Thursday, July 23, 2009


Cops, Courts And Politicians Ignore Public's Rights

It is plain from the way judges, politicians and police brass ignore the public's right to safe and immediate passage through picket lines and native barricades that the present "system" doesn't work.
It may never have. And since strikes are only to get longer and more bitter, and the natives have run amuck in thumbing their noses and guns at Canada, you and I must insist through our votes and our voices that we intend by every legal means, including law suits and the withholding of taxes, not to accept this spitting in our faces.
There's nothing civil about our servants when they strike. As for blue collar workers, they are so traumatized by firings, layoffs and huge working factories disappearing in just months that they may return to the labour strife of yesteryear.
For a couple of decades, I have talked about this to every top cop around, including one of the most famous in Canada. They are frustrated too about the "deals" they have to make, often broken, by which picketers can block us for five or 10 minutes, which expands with their anger.
As I've written, a major judge ruled in a bitter postal strike that strikers could not stop us for even a second for the purpose of communicating their demands. Except, the cops say, rulings by judges since then have turned that decision into Swiss cheese. They also say, to be fair, that they have less trouble when strikers can block the public for a short period. Except that period always grows.
Toronto council, Queen's Park and the federal government have tolerated the intimidation, even when it grows to assaults or damage to cars, because they want everyone to be friends afterwards.
Except that is BS. When the politicians and police go along with the strikers, they side against their bosses, the public. Let's be clear about that. The purpose of a picket line is not to communicate with the public but to harass the public and any colleague who dares think of being a scab. You think when they import thugs from the industrial unions that they want them to serve tea and cookies to the elderly waiting in the heat.
The Toronto police used to have a squad of their biggest cops who went into bitter strikes determined to break as many heads as possible. Now we've gone to the other extreme. It's a wonder we don't see deputy chiefs playing patty cake with the jerks who have just stopped a 75-year-old woman from getting rid of her smelly garbage because she has always kept a clean house. We shouldn't go back to that squad but there has to be a middle, not a sell out.
I learned from my first week as a kid reporter in 1958 that the best picket lines, as far as unions are concerned, is one where you fears for your life.
I was sent with a burly photographer named Don Grant to a Teamster strike. I thought naively that I was to take notes. Turned out I was the biggest reporter at the Telegram and I was to be bodyguard. The Teamsters cursed and came towards us. Don flourished his Speed Graphic, all sharp metal edges and knobs, and said he would shove it in their faces. Then he announced that I had played university and Argonaut football and could handle their best beer-bellied jerk. (I had played very briefly for the junior Argos and Ryerson but every lie helps when you're facing bullies.) And so we escaped with pictures.
In case you think I'm anti-union, I benefitted from improvements the Guild got at the Tely, was a union steward, served on the city Guild executive and was a delegate to the international convention. I was in line to be chair of the Tely bargaining union but I got promoted out of the union. I had 13 reporter-photographers working for me. They weren't covered by the union but I acted as if they were and they responded magnificently. I've never forgotten that lesson that most people respond to fair treatment.
The three Toronto dailies endured a long and bitter strike by the printers. And they won. I remember the night I sent a small reporter, Ray Biggart, to an inquest. The picketers claimed he touched them with his VW and ripped him out of his seat. I heard this on the police radio and went roaring through the line to the rescue, sending picketers flying like duck pins. Biggart kept his calm (he was later Metro parks commissioner) and it helped when Charles Dubin, later chief justice of Ontario, volunteered to go to the police station.
Unfortunately many nice men and women get so poisoned by their cause when they go on strike that they routinely do things that must embarrass them later. Think of the strikes at Queen's Park where police horses were shot with ball bearings and there was even a bomb (it was kept secret) set off in a flower bed beside the Legislature. My oldest son, John Henry, was working in the trade ministry, and daily went out to escort a very pregnant woman through the pickets who tried to block her for 30 minutes. I wrote a column about the laws regarding picketing and my son showed it to police and security who thought it quaint that anyone would think anyone should be able to cross without waiting.
So what should be done? Companies and governments now have to apply for injunctions to limit the action of picketers when the deals with the police don't work.
This is the way it must work with strikers and protesters. Any union who blocks anyone for even one day is fined, and the daily fine increases each week. After several weeks, the public gets a refund of taxes.
As for native protesters blocking highways, every protester must be arrested and fined immediately. If this takes place in or beside the reserve, the government grants going to that band will be reduced. There must be an end to governments tolerating this civil disobedience which borders on insurrection. Obviously police must be granted some leeway in how they keep the peace but in any strike or protest that lasts more than a few days, any deals the police make with strikers must be approved in the courts where the public can object.
Silly, you say! Unenforceable? It is intolerable that we allow picketers to try to win their strike through interference with our lives. And that's what picket lines are. If the strikers want to withdraw their services, fine. Since many are suffering and would love to have these jobs - and we now have extensive labour protection to protect us against employer abuse - strikes should no longer be won through thuggery, intimidation and frustration.
In 2009, such strikes as Toronto's are anachronisms. They have allowed uncivil servants to have better salaries and working conditions than many taxpayers.

