Saturday, June 20, 2009


The Costly Miller Lites Are Bankrupting Us

David Miller is the most expensive mayor in Toronto's history. We should get down on our knees and pray that John Tory will deliver us from Miller and his socialist cabal, the Miller Lites, in the next municipal election.
It almost happened the last time. Tory won almost all the suburban ridings, 21 in fact, and only Miller's clutch on the central city, where compassionate conservatism worries downtowners because it might deprive them of their latest ripoff, carried him to victory.
Tory's voters, all 263,000 of them, plainly didn't trust Miller and his downtown issues, like crippling the island airport, still one of the stupidest campaigns ever lost by a mayor, haven't made them feel any better.
All you have to do is pay your increased taxes -- which include such ripoffs as a new annual $60 tax on each car -- and look at the decline in services and infrastructure and you contemplate a class action suit against Miller and his colleagues. If only that was legal.
I've known Tory since he was kid radio reporter around City Hall and then ran David Crombie's second mayoralty campaign. (I would say that the fact Crombie didn't work for his old friend and supporter against Miller was disgraceful, but I hold off because Crombie is a friend. .)
I didn't much like Tory as he ran Bill Davis' office as premier. I said so. Rich kid. Spawn of the Establishment. Prominent father. Socialite mother. Then one day on the Dateline Ontario TV show --a half-hour political panel show run by the CBC in Ontario-- I watched him perform under the hot lights and decided he was probably the best politician we had had on the show in years. And I had been on the show dozens of times.
Then he had a stellar career at Rogers. I know from when Rogers owned the Toronto Sun when I was Editor, and from senior businessmen who had to work with him, that he had the respect, if almost the affection, of everyone reporting to him or working with him. And that's rare.
His career as leader of the Ontario Conservatives was not great, and the depths were reached on that dumb idea about provincial money for religious schools. But no one's perfect. And when he's up against Miller, a lawyer who was defeated federally, provincially and municipally before he got on council as a mediocre member, such slips are acceptable.
With no due respect to the present councillors who are mentioned as possible mayoral candidates, a couple of whom are friends, they are almost pygmies when it comes to Tory's business and political record and the Bay St. support which would give him enough money to offset all the unions, New Democrats, gliberals and activists who will go crazy at the prospect of losing their patsy mayor.
Tory was just on BNN, the business TV channel, and you could tell from the way he spoke and by how he was treated by others on the program that they respect him while probably regretting how his career in provincial politics, where he had started as a boy wonder, ended in such disaster.
If John Tory is smart, he'll ignore us and make more millions in business while dining at the Albany Club and enjoying his family. If we are smart, we will besiege him until he says yes. After all, we can't afford the most expensive mayor that Toronto has had since it started in 1834.

P.S. Unfortunately Tory listened to that last paragraph and announced on Jan. 7, 2010 that he wouldn't run for mayor. More time with his family was a major consideration. Any nice father would understand!

