Thursday, January 29, 2009


How Red Tape Works As A Fishing Line

I wrote a blog titled FISHING FOR UNDERSTANDING AND BASS on Nov. 13, 2008 about my frustrations deciphering Ontario's fishing regulations.
I also complained about the blatant fishermen around my cottage who broke even the most obvious rules about fishing seasons and catch limits .... and just about everything else.
The following is a reply to my column on Jan. 28 by Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield, the able MPP for central Etobicoke, and her staff. In her political career, this minister has shown a wonderful ability to cut through the political BS of complicated subjects. So when she says she will keep an eye on this, it's not just rhetoric.

Ontario is a vast province with thousands of lakes and rivers. Historically, fisheries were managed on a lake-by-lake basis which, over time, resulted in a complex set of regulations with thousands of exceptions. In order to reduce the complexity of regulations and make it easier for anglers to understand and follow the rules, the ministry announced a move towards a landscape management approach for recreational fishing. As part of this initiative, Ontario went from 37 fishing divisions to 20 fisheries management zones, removed hundreds of exceptions (30 per cent), provided better map products and redesigned the 2008-2009 Fishing Summary to make it more accessible and easy to understand. This is only the first step in an ongoing process.We will continue our efforts to improve the fishing regulations and we welcome your ideas and suggestions. Meanwhile, I have asked the Fish and Wildlife Heritage Commission to provide suggestions on further ways to reduce the complexity of the regulations and improve the fishing summary. Our challenge is to ensure that Ontario’s fisheries are sustainable while providing effective, clear and understandable regulations.
The confusion over bass seasons in the Trent River may have arisen because there is an exception which applies only on lower Trent River waters. The open season for bass in Fisheries Management Zone 17 is generally from the 4th Saturday in June to November 15th (including the Trent River at Burnt Point). However, on the Trent River in Sidney Township upstream from the first dam above Lake Ontario, the open season for bass extends to November 30th.
Our official fishing website,, provides general information on fishing in Ontario and an up-to-date fishing summary with a list of regulatory changes since the last printing. If you ever have questions or require clarification on specific fishing regulations, you can call our Natural Resources Information Centre, toll-free by phone at 1-800-667-1940, or by e-mail at
I appreciate your difficulties with large numbers of anglers fishing close to your cottage and the frustration of observing resource abuse. We strongly recommend that any member of the public who sees or suspects an act of resource abuse should safely note as much information as possible and call 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667). The information provided may be used by conservation officers in their investigations. Alternatively, they may call CrimeStoppers for anonymous reporting (1-800-222-8477).
Generally, fines for ticketable sport fishing offences range upwards from $100 while for more serious repeat offenders the penalty can be as high as $500,000 and/or a term of imprisonment under the Fisheries Act depending on the nature of the offence.
I apologize for any delay in receiving a response from ministry staff. There are standards in place for responding to inquiries promptly and I trust that your case was an isolated incident.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