Monday, July 20, 2009


When Legends Yarned About How They Got The Story

Once upon a time, when press clubs flourished and movies made kids want to be reporters, we gathered glass in hand in the wee hours and talked about our jobs. It really was the good old days before the media splintered like a stone tossed through a stained glass window and the accountants sucked the fun out of the business.
In those times, Walter Cronkite was not just the avuncular eye on the news for most Americans but also the affable story teller who was willing to party until the first milking. As we found to our pleasure when the Toronto Men's Press Club invited him to be the speaker at the annual hangover weekend that featured the Byline Ball, the National Newspaper Awards presentation dinner and the Toronto Firefighters Luncheon.
For several decades, it was the event of the year for Toronto newspapers, and TV and radio personalities made sure they were invited too. And now it has vanished into the night of nostalgia. The dance is gone, the press club allowed women to join (I moved the motion and was punched by a pipsqueak from the Star for my temerity) and has now drifted into an obscure death, and the firefighters moved on to a much different event.
In the glowing and deserved tributes to Cronkite that flowered after his death, it was left to Morley Safer, who long ago was a Toronto newsman and press club habitue, to talk about the party side of the great newsman. Safer, whose face is lined with the joys of much anecdotage, talked with pleasure about how his friend Cronkite loved to party into the small hours. I'm sure there was also much private talk about that from his neighbours around the Nantucket dock where Cronkite loved to sail.
Ah yes, the legendary newsman who was famous for his stubborn hard work didn't believe he had to be anchored eternally before the cameras but wanted to roam for stories and pleasures. I think that may have been one reason that Cronkite didn't like the 24-hour news cycle where neither the reporter nor the public have a chance to catch their breath before the next slight advance in the story is delivered in urgent tones.
It was more than 30 years ago that Cronkite left what was then called the Royal York Hotel and held an agreeable court at the press club on Richmond St. He was the most approachable of all the giant egos around the bar. Mary and I decided around 2 a.m. that it was either time to head home or to try to sleep standing up, but Cronkite never faltered. He closed the club.
Of course he was surrounded by such good-time legends as Doug Creighton, the founder of the Toronto Sun, who was already famous for his cop-shop stories, his parties and his grace. And it helped too that Toronto had a certain fame in the newspaper world as one of the most competitive cities in North America, because the Star and the Tely slugged it out - some times literally - for three editions six days a week.
Some of this may seem quaint in 2009. Imagine the reporters and editors having a dance and electing a Miss Byline. (One year Mary and I were assigned to chaperone the latest beauty queen, one Carol Goss, who went on to be, among other things, CBC president and a B.C. cabinet minister. She started on the Tely's youth supplement.) We had satirical skits, helped by the fact that at least one entertainment reporter, Alex Barris, had his own CBC TV variety show.
The Sunday lunch where the firefighters gave out awards, had major political speakers, and the press club president was given gold cuff links, either with the city coat-of-arms or the provincial trillium. Can you imagine the fuss if the mayor or premier was to give such an expensive gift to a columnist today. I still treasure mine even though I haven't worn French cuffs for years.
And that's the way it was in the glory days of Toronto newspapers.
A theme running through the Cronkite tributes was that no one person today could dominate the news gathering of North America like Cronkite did. This was said to be a good thing. I suppose it is because there has been this incredible explosion in how we get our news. All-news stations, dozens of cable channels, free newspapers, countless blogs, the Google vacuum etc. The quantity is extraordinary. Too bad the quality has become embarrassing. But that's the way it is.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Trying Not To Swim With The Fishes