Friday, June 19, 2009


Incompetence, Games Or Just Stupidity

It was with great fanfare that the Ontario Health Ministry said at the start of this year that men would be as good as women when it came to cancer tests.
One major cancer test for men is Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) and men have always had to pay for it out of their own pockets, even though it is useful in detecting and monitoring the cancer that is a major killer.
So finally the Gliberals at Queen's Park lived up to all the campaign promises and said that OHIP would cover the test no matter where you had it. But then they threw a curve in secret. It's free only if it is used for monitoring cancer patients and ordered by a doctor.
That rules out a man having the test just because he's been told to do so as he grows older.
Since my PSA is being monitored by a urologist because it is up a tad, I'm covered. Or so you would think. But life is never that simple.
The last time I had one was six months ago. It had been ordered by the specialist but when I showed up at the first-floor blood letting room of Princess Margaret Hospital, they said they had no record. Since his office is upstairs, I went there and by luck, or so the nurse said, I found someone to authorize it. Took an hour.
Now I needed another test, which has to be done a week before you see the specialist. So I phoned the hospital and left three messages, asking for someone to book the appointment (and tell me) to avoid another runaround. No luck.
I found a government requisition form signed last year by my specialist and armed with it went to the local LifeLabs office (used to be called MDS Diagnostic Services.) I'm a regular visitor there, damn it. I said that I also needed my monthly INR test. (Measures the slipperiness of the blood of patients taking warfarin, you know, rat poison.)
Since my veins are deep or missing or something, drawing blood from me is not that easy, so I figured they could stick one needle in and get enough blood for both the INR and PSA tests.
The lab person demanded $50 first. I said the PSA test has been free for six months. I waved the appropriate form. She wouldn't budge.
So instead of a simple walk from the clinic on Bloor near Prince Edward, I phoned my doctor's office, the able Bernie Gosevitz, went downtown by subway, waited, then got the blood drawn on the second attempt. The nurse said the test would cost. I explained it was now free when authorized by a doctor for monitoring. All this took several hours and two transit fares, and in the running around, I temporarily misplaced my OHIP card, which caused endless problems.
Several days later an invoice arrived from Gamma-Dynacare Labs for $30. Phoned and demanded an explanation. OHIP only covers cancer patients, she said, and all my specialist had indicated was a PSA test was needed. And he has to state that it's a test required to monitor cancer. Wotinhell you think it's for, I said, when a prostate specialist from a cancer hospital orders a PSA test. You think he's wondering about changing my hair colour. She said they would check further.
It's nice that the Gliberals finally made the PSA test free for some men after all the years of Tory and NDP governments refusing to treat men the same as women, who have always got their cancer tests for free. But it took years of lobbying by urologists. Now there is controversy about the value of the test, but enough urologists think it useful that it should be done. And they told the health ministers so. Only George Smitherman was honest enough, apparently, to tell the urologists that he only had so much money and would like to be shown the Gliberals would win enough votes to justify the diversion of funds.
So what's going on now? The health ministry wants to let on that the PSA test is free but it's really only covered if it isn't the routine one that men are supposed to get as they age. You don't get into this hassle if you go to the hospital clinic, providing you live in or near Toronto, but that isn't convenient for many, and as my experience shows, there can be glitches. (Not a slam at Princess Margaret because I've found the staff can be quite accommodating. Now if they only had more reading in the Prostate Clinic than Chatelaine and Flaire, which is silly considering it's a male clinic.)
Life is complicated enough without carrying a book of regs about when the health minister will pay and when he stiffs us. But then I'm cynical enough to wonder if this confusion is deliberate to make money for labs and save enough for OHIP so they can waste it on bureaucrat's salaries and golden handshakes.
Post Script:
Gamma Dynacare billed me again even after one staffer talked to my specialist. I wrote this blog. Then I got another bill. I emailed the lab with all the details and nothing happened. Finally, at the end of August, I wrote the lab including a copy of my blog and the email that had been ignored. And I got a letter in September from the director of corporate communications cancelling the charge and including a copy of the new laboratory requisition form where the doctor must specify whether the PSA test "meets OHIP eligibility criteria' or is just for "screening purposes."
Gamma Dynacare is a giant lab, not some hole-in-the-wall outfit. If this is my experience with it, and as a journalist I'm used to red tape and hassles, what about the men who just want to get through life with as few arguments as possible. Just imagine all the extra money that rolls in when they pay those invoices.
Just imagine the savings for OHIP too. And the question remains. Since women aren't charged for their tests and examinations to detect cancer, why do men have to pay for a basic cancer screening? Is not the provincial health ministry a clutch of hypocrites when they stop giving out contracts to their buddies long enough to boast how they now pay for PSA tests.