The Curse Of The 24-Hour News Cycle

The tragic result of the way news sloshes over us, particularly from the U.S. media led by CNN, is that too many of us became bored with Barack Obama before he was sworn in as president.
That doesn't mean we're hostile. Hardly! I hope, for the sake of all of us, that he, and the people he has picked, succeed. But as someone who regularly reads American newspapers and watches a lot of American TV, it's become all too much.
From the monologues of Leno and Letterman to the comedy shows of Stewart and Colson to the endless interviews on CNN that have the usual suspects commenting endlessly on the president in between all the footage of what he has just done 30 seconds ago - even if it was just to drive somewhere - you start to long for a Barack break.
And then you turn to all the stories in the Times and the Journal and U.S.A. Today and the onslaught begins again.
But, of course, they have to fill all that time and space with something. And it's not all that unusual for there not to be much new in the news. So what we've been getting is quantity, not quality.
Once I had the job of "follows" to the political coverage in the final edition. So then the next day's editions could start with some new angle on top of a recitation of what we had just printed. That was when I learned the dirty secret that turns grey the hair of the news bosses. Most news stories are about 97% old with some slim new angle produced in desperation so that some film could be used or a page could be readied for the press room. This hasn't changed just because there are all-news radio and TV stations, which regurgitate the same thing three times an hour in the middle of the night.
I think it is wonderful that Obama became president. He was by far the best candidate out of all that endless endless election stuff. I worry about some of his policies because for some reason I have always liked Republican policies more than Democratic ones, but I've liked the Democratic candidates more than the Republican ones. A strange split!
And it is great that an African-American with such a humble, confused start, has become the president. But since I was told that at least once a minute for the last three months, I now regard it as part of the Chinese water torture approach to American presidential politics. (As someone who thought John Diefenbaker championed a fundamental and refreshing approach when he crusaded to take the hyphen out of Canadianism, I dislike the idea of always saying you're a Polish-Canadian or a Ukrainian Canadians or an African-American. I'm glad there was hostility in the Maritimes about the attempt to have citizens identified as African Canadians there. Nope, we're Canadians or Americans without any divisive hyphens and those who always want to shove a hyphen in there are memorializing a bitter past.)
I kept quiet about the fact that the Barrack barage was turning me off just when we needed decisive and wise decisions from him to help solve a second Great Depression that will leave scars for generations. But then I confessed this at a lunch with two Canadians, one of them famous, who have served at the top levels of politics. And they agreed with me. And together we worried that there may be a backlash over this just when the American president will need stout support from everyone, not just the strategists who now bore us eternally on CNN, not just the throngs before him as he took the oath.
You see, I have written about politics for half a century . I know from my neighbours at home and the cottage, and from all the people who wonder what you do for a living when they're killing time in the sun in Florida or Cuba, that most people really don't care much about politics. We see that from election turnouts. We see that from the fact that pollsters will tell you that most people hang up when you try to talk to them about politics. When politicians knock on doors, only half of them open.
I have been at parties where I pretended I worked in an office because most people had already indicated rather graphically what they thought about politics and politicians. I have sat on the subway and watched most people skip past the political columns. I found in more than 5,000 columns that any time I wrote about fishing or family I got far more reaction and interest than anything I said about politics.
I remember 25 years ago, after I had been travelling in Russia or China and was starved for news, how avidly I devoured everything CNN had to say. Now you turn to such cable coverage and you find that we are now supposed to be interested in looking at helicopters or jets sitting on the runway before some simple trip by a president.
It's lazy journalism. Concentrating on a president even when he was just cutting brush on a pretend ranch is an easy way to fill space. It's hardly investigative journalism. And what we have discovered is that if the North America media had spent more time probing hedge funds and CEOs and huge corporate profits, we might have learned before it was too late that most of the business elite didn't have a clue as to what they were doing. It's simple to bash politicians, but much more difficult to follow the money and trace just how it is that the world now owes far more money than all the countries of the world have been making each year.
Just where has the money gone? If a bank, for example, loses $50 billion, the billions must have gone somewhere. So where?
If someone loses a million dollars in the stock market, other investors collect that million dollars. The million doesn't evaporate. It isn't dumped into an acid bath.
It turns out that if the American media had spent more time over the last years investigating the storm clouds over their economy rather than the endless shallow presidential coverage, there might have been a chance to prepare for this ugly technical reality that all their banks are broke. The economy has been a house of cards, and wet cards at that, and most of their business elite have been trying not to collapse the cards before they get all their bonuses out.
I have often written that the old days often weren't that good. Just look at all the great advances.
Why governments can just print all the money they want and to hell with inflation.
And before people got fussy, you didn't need a down payment to buy a home.
People are no longer stuck in jobs for life.
And the banking world hasn't been that complicated because no one knew what in heck was going on and that they were trading incomprehensible paper.
Oh yes, there have been huge increases from the good old days, particularly with our debt. Brother, can you spare a billion!

Thursday, January 8, 2009



I wish I had a song about "my favourite things." You know, the cheery romp about raindrops and kittens. Instead, I have a list of goofs. The dumb things that happen eternally. Because it seems many people don't want to serve you in the first place. They just hope you go away.
It ranges from the trivial to the inconvenient to the upsetting. Why is it that so many around us can't go from A to C without missing B? Have computers desenitized the human race so that simple tasks and courtesies are beyond the capability of too many of the people and companies with which we must deal, who seem to figure that if they frustrate us enough, we will stop "bothering" them.
Lack of service has gone from an infection to a plague, from the TTC and RBC to Sears, the Star and the Post, from TD to Mount Sinai Hospital.
The petty crap starts for me each morning with what should be the day's simplest task, just opening the door and picking up the National Post and the Star from the porch.
Oh no, I have to dress for winter and go out in the cold and fish them out from the corner behind the door. Every day! At least they're not always wet.
That puts me in just the wrong mood for what should be simple tasks like banking, shopping and enduring telephone queues and call centres. Too often I feel I need an interpreter, but then you have to find a clerk first, or have someone answer instead of a record.
Stephen Leacock, who at the time was one of the world's most famous writers, wrote a classic yarn about the poor guy trying to open a bank account. Filled with embarrassment! If only Leacock, the economist and humourist, had to deal with the modern bank. He would have sunk the lot on his fictional Mariposa Belle.
I think of Leacock every time the Royal or TD treat me like a retarded criminal because they seem to have a general policy of trying to discourage us from even going to a teller.
I try to deposit cheques into my son's RBC account because he is often away in China. Even when it is my cheque written on the TD just across the street, it's an awkward and lengthy process. If I didn't have a Royal Visa card, I'm sure they would refuse to take the money even though I have lived down the street from this Kingsway branch for 45 years.
I thought TD outdid itself when I deposited $5,000 in cheques into my account which temporarily was very flush and it all went smoothly...until I asked for $50 in cash. Then they wanted to see identification.
My son tried to deposit Chinese money into his Royal account and they waltzed him around for two days before refusing to do it. If only they knew. This was the same son who a week before in China had had trouble at an ATM at 5 a.m. and got so frustrated, he punched the machine and was rewarded with a six-stitch gash. Leacock would probably have wiped out the ATM with a shotgun.
My wife was due at Mount Sinai for an operation and the weather was so stormy, we figured the TTC was a better bet than car or cab. I produced $10 at the Royal York subway station and asked for tickets. He said they only had tokens. Of course, tickets are only sold for students and seniors. I said I didn't realize I had to point out my grey hair. He argued I had said the wrong thing. When he continued to be rude and didn't produce the tickets, I swore. He shoved the money back. So my wife and I went through the turnstile without paying. Quite a victory for the TTC! No money, and two irate passengers.
Downtown was a disaster that day but at least we got there. And 24 hours after the operation on delicate parts, Mary was kicked out because the hospital didn't have enough staff to keep the wing open. When I tried to collect her, it was one of the worst experiences I have ever had at a hospital. The path for the wheelchair was through a construction site. A slippery difficult gauntlet. I finally figured out enough of the obstacle course to drive the wrong way through the emergency entrance and collect her at a side door. The construction has been there for months, but obviously it hasn't made any impression on the management. I have been a member of a hospital board for many years and would move to fire the official responsible if such an obstacle course happened for even a week at our hospital.
Oh yes, the staff seemed sympathetic, when they stopped talking to each other long enough to talk to me, but not one offered help.
Everyone has a horror story about service calls. You know, you have to wait all day for some bored guy to show up at 4 p.m.
Mary called Sears to have the dryer serviced. I drove home to find the service vehicle parked across my driveway when it could have been parked legally within a few feet. I asked the serviceman why he parked there, he got snippy and stormed out without doing the work. I phoned Sears and got a call centre located on the moon, I believe, judging from the spaced-out logic, and demanded another service call and an explanation. After all, the service contract cost $160 annually. The centre said their vehicles weren't allowed to park on the street. I said he was parked on the street, and also across my driveway, blocking me. They repeated and I repeated. That was six months ago. Sears hasn't been back, and there has been no apology, just determination by me that Sears will never see me again.
These call centres are quite a piece of work. They remind me of the brilliant Royal Canadian Air Farce skit featuring a call centre in India that was handling burglar alarms and orders for pizza and hookers all at the same time.
Phoned Time the other day to ask why I didn't get the watch that came with magazine renewals. Turned out the "system" was down and I should call again in two weeks. This is the same magazine that cancelled my subscription half-way through its 2007 run and returned some money to a person who said she had bought it for me as a gift. Nope, I paid for it, don't know the woman, and have no idea how this scam works. If someone figures it out, please call Time and tell them, that is if you can get them to answer the phone.
Then there are the seven times I called Bell when my cottage phone didn't work. Took only a month. Seemed Bell couldn't get me on the phone to tell me when they were coming, then when they did reach me by cell phone and book a date, they arrived on another day when I was in the city.
And that's my latest list of not-so-favourite things. For the last two months. No need to depress you even more.
With all the unemployed, and the number's skyrocketing daily, you would think they could hire enough people to put the service back into the service industry. Some days you would like to talk to some friendly soul and not a computer telling you that your wait time will be 10 minutes in order to book the serviceman who may or may not show up.

This blog was updated on Feb. 1, 2009 in a column titled Reheating A Stew Of Old Beefs.