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.