To Dream Of The Future While Remembering

John Robarts, the stolid premier of Ontario who killed himself because his younger second wife was playing around, seems an unlikely person to educate me on the joys of graduation.
But I will never forget his words, and the graduations of my sons and grandsons are sweeter for it.
Robarts was explaining at his inquiry into Toronto regional government that he had to leave early because he as chancellor had to preside over the graduation at University of Western Ontario.
There was only a handful around, and I was the only journalist. I sympathized about how it would be a waste of a wonderful June day. Not at all, said Robarts, he loved watching the girls in their best frocks and the guys all shined up for the occasion coming with grins to get their degrees.
Robarts had his carousing side, then unknown to the voters, but I remember him as a nice gentleman for his words about the pleasures of watching the young take the next step.
And so it was that I was not enjoying the cottage but at Sunnylea junior school watching my grandson, Matthew, 11, graduate from Grade 5 into middle school.
And time gave me another kick in the teeth. We moved across from Sunnylea in the Bloor-Royal York area in 1963 just before Matthew's father, Brett, was born. So now a second generation is moving on from the familiar classrooms across the street which is usually filled with illegal parking by parents. I also recalled it was my time in Grade 5 in the old school at Chesley in the mid 1940s that gave me my career.
Miss Thompson started each day with current events, and about all I was allowed to do under my strict grandmother was listen to the radio news from the famous Jim Hunter in Toronto.
And I repeated all the best bits in school, and if there wasn't really any major news, I made it up. No one noticed. And so I started in journalism.
One thing struck me as the assured Matthew and his 29 classmates each gave a little speech about their favourite school incident. Because of junior and senior kindergarten, they had gone to that school for seven years. In the old days, after seven years of school, I was in high school.
So most of them had considerable confidence as they sat beaming at their relatives and each other and at the speakers. Most spoke well, some with bouncy verve. Far better, I suspect, than my Grade 5 class, which, of course, never had a graduation ceremony until the end of high school.
A few of us would have been tongue-tied (which I had to outgrow in Grade 1.) Even some of my classmates who went on to become high school teachers would have been scarlet faced if they had to rise before a full gym and talk about their favourite moment.
One of the teachers, Mrs. Barker (you know public school teachers don't have first names) had taken many pictures of the class during school activities and burned them onto discs for each of the graduates. How nice! The school showed the pictures as the ceremony began. So there was plenty of opportunity to watch all those happy faces at school and at play, and to recall what it was like so long ago, before sex intruded, when it was you and your buddies against the world and the most dreadful thing that could happen was more homework.
Our neighbourhood has never exactly been a WASP preserve but you could see in the faces and the last names (Bokla, Kapogines, Raszewska, Dore-Waschtschuk) that the waves of multiculturalism that have washed over Toronto in the last four decades have sent ripples on to our streets.
I recall that long ago in Grade 2 at Sunnylea, a little girl from India via England, whose medical father was one of the best contact fitters in the country, was being persecuted for being different. And her classmate, my oldest son, John Henry, became her protector, telling the kids to leave her alone or he would bash them. We never knew, until long afterwards, when the mother told me when I was seeing her husband as a patient.
I still am proud about that, even though these days in the schoolyard across the street, any WASP kids picking on someone because of skin colour or language would be confronted by more than just one boy.
I thought when I watched all those pictures just how much more fun these kids seemed to have than when I went to public school. And their class projects are interesting and complex. So what happens with all these high school graduates who can't really add or read or write. Does it all have to do with where they went to school? Or is it just the parents and lax teachers?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Just Bring Money

Life in Cottage Country is a lot easier if you know the customs and rules. Then you know what to expect 20% of the time because the only thing certain in Cottage Country is change.
For example, a few of you will remember Axiom 12 ( I think) when we were taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
Well dear reader, there is no such thing in CC as a straight route to anything, especially in the middle of the night when you're on a back road, the gas needle is on empty, the kids are rioting and your front tire is leaking because you hit a porcupine.
So if you are one of the aging Baby Boomers who has just been attracted to CC, here are a few things you have to keep in mind so you aren't shocked back to the city.
RULE ONE...The music the neighbour's kids blare at 2 a.m. is never good music.
RULE TWO...The police boat is never around when the speeding boats are.
RULE THREE.. The raccoons you want to shoot are only around because neighbours feed them because they're cute.
RULE FOUR...There's good news and bad news when fishing is good. It means that boats just off your shore never leave.
RULE FIVE....There is a direct relationship between the heaviness of the task and the distance your sons are from the cottage.
RULE SIX...There may be 1,001 pictures in your bird books but not one shows the bird now on the feeder.
RULE SEVEN...There is no such thing as a quiet bed during sex.
RULE EIGHT...Teenagers always flood your septic tank.
RULE NINE....Your taxes will never be reasonable considering you get almost nothing in services.
RULE TEN....The anger of councillors against cottagers who dare oppose the latest grand development will relate directly to the size of the scheme.
RULE ELEVEN...Repairmen never come at the time or date agreed to, that is if they can even find the cottage.
RULE TWELVE..Any carpenter, electrician or plumber never comes two days in a row.
RULE THIRTEEN..Your family may have owned the cottage for decades. The local yokel feels superior because you're from away.
RULE FOURTEEN...Locals charge so much for fireplace wood, you would never suspect it was from a tree your neighbor paid to have them cut.
RULE FIFTEEN...The propane supplier always runs out just before the big family gathering.
RULE SIXTEEN...Some people just can't follow directions. Unfortunately the people you hope get lost never do.
RULE SEVENTEEN..The neighbour only picks up after the dog in the city.
RULE EIGHTEEN...Canada geese crap more on your lawn that the dogs do.
RULE NINETEEN...Anyone who praises industrious beavers doesn't live in CC. After they dropped 10 mature trees on my property, they started gnawing on my dock.
RULE TWENTY....Boat houses always lean dangerously.
RULE TWENTY ONE....The stories are always bigger than the fish.
RULE TWENTY TWO....Never buy a cheap hose. It's just not worth the trouble.
RULE TWENTY THREE...You can never have enough rope.
RULE TWENTY FOUR....Never mention zebra mussels without cursing.
Oh yes, and beds always squeak during sex.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


If We Build Them, Will They Really Come?

In the last three days, I travelled 70 kms around Toronto's west end and spotted three cyclists,
That is if you count the one that hit me while he carried his bike up the St. George subway stairs, and the one I saw pushing his bike through the Royal York subway station.
There was only one person actually peddling along a road, even though in my neighbourhood of Royal York and Bloor, new expensive bike lanes have been built or have been planned for every roadway except those in Park Lawn Cemetery.
(Damn it, now I've given them a new location.)
Since we have spent so much equipping TTC vehicles to carry bikes, and far more millions squeezing cars on roads so that the occasional cyclist can zip along, you would have thought cyclists would be everywhere, although I doubt they would ever reach the numbers I saw in 1985 in Beijing.
(Beijing now bans bikes in some areas as a million cars each year are added to its roads.)
Under cross examination, I will confess that my six trips by car and two by the TTC were not during rushhour and ranged from Bloor and Yonge out into southern Mississauga.
And there are certainly many days when I have seen more than just three bikes. But it must be obvious to all but the dumb people pushing bike lanes that the concentration of cyclists in the central city and around the campuses is not typical of what you find on suburban streets.
However, when sensible councillors like Doug Holyday say that they often travel around Toronto without seeing a single cyclists, they are ridiculed by council's majority of woolly socialists and limp liberals as just being silly.
And council will vote for more bike lanes, say on Jarvis St., which has been the most efficient north-south route from and to Bloor and has now been fatally wounded.
Perhaps the most galling argument comes from the politicians and activists who concede that there are many expanses of bike lanes not being used much of the time but that really doesn't matter because if the city builds more bike lanes, they will come. (Thus stealing the philosophical heart of a great movie about baseball, Field of Dreams.)
Ironically, that's a variation of the argument justifying why the city doesn't build more roads or improve the crumbling ones because if it did, that would just attract more traffic.
Here is what City Hall must do to end this bike-lane madness that rewards guerilla commuters who may use them when it's not snowing or raining. (Let's remember the old joke that Canada has 10 months of winter and two months of bad skiing.)
The politicians should do an honest census of present use.
The politicians should ban cyclists from major traffic arteries during rushhours. They plaster signs around for everything else; that would be an easy thing to do. And all you have to do is to have two people on bikes on one block of Bloor during rushhour and you kill one lane in that block for the cars who are moving far more people. Don't give me that crap about all the cars with only one person in them. Bikes really don't play much of a role in moving people during rushhour, even if pols who must smoke funny cigarettes say they do.)
The major measure is for politicians to tax cyclists. Motorists pay for the roads through their taxes on permits and gasoline. They have to pay to park in front of their homes or on their lawns. In fact, so much money is collected from motorists, it goes into general revenues to fund programs that have nothing to do with cars or roads or traffic jams.
Why should cyclists not pay for their share of the expensive asphalt surface? I know they want to have the rights of pedestrians on sidewalks and at X-walks, to ride against the traffic and make turns without stopping, but now that they boast of their bikes costing hundreds of dollars and capable of speeds higher than the posted limit on city streets, but there must be some responsibility for the extra costs and inconvenience to which they are putting other people, including pedestrians.
City Hall taxes everything else, even cats, which are the ideal urban pet and should be free of such nonsense. The Miller Lites eventually plan to tax us for everything. A council that puts parking meters in parks can certainly install them for park benches too.
Isn't it logical that such a body would try to recover some road costs from cyclists? And if it doesn't, Toronto motorists should launch a class action suit against City Hall. Under the Charter, all Canadians must be treated equally, and when you tax only one group of the people who use a city service, you are being discriminatory.
Since council's majority is used to giving deals to their buddies in unions and politics, the sad reality is that we are going to have to sue it to get it to treat the huge majority of motorists on the road as well as it now does the guerilla commuters.
Maybe we should all paint our cars green. But let's not try anything logical. That never works at City Hall.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


A Symbol Of The Fat Generation

I hate bottled water. My wife loves it.
To me, only a wasteful society would buy for dollars what they can get out of any tap for cents. And I never have, except in the desert or some hot tourist haunt where the beads on the side of a cold bottle of water is the nectar of the gods.
You don't have to remember the lingering fallout of the Great Depression to cringe at the spectacle of cases of bottled water piled in a supermarket. Especially when there is scientific proof that the water out of the tap of major cities, especially Toronto, is better than the bottled water, unless you are in the Third World.
I remember my anger when some jerk working for the Toronto Board of Health, who loved to be called Dr. when he actually had a Third World doctorate, said carelessly that pregnant Torontonians should not drink Toronto tap water. Bad for baby! There was angry denials, but I thought it insufficient. So I went to the chairman of the big regional Metro council, Paul Godfrey, and argued he had to do much more than just grumble a few words. He paid little attention, until I reminded him that he was a chemical engineer out of U. of T., and proud of it, and the head of the water division was also an engineer, and action could be taken stripping them of being engineers if it was felt that they presided over an unfit water supply.
Well, that did it.
Godfrey and council commissioned an independent laboratory report costing around $135,000 that studied Toronto tap water and compared it to eight of the most famous bottled waters in the world. Turned out Toronto tap water was far superior.
That was almost thirty years ago, and that Toronto study has often been mentioned. Other independent labs have confirmed the results in the decades since. The councillors, to their credit, have worked hard recently to spread the good news about Toronto tap water. I am often a critic of what the council majority does but when they moved to ban bottled water from city turf, I thought it was a great idea even if it horrified some retailers.
After all, the bottled water sold in this area by Coke under a contrived name is nothing more than Toronto tap water given a special scrubbing with filters. And it bothered me that in a city which can barely pay its bills, they were having public meetings where free beverages from coffee to juice to bottled water was provided.
Of course the public health advocates, who are so activist they often are a pain best soothed by Preparation H, now grumble there is too much lead in Toronto tap water. If you live in an older house, it is smart to run the water for a few minutes in the morning or if you have been away, but the risk is minimal.
I suspect these health pundits are the same ones who helped screw up the consumption of salmon, which is so vital to life as a major source of omega 3. They argued there was too much mercury and trace pollutants in farmed salmon. True, but the value of eating salmon is so great, that drawback is dwarfed.
I remember talking to the official who was in charge of all the drinking water brought to Canada for the visiting dignitaries to Expo 67 so that queens and premiers didn't get an upset tummy from Canadian tap water. So each country sent along big bottles of their water, which were carefully stored in a locked storeroom. After a month or so, the official told me that you could actually see specks growing in the water. Yet it was poured out carefully for the dignitaries during the big banquets. Gee, I would take lead over specks of crap any day.
The oil companies are watched like hawks as they fool around with the price of gasoline, but the irony is that few people notice that the designer waters sold in chi chi stores and in the latest hot restaurants often cost far more than what we routinely pay in the qouging at the pumps. And for what? A name made familiar through ads and some liquid that may well have come from a picturesque stream that bubbled out of the ground (let's forget the pollution in most water just under the surface) or from some glacier, or from the tap in the back room.
Yet my wife Mary will read all this and announce that I'm just being a tedious jerk. At worst, she's paying a quarter for a bottle, she says, and she often has just filled up a bottle from the tap to carry with her.
Which is another thing that bugs me. People swilling from bottles as if the nearest fountain or water cooler is in another country. They're like babies sucking soothers. And what gives with water coolers anyway? That really is in-your-face conspicuous consumption when water fountains should be common in public buildings.
I suspect that now that we are climbing out of a depression caused by incompetent car companies and criminal banks and stupid financial houses that the amount of bottled water being drunk has fallen sharply. Good!
But I worry about the next fad, which may well be bottled air. Watch for it. Compressed air tanks on your belt, oxygen stations on every office floor as if they were a hospital, waiters wheeling up a cart with the appetizers and asking what tube you want to suck first.
Just another scam like bottled water with fancy names which is often nothing more than municipal water run by a special light.
Why I saw a jogger the other day that had four bottles of water on a special belt. Maybe she could have included a bandolier with more bottles and really completed the look of a pastel porcupine with boils.
She looked silly and you could tell as she preened at the stoplight that she though she was pretty special. Not to my taste. I like my water straight, without the hype of some mysterious nothingness, because water doesn't - and shouldn't - have any taste