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.

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