the terminal, I spoke with a few of the athletes, coaches and doctors. Several of them, including Wallace Spearman--a contender for the 200 metre sprint--now have Canadian flags pinned to their badges."

Makes a dad proud!


Wednesday, July 30, 2008



There's going to be a rodeo at this year's Canadian National Exhibition and already a few of the usual suspects have complained.
The Ex, of course, knowing that humane activists are quick to protest everything from the death of earthworms in fishing to pet food that isn't of gourmet quality has ensured that the rodeo will be run by experts in the business who are sensitive to the automatic protests from people who love animals more than their neighbours.
The terrible truth is that animals get a better deal from many people than other humans do. Have you not noticed that as movies grew more violent, with dozens of people being chopped up and burned or mutilated, that the producers ensured that at the end of the movie there would be a note that no animals were hurt or mistreated during the making.
Oh yes, they may have lost a stuntman or two, or put them in a hospital bed, but the animals only appeared to be damaged.
It's amazing how far the activists go. For example, they think fish have the same nerves etc. as humans, although that is refuted by experts.
So when we catch fish, we are pulling creatures out of the water who feel just like a human baby would in the same situation.
What nonsense!
I often have written about fishing, so the activists know that I'm a jerk. After all, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which is probably the richest and largest of the humane groups, says that fishing is evil and the famous fisherman known as Jesus didn't fish or eat fish. How they know this 2,000 years later baffles me but then much of the humane movement baffles me.
Of course we should be as humane as possible with animals, whether they are pets or food, but I refuse to think that they have the same nerves, brains, feelings etc. as humans do.
Yes, I have had cats, dogs, birds and turtles as pets. I didn't mistreat them. I love the pleading eyes of a dog. I think we should be tough on the mental cripples who inflict unnecessary pain on animals. But I'll eat just about anything, although endangered species and creatures which have lived the equivalent of a hundred years in human terms (say a giant lobster) are safe from me.
As the Editor of the Toronto Sun, I have experienced how illogical the protesters can be. We ran a Page One picture of a dog trapped under a streetcar that prompted so many angry calls that our phone system collapsed. Yet when we ran the picture of an elderly woman trapped under a streetcar, there was no fire storm of calls and letters.
Our pictures prompted a councillor, Esther Shiner (mother of David, a veteran councillor on the current council) to propose a cage or baffle to prevent such accidents. (It was called the Shiner Skirt, although it was basically an adaptation of the cowcatcher on rail locomotives which meant that cows, deer and other creatures were not crushed underneath.)
I returned from China in 1985 with two pages of pictures and a number of columns. There was one shot of dead dogs being hung like dressed hogs in a Canton market.
I never mentioned in any column that Chinese doctors recommended meat from dogs (raised not as pets but for food) as a tonic in winter for the ailing. We got 200 calls of protest in the first hour of business, and then it got worse. Readers wanted to gut and hang me when all I did was take the picture.
So I realize that bulls buck because their testicles are pinched and that horses and calves may not like what the cowboys are doing to them but I am more concerned about the hungry in the world, and all the refugees and orphans, and the elderly living in crummy surroundings. So complain if you want about the Ex having a mild rodeo, which won't rival the violence of the Stampede, but I will only listen to you if you can demonstrate that you have been just as concerned publicly about man's inhumanity to man.

