Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Hello To Canadian Disability Hall Of Fame

Five wonderful Canadians have just been inducted into the new Canadian Disability Hall of Fame at the 16th annual dinner.
You don't have to be a veteran editor like me to spot the contradiction in that first paragraph. If it's a new hall, how come it was the 16th induction?
The reason is that thanks to the obstinate Fox family, who agreed to the start of the Terry Fox Hall of Fame - that honoured disabled athletes, others who triumphed over physical disabilities, and those who helped them - we on the selection committee have had to drop the iconic Terry Fox name.
Too bad! Since the Hall began 16 years ago, with David Crombie as chair and a dozen reps from the community, including me, as committee members, we have honoured some of the most famous people in the country. The great leaders who started the CNIB (Edwin Baker) or headed paralympic games (Dr. Robert Jackson) or were noted athletes (Rick Hansen) were honoured each year with induction into the Hall of Fame. Their accomplishments are remembered in the hall on the ground floor of the old headquarters for the Metro regional government.
Even though Betty Fox, mother of Terry, agreed to our original rules and criteria, and even though the Fox family was often at the induction dinner, at our expense, and even though the Foxes received more money and publicity from the Toronto hall than any other organization, the Fox family threatened legal action against the selection committee and the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons (which is the foundation for the hall.)
Betty Fox, and Terry's brother Darrell, were firm. We could no longer use the honourable Fox name. Betty argued that we had sold out to corporations because banks and other Canadian companies helped with the costs of the induction dinner. She objected too that a magazine featuring the latest recipients also contained ads. So we renamed the dinner and the magazine, dropping the Fox name at her request because she said Terry would have been embarrassed.
But we kept the hall's name. After all, more than 60 Canadians were members, from Mona Winberg and Cliff Chadderton to Jack Donohue, Linc Alexander and Vicki Keith Munro. Names that most Canadians know and respect.
As a subcommittee of Crombie, Senator Con Di Nino and me argued when we met with a Toronto lawyer for advice on how to deal with the Fox demands, any corporate contributions and ads went to cover expenses and to subsidize many at the dinner. The disabled community of the Greater Toronto Area, which includes many with modest means, found the induction dinner a great place for networking. Any suggestion it was a monied affair for the glory of corporate Canada was ridiculous. Even though premiers like Mike Harris and Dalton McGuinty have often spoken at the dinner, speakers have also included the Lieutenant Governor (and David Only is in a wheelchair) and famous disabled athletes like this year's speaker Chantal Petitclerc. Chantal is one of the most successful Canadian athletes ever on the international stage, and I'm including athletes who aren't operating out of wheelchairs.
Vim Kochhar, the inspiration for the hall, explained again and again to the Foxes that any fund-raising went to the operation of the hall and the dinner. We thought that Betty Fox and her son Darrell were worried that the hall operations somehow interfered with the Fox Foundation's enormous fund-raising through the world. But even after Darrell Fox and the foundation separated, there was no change in attitude from the family.
So we debated other names at great length and finally came up with Canadian Disability Hall of Fame, which sadly doesn't have the instant mystique when it was called after the great Canadian whose stubborn bravery electrified a nation.
The 2009 recipients on Oct. 26 were the late Jeff Healey, the legendary jazz guitarist, Diane Roy, a world champion at the Beijing Paralympic Games, David Hingsburger a famous therapist, advocate and writer in the disabled world, and Gary and Jill Taylor, tireless volunteers who spend all their time working for others.
Terry Fox would have thought they were wonderful people, even if his family no longer want his name to be associated with such great Canadians.