This is the fish story behind the fish story. But remember when it comes to fish stories, any resemblance to the truth is accidental.
The annual derby launched July 11. And I was bouncing along out there in Lake Ontario within sight of the downtown towers and the sound from the Indy cars, trying not to fall overboard. It's not as if I'm inexperienced because I've fished all 13 opening days, and I try not to be superstitious.But it was so rough, I actually lost one salmon --and it was a big one because the one that gets away is always bigger than the fish you get in the boat-- simply because I was spending more time holding on than cranking.
As you know from the Sunday Sun column by Joe Warmington, OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino arrested a 25-pound chinook salmon using his famous hostage negotiating skills, and Ontario Tourism Minister Monique Smith talked a 23-pounder into the boat, using the technique she has developed in dealing with the Tories and NDP as government house leader.
They had two salmon on at the same time, dubbed a double header by fishermen (of course Ms. Smith says fisherfolk, being a Liberal.)
She's lucky. Fantino and I once had a double header until he came over to my side and gave me a hip check. He says that I've made that up but cops don't get to head the force without being a tad competitive.
The minister also caught another salmon that was slightly smaller. And she really did most of the catching even though she's not a fisherman (sorry about that Madam Minister) and these were the largest fish she has ever tackled. The four men who were fishing did come to her aid a bit, shouting such advice as "keep your tip up," which usually gets a male giggle, but she said we were only sexist twice in five hours, which may be a new Ontario record for four fisherman.
She claimed not to have upper body strength but all those years of fighting Mike Harris and the Tories has given her some muscle.
Oh yes, I caught a couple of fish too. Small, but then Warmington didn't catch anything, even though Fantino helped him mightily, not wanting to see an ardent police supporter embarrassed.
As a matter of fact, Warmington turned so green as the Sure-Thing wallowed between waves, I thought more would be going overboard than he would be bringing in.
All this was presided over by the derby's chairman, Walter Oster, who is involved in every detail, even to finding a new scale if one malfunctions, and keeping all the derby volunteers enthused.
Under him, the derby is central to his fishing evangelism which sees money flowing to green projects and free fishing kits for the poor kids on native reserves and the hot humble streets. He's tireless, because he also has significant other jobs, like heading the Sportsmen's Shows and the big downtown convention centre. And then there's his restaurant, Pier Four Storehouse, where the marine decor is as good as the sea food.
I love the derby, and I love fishing off my Burnt Point in the Trent River, because it's an echo of the past when we had to grow and catch our own food.
As a kid long ago, I grew most of our vegetables on the empty lot beside the little house near the tracks in Chesley. And I gathered the eggs and chopped the heads off the Leghorns we kept behind the house. Most of us now don't have enough land to grow food, and chickens, which don't disturb the city as much as most dogs, are verboten. So fishing is the last chance for many of us to produce our own food.
The second day of the derby saw Mary and me dining on a lovely chunk of salmon that she popped in the microwave for around five minutes. A nice added touch to the garnish was some vinegar and onions from a jar of pickled herrings.
Some readers will be astounded that people would eat fish from the lake. Why not? Any nasty poisons in a fish accumulate in the fat, bones and skins, the very parts you don't take when you fillet
. Queen's Park publishes a free book, Guide To Eating Ontario Sport Fish, which gives you the safety tolerances of fish from all the major lakes and rivers, and its testing program is so good, it is copied by some American states.
So there is another good reason to participate in the derby, in addition to all the expensive prizes which are listed in the full-page ad that often appears in the Sun. You can eat your entry in the biggest fresh water fishing contest in the world. And your $100 entry fee (free if you charter someone like Vito Cirone's 38-foot Sure-Thing) goes to conservation programs.
Cirone has an apt name for his boat. We've only been skunked once and generally catch enough to feed a street. Four of us had 80 pounds of salmon on opening day several years ago, and the latest catch was close to 100 pounds, even though the biggest fish got away.
But then that always happens. Say it ain't so, Joe!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Being Proud Of Neighbours

It was just another July Monday when I drove on to Highway 401 at Cobourg. Mary, my son Mark who lives in China, and I were subdued after a rare family reunion of all three sons at the cottage.
I didn't realize that within minutes I would be choked with emotion about how ordinary Joes and Janes and their kids interrupted their day to stand guard on the bridges as the body of the latest soldier to be killed in that killing field for empires, Afghanistan, passed beneath, first to a coroner's inspection in Toronto, then to the corporal's final resting place near his home in Bancroft.
At the first bridge, I was mystified. I looked up and there was a fire truck and firefighters and people in red and swatches of our great flag. And the same at the next. Local belated Canada Day celebrations? I didn't know. After all, I had been in blissful news isolation on the Trent River, and didn't know about the death of Nick Bulger, or that his coffin had just been unloaded from the giant Globemaster at Trenton in the sad repatriation ceremony.
And then it all made mournful sense. The giant highway that is the main street of the province gained a second name in 2007 - Highway of Heroes - on the stretch from Trenton to Toronto, and people gather along it to honour the passage of fallen brothers or sons or neighbours, especially on occasions like last December when the death toll for Canada in that evil land reached the sad century. (The new name was prompted by, among others, the Sun's Joe Warmington, who one day was annoyed to find traffic moving slowly ahead of him, only to find that the cause was four hearses bearing the latest war dead.)
I found in the news the next day that hundreds from Nick's home town gathered at the military base. What a fine tribute. But the mourners I remember stood in clumps on the bridges. On one overpass, just a big flag. On another, just one man holding his flag. On another, three boys waving one flag and chattering to each other in nervous anticipation.
Unfortunately the numbers dwindled from dozens to just a few as I drove closer to Toronto, and then, in the northern expanse of Scarborough, there was just one man, using his car to protect himself and his flag from the heavy traffic, and then, there was no one...It resembled the end of the Eric Bogel anti-war anthem "Waltzing Matilda".
The routines of life in the Big Smoke ground on, but I hoped at least a few of us took time out from bitching about civic workers and the strike that robs the kids of a happy summer to remember those who fight honourably in our name in a land where killing each other and selling poison to the world are the two main family businesses.
One of the nice things about modern Canada is that as the great wars fade into history, Canadians do not forget. There is more emotion and publicity around Remembrance Day now than there was three decades ago. And three decades ago there were still World War Two veterans in senior posts in the media. Why the public regard for our fighting men and women has even survived the socialist and gliberals who have always thought that fighting for your country is only something you do when the enemy boot is pushing your neck into the dirt.
I always thought I would have to fight in a war. There was the Cold War and the Korean War and the civil defense drills of how you were supposed to hide under your school desks if a nuclear holocaust threatened just outside the window. So I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve and learned how to run primitive radar sets while telling planes where to fly.
Then I was a father and worried about my sons having to fight. Now it's my grandsons. And so I think we can't just ignore the regimes that poison their area but have to lance the boils on the planet with our military before the infection spreads.
Not that I was thinking of all this on the July Monday when tears stung my eyes because my fellow Canadians demonstrated that they think Remembrance Day should come every day of the year, especially when the latest body comes down the Highway of Heroes.