Monday, July 28, 2008



The questions of process and governance, which concern how politicians operate as they spend our taxes, are boring for most taxpayers. About as exciting as the cliche about watching paint dry.
Which is what the politicians count on. They want us to lose interest as they grab more power and money and time.
Since I wasn't going to get much to write about in my column, I didn't jump immediately when the Toronto Board of Trade invited me to be the only media member of an eminent task force it was establishing to consider recommendations to Queen's Park about how Toronto council should function. Obviously our views would be considered for all the councils in Ontario, so it was important work, but it wasn't going to trigger much news.
I found the first meeting to be impressive for both the quality of my colleagues and the nature of the support the board was giving the task force. Unfortunately when we did report, no one noticed that much and we were lost in the shuffle as Mel Lastman's term as mayor ended and the city was actually excited at the contest between David Miller, John Tory and a host of usual suspects to be Mel's replacement.
Mike Wilson, the former finance minister who is now the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., was a thoughtful member. Then there was Al Leach, the former transit bureaucrat who as the urban affairs minister had rushed Toronto into amalgamation. There were men who ran the family mutual fund business and former City Hall insiders who had been the city clerk, housing boss, planning commissioner, CAO etc,
The mood through the meetings was to give mayors more power to implement the agenda they had promised during the election campaigns. And for council to be allowed by its provincial master to do more without being vetoed. More money for the city treasury from the senior governments was also a major idea.
But it's noteworthy that a few former City Hall bureaucrats who I admired did not go along with the majority. And they were receptive as I tried a rebellion against giving the mayor more power, in the jargon, ending the "weak" mayor of Canadian councils where the mayor just had one vote but the most influence, and adopting instead a "strong" mayor system where the mayor was given extra powers to dictate wishes to council.
My basic argument was that this strong mayor that many wanted was a grand idea if you had a good mayor, a strong, imaginative, compassionate, individual, but what if you got a weak dumb man or woman who just wanted to have a good time and allow a few insiders to run things and line their pockets.
I argued that under the old system, a mayor had to persuade a majority of the 44 councillors to vote their way on everything, so there was a check on arrogance or the imposition of a bad idea. And I had the support of those who had worked for the Toronto mayor or chairman of the regional "Metro" council, or who had been the boss of a major department or the entire civic service. (I've known every mayor for half a century --and written the memoirs of one--so I knew what those insiders did, that some mayors couldn't run a doghouse if they weren't propped up by colleagues and officials.)
Nothing much happened with our report, but unfortunately the flavour of a "strong" mayor system remained. And the idea died that a few of us supported, that the four municipal regions each elect one executive councillor across its area who would serve as the deputy mayor for that area and also sit with the mayor on the most powerful committee. It obviously would be the training ground or incubator for future candidates for mayor since someone who has been elected only in one of 44 wards has a herculean task to tackle a mayor who has been elected across all the wards.
But now we are stuck with a system where it will be incredibly difficult to rid ourselves of a bad mayor. I wonder if any member of that task force remember my warning of a few years ago, now that Queen's Park has allowed Miller to become a "strong" mayor, virtually a dictator. And the same Liberal government then handed out a four-year term.
This may become an eternal agony.
What our task force seemed to miss, and this council majority ignores, is that Torontonians want the most important duty of a council to be just to run things well. Grand schemes are nice, but make the roads work and fix the potholes and pull the weeds and keep the pools open and let's not have a tax increase every single year. We don't want Miller to endlessly blame senior governments for Toronto's financial woes but to give us efficient government rather than the present bloated mess.
We want the Miller majority to stop looking into the heavens and promising us pie paid for by the feds and province and instead look at the ground and a crumbling infrastructure.
The Miller majority has been given this extraordinary power by provincial pols who never thought of my question of what happens if you get a weak mayor. So we have a council that spends more time worrying about the homeless than those who are about to be taxed out of their homes.
We didn't care about the endless debate over governance. All we wanted was a city that worked. Instead, we got a council that didn't.

Saturday, July 26, 2008



The Toronto Sun headline that this was just '"Tax money down the toilet" was so true, it's no wonder the Canadian Taxpayer Federation is upset.
The story is that City Hall plans to spend up to $900,000 to build a rainwater cistern on the roof of the Automotive Building at Exhibition Place to collect water to flush all the toilets and urinals in the building after it has been overhauled as a conference centre.
Oh yes, water also would have to be piped in from Lake Ontario because the experts say that Toronto doesn't get enough rain. (You could have fooled me on that point as the July of 2008 was the wettest on record.)
There are problems with the story other than just the silly wastage of taxpayers' money. The Sun confused two organizations, Exhibition Place and the Canadian National Exhibition.
Briefly, Exhibition Place runs the grounds of nearly 200 acres and is the landlord to all the uses there, including the main tenant, the CNE, which runs for 18 days each August.
This mad scheme comes from Toronto council and officials and was floated through the Exhibition Place board of governors, which City Hall controls. Of course, because of inept ideas like this, it generally loses money. It has little to do with the annual Ex, which makes money. Trust me. I have been president of the CNE directors and vice-chairman of the governors, so I know the convoluted governance, which confuses most councillors, governors and directors.
So the civic dim bulbs have been hunting for some showy scheme which will make them look green as they waste our taxes. Up comes this rainwater scheme, even though experts think that for Canada to get involved in saving a lot of rain when it has more fresh water than any country in the world is lunacy.The clincher that this is dumb, dumb, dumb, comes from the part of the scheme which spends extra tens of thousands to pump water occasionally into the system from one of the huge lakes of the world, which is only yards away from the old historic building.
Why didn't they plan to do it all the time and save about half a million bucks? After all, the Ex already pumps water from the lake for its grass.
And there is no worry about treating it first because many businesses and cottagers (like me) have been pumping water out of Ontario lakes for a century to flush our toilets.
Diane Young, who is the top official at Exhibition Place, and Joe Pantalone, the deputy mayor, always defend their adventures into pretending to save the environment as being expensive mainly because they are cutting-edge pilot projects. Give me a break! They reinvent the wheel and pretend they're saviors. The world has been saving rain water since the beginning of time, and will continue to do so when it's not too silly or costly to build the infrastructure.
Yet the Ex has long featured a giant example of their thinking. That solitary wind turbine, which doesn't work enough to justify its high cost, was proposed as an in-your-face gimmick to publicize the value in utilizing wind power. I spoke and voted against, pointing out it was hardly revolutionary technology.
Not only were there giant farms of these turbines throughout the world, windmills have also been around since the cave days, and Torontonians didn't need a windmill at the Ex to introduce them to the idea.
And why not put it on the Island or out in the lake instead of right in the middle of a rose garden which was one of the prettiest corners of the Ex? They moved the turbine a trifle to save the garden but went ahead, saying there is more wind there than out along the Island. (Must be all those politician led by Pantalone who dominate the politics of the grounds.)
Ironically, the CNE demonstrated making electricity from wind exactly where the turbine stands, and did so three decades ago. So we waste these millions demonstrating an old technology which is used routinely throughout the world to produce a lot more watts per thousand dollars.
Unfortunately, we're crying over spilt tax dollars. The cistern has been built, and when the city builds something, it always cost more than if a private company did it. I suspect this story leaked because some junior staffer became incensed at the wastage to date and was afraid of what would happen next.
After all, the reclamation of the Automotive Building is said to be 62% over budget, which seems normal when Toronto City Hall is involved in anything because of how it allows union labour to run wild.
One would hope --probably vainly--that councillors would get back to the basic business of running a city, which is grimy and falling apart, and would stop wasting time and tax dollars on reinventing cisterns and windmills. The world got the basic idea for both centuries ago. But this council will never ever improve on anything because the socialist majority is captivated more by the past than the future. After all, it's safer.
If they had been running Ford in the glory days, it would have crashed quicker because the councillors would have spent their research bucks on bringing back the horse.

Friday, July 11, 2008



I have done many strange things as a newspaper editor, like being photographed scooping manure into a garbage packer. I don't remember why, but it illustrated something in the Toronto Sun.
Of course I never made Page One kissing a horse on the nose. I leave that honour to Barbara Amiel, who later was photographed kissing Conrad Black, her fifth husband. Those of who who lost a lot of money in Holllnger thought Black was the other end of the horse.
But many of my recent excursions into the daffier side of newspapers involved the Sun's sponsorship of the Great Ontario Salmon Derby, and Walter Oster, a good friend who ran the derby, and his eternal yearning for more publicity.
On opening day, I would be there with the usual suspects, ranging fron Julian Fantino, the police chief/commissioner, Gordie Tapp, the entertainer, and Monte Kwinter, one of the few Grit politicians that I really like, and we would be bouncing around out on Lake Ontario off the Toronto Island. Now I have done a lot of fishing around the world, but never that well, and my lack of success would be mentioned in the Sun along with a picture showing me holding the smallest fish.
I did catch a 27-pound chinook salmon once but generally my columns afterwards would involve mishaps or lost fish. (I went fly fishing for salmon on the famous Hunt River in Labrador and managed to sink a fly so deep into my lower lip that it was surgically removed two days later in the Goose Bay hospital. But that's another story.)
This July, the challenge was to take the minister of natural resources - which means the minister for Ontario hunting and fishing- out fishing when Donna Cansfield had caught only three fish in her life....three small trout. But we finally hooked a fish, after much harassing of the skipper, and Donna proceeded to try to land the fish, with the advice of every man on the boat. (Keep your tip up, we all shouted, which seemed, when you think of it, rather a male sexual fantasy.)
Walter helped by sort of hugging the minister and pumping at the rod. I wasn't sure I wanted to watch. But finally in came the fish, a 23 pount chinook salmon. A beauty.
Walter helped Donna hold the fish up. But the photograper imported for the occasion, Dick Loek, just retired as the famous chief photographer of the Toronto Star, asked her to hold the fish by herself. Imagine, a 62-year-old woman holding a slippery live 23-pound salmon.
Naturally she dropped it, fortunately into the boat. And the Sunday Sun had a page one picture, with the minister with a strange look on her face. Not quite a picture of political significance, like Stanfield dropping the football and looking like a klutz, or Chretien playing basketball in street shoes on an outdoor court and falling on his nose, but Loek and I tried. Then Cansfield caught the sixth fish of her life, a 18-pound chinook salmon, and I landed a 23-pounder, a bit larger than the minister's, and I confess to dropping it too.
As I said in a letter to the Sun, Hugh Wesley, the chief photographer of the Sun, once sent a photog with a flimsy Canadian Tire to the boat when we returned with a big catch of salmon. He wanted me to sit in the flimsy craft holding up my big fish. It was awkward but I managed to do it without sinking. Then I realized that they wanted me to sink. It made a better picture, just as Dick Loek, that sneaky Dutchman, wanted Donna Cansfield, minister of fishing, to drop her fish.
Thank heavens it landed in the boat, because it made great eating. Eat fish from Lake Ontario? Of course! I took a friend, who has a doctorate and is a prominent prof. of environmental stats, out fishing in the lake and he caught a coho that was almost 18 pounds, which is quite big for a coho. I asked him later what he did with it. He said he had cooked it for the entire street. He said he didn't care if they all lit up in the dark, it was the biggest fish he had ever caught, and he doubted that he would ever catch one that big again.
I know just how he felt. It's one of the last vestiges of our caveman days when we actually caught the meat we ate.

Saturday, June 14, 2008



Nappan Island broods across the Trent River from my cottage on Burnt Point as a great green wetlands fringed by trees.
The idea that it would be home to a hotel, 700 condos/cottages and a 18-hole golf course is laughable.
So it was just the right touch when the developer pitching this looney scheme to Trent Hills council promised to turn the nitrogen in all the sewage that this new cottage town would produce into laughing gas.
He told council that his new marvelous sewage system would produce nitrous oxide, among other wonders, and that the effluent would be finally sprinkled on the golf course. Hope that doesn't offend the golfers, or the board of health. But then, it was just the right touch in the most bizarre presentation to a council that I have seen since the first council meeting I ever covered in 1957. That was Whitehorse council in the Yukon, and they tried to throw me out when I showed up as the new kid editor of the Whitehorse Star.
Since then, as a reporter, columnist or editor, lately the Editor of the Toronto Sun, I have seen literally thousands of proposals being discussed by every organization from Toronto council to the Ontario Legislature and House of Commons to the House of Lords and the United Nations. I have never seen such an amateurish half-baked presentation.
To think that this would have a huge impact on the area - the equivalent of shoving a community larger than Hastings or Havelock on a sponge of an island - and it was done in such a picayune presentation, would make me sad if it wasn't for that hint of laughing gas being produced just across the Trent.
As a cottage neighbour said to me, this actually would be a marvelous addition to the area, if it was done properly and scaled down. I could boat across with him, play golf, have a nice meal, and boat back home, without driving 30 or 40 kilometres. What a wonderful asset, and our cottages would be worth a lot more.
But there is no reason t0 expect that that would be the final result considering how the scheme has been launched. It is ludicrous for those of us who have boated, fished or swam around most of the island for decades to expect that this scheme, as proposed, would not be a disaster that would litter the landscape with shacks, maybe a new bridge to replace the present midget, and maybe a foot path.
It is just too large. It is in the wrong place.To approve this scheme as it stands would be a violation of the trust that all the property owners in this area have in their neighbours who are councillors.
You just can't take an area where people have cottaged for half a century, building new additions and septic tanks and lanes and bunkies, knowing where the weed beds are and the stumps and the fishing holes, and what neighbor will help you with the latest project and what neighbour will only promise to help, and then plop down in the middle of all this some grand scheme that will make someone a lot of money, and leave behind a lot of frustrated owners/renters who don't understand that the island on which their new summer homes sit was under intense environmental pressure before they bought in.
The fact that the nooks and crannies of the Trent are already choked with weeds, that some cottagers may well go on tax strikes since they can no longer use the water in front of their cottage, that the famous fishing of the past has disappeared, that two sides of Nappan Island really are swamp, all these facts existed before this scheme was proposed.
And this proposal will only make it worse.This is not NIMBYism. It is reality. New jobs would be wonderful for an area already staggering from closures like GM.
But when Canada is dancing with the devil of recession, when the cottage boom may be expiring due to high taxes and higher gasoline costs, it is easy to see that this scheme will be so constrained by costs that the developers will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything that doesn't ruin the environment.
I just built an addition. Before I could go ahead, I needed architect's plans, complete with engineering info, and various permits and approvals from the Lower Trent Conservation Authority and the municipality. I had to spend considerable money and considerable time BEFORE I got the building permit. And the zoning did not have to be changed.
To suggest that any zoning change, even one with a gigantic Hold stamped all over it, be given this developer, means that the municipality is being asked to gift a special deal for money boys from Toronto that would not be given to any existing local taxpayer.
Hector Macmillan, the mayor, astutely observed that the colorful propaganda presented to council was "generic." This proposal should not go ahead, even greatly scaled down, until every bit of info is no longer just borrowed off the Internet but is actually specific to Nappan Island.
If I had been a councillor hearing this scheme, I would have told the developers that I felt insulted to be treated as if I was just some rube on the back 40.
But then, there's always the laughing gas to make us feel mellow while the developer is acting like a dentist trying to pull all of our wisdom teeth at once.'