Monday, October 19, 2009


An Easy Guide To Memories

I just visited my past. And Harvey Currell's book Byways and Bylines also gave me some ideas for weekend jaunts. which he did for many Torontonians for 49 years.
Of course I'm prejudiced, having worked and yarned with Harvey since 1958 when I was a kid reporter and he was the Suburban Editor of the Toronto Telegram who didn't think I had done that great a job transcribing a story from one of his staffers.
Let me give you a snapshot of Harvey that I wrote in 2003 when he and I were still columnist colleagues on the Toronto Sun. You can find it now on the back cover of his book.
I wrote: "If you poke around the province's back roads and dusty parts, you've likely been turning every Wednesday, since The Sun rose like a phoenix from the Tely's ashes, to the Country Trips column by a great Ontarian, Harvey Currell, the explorer and story-teller.
"This month marks the 45th anniversary of his column since they began in The Telegram in 1958. Fans know that if you read Harvey you get to the pretty nooks before the crowds.
"He's a true scout, anxious to see what's over the next hill, happy to report back. He started as a Tely office boy in 1939 but a century before he would have signed on as a cabin boy to sail the Seven Seas and sing about their mysteries.
"His first column revealed Rattlesnake Point before it became the conservation area outside Milton. He hiked the Bruce Trail with Robert Bateman before it was the Bruce Trail and Bateman was a world-famous wildlife artist. And he wrote about unknown petroglyphs near Stoney Lake that are now the heart of a park that draws visitors from around the world...
Harvey has the kind of easy writing style that flows from the keyboard if you've been writing your facts and thoughts for eight decades. (He's 87 and sold his first story at 8.)
Lean prose, the kind you develop when as a teenager trying to make the city staff you rode streetcars daily from service clubs to courts to council meetings to Legions, tirelessly gathering a few paras from each for next day's paper.
Harvey doesn't dwell on the changes in newspaper coverage but it really hit home for me. After all, 25 years later I was the Tely's Suburban Editor, his post for many years. Some reporters mentioned in this book still worked for me. But the Tely no longer had the space or inclination to cover all the meetings that big newspapers routinely did up to the 1960s. Smaller newspapers may still cover most community events but a service club today couldn't expect a big city reporter to show up for lunch unless they have a rare and major speaker. (When I started, this is how we ate for free.)
I enjoyed Harvey's book because for 13 years our work history intertwined. And it was during the death knell of one of the country's best newspapers, a real innovator in one of North America's toughest news towns. Yet younger journalists will appreciate his description of his apprenticeship in the journalism school of the streets. Then there's his description of army life in World War Two. And finally, 32 updated trip columns.
They're the icing on the cake for readers who really don't care about Harvey's life in newspapers or the army. Anyone who wants to go on one of those valuable family traditions, the weekend afternoon drive, will get enough ideas from this book to justify the humble $20 cost. In fact, I suspect some readers would have wanted more on trips and less on his journalism.
Harvey had a second career after his "life-time" job at the Tely ended. He became a thoughtful PR "flack" for the Etobicoke school board. And I imagine that older teachers and politicians in the west-end will be interested in his view of the school brass of the giant borough who were not exactly shy individuals.
You can buy Harvey's book at the excellent west-end store, The Bookmark, 2964 Bloor St. W. (416 233-2191) or you can phone Harvey at 416 621 2451. He may actually be there. He hasn't written the trips column for several years but he does spend a lot of time at his beloved Lake Josephine, which is still a retreat so private there's no electricity. Which suits him just fine.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Here We Go Again

A veteran Toronto politician/observer emailed me as soon as the latest conflict-of-interest charges hit Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. He was not surprised. Apparently he is one of the few to remember that it had happened to Hazel before, and she was found guilty in two courts.
I was the columnist who broke that story nearly 30 years ago, and still remember with amazement how little attention the Globe and Star paid to it because it was a "Sun" scoop.
I had spent weeks researching it. And when you are a columnist running like a hamster on a treadmill with deadlines five days a week, time is precious and such investigations loom large in your life. But I have never understood the pass that Hazel got from the media and the Mississauga voters. It can be summed up in one of the few headlines in the Globe on this subject, on March 5, 1983. It read "Accused of political opportunism, convicted of conflict of interest, she's still a hit in McCallion country."
People love a maverick, and Hazel certainly appeared to be a maverick even though she had power, was a certified member of the Establishment, and was well off. After all, the votes that got her into trouble all those years ago increased the value of the land around the family home enormously. She participated in what I called the Mississauga gold rush when I wrote about it, for example in a column on April 23, 1982, which I quote below.
Hazel always has been one step ahead of everyone when it comes to life. She is bright and determined. She rode over troubles because she may be small in stature but she is large in self-confidence. She doesn't really give a damn for opposition. She benefitted too in that the media watch on Mississauga politics has never been as rigorous as in Toronto. For example, I was at a party that the late and lamented airline, Wardair, threw at a downtown Toronto hotel. The door prize was an airline pass for two to any city on earth. Hazel was the gleeful winner even though the airport is a significant factor in her city's politics. That would have sparked a controversy at Toronto City Hall if the politician hadn't immediately declined.
The newspapers always lovingly refer to her leadership in the Mississauga train derailment of 1979 shortly after she, the former operator of small newspapers, had risen through minor area council positions to be mayor of the coming giant. It sparked her nickname of Hurricane Hazel. What isn't known is that she was seen by Attorney General Roy McMurtry. head of the central control group dealing with the crisis, as an infuriating mouthy roadblock in that evacuation crisis. McMurtry later became Ontario's chief justice precisely because he could tolerate egomaniacs like Hazel who was determined to appear in the media as the saviour. However, his aides daydreamed to me about how nice it would be to isolate her out of the whole process. No doubt other journalists were also consulted. Our advice was we didn't think he could get away with it.
Ironically, it was that same AG's department which leaked to me a copy of the letter that Hazel wrote McMurtry after she had been convicted in Peel county court of violating the municipal conflict of interest act in four ways. Since she had appealed, a letter to the AG was highly improper. She also wrote a letter to a senior judge, and the scandalized authorities made sure I got a copy. The letters boasted of her success in helping to free the courts by moving time-consuming assessment appeals to the Municipal Board. She didn't mention her case but the AG and judge felt she was trying to score Brownie points with them.
A myth was created by Hazel and supporters that nothing really had happened to her because, after all, the first judge didn't remove her from office because he ruled the incidents had been an "error in judgement." But conveniently forgotten is that she appealed and lost, indeed lost to such an extent that the appeals court ruled she had to pay court costs. (The costs could have been $35,000 but it was said they totalled around $31,000, a major sum three decades ago. Friends took up a collection.)
Hazel has never condemned me to my face about my columns that pushed her into the courts. She has said vaguely that it was just her enemies and an old foe, former council colleague Jack Graham. Except the reality is that it was more than just old feuds, and the lawyer hurling the facts at her on behalf of Graham was John Laskin, now an Ontario Court of Appeal justice. The case concerned just when Hazel declared a conflict of interest in crucial development issues and just how much did she participate in meetings on these issues when she or her family were affected. Does that not sound familiar when you read about the latest controversy? Three decades is an eternity in politics but should we forget history?
Here is my April 23, 1982 column that gave some of the issues. You might be surprised at how lean it is. After all, I was an experienced columnist and readily produced more robust sentences. But I had to run a publication gauntlet and material was stripped, even though the Sun's libel lawyer said he had never seen columns backed by so much information. Ed Monteith, then the Sun's managing editor, refused to run them and I had to appeal to the Sun founder and publisher, Doug Creighton, who said "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

The column:

The weeks slip away before the next municipal elections but a judge has yet to deal with the conflict of interest charge that could bring dramatic change to the Mississauga election.

It will be June at least before Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion gets her day in county court to answer the complaint of former council colleague Jack Graham that she may have contravened the municipal conflict of interest act when her council started the approval process last November for 26,000 houses and apartment units.

Graham, a Mississauga lawyer, asks the judge to throw McCallion out of office and disqualify her from holding a position on any council or urban agency for up to seven years.

On Nov. 2, council approved 10 areas in five neighborhoods for development after a long, costly study by two task forces, the last one composed of officials from the city, region, school board and hydro commission.

However, council didn’t follow all the recommendations of these officials. There was controversy surrounding the report since the officials worried about the city’s ability to finance the services such enormous growth requires.

One area given approval by council but not by the last task force is East Credit. This is also the area where McCallion and her husband Samuel have owned a house and five acres since 1951, purchased for $14,000.

Under the motion approved by council, 2,918 detached houses, 92 townhouses and 338 apartment units can be built in East Credit.

Mississauga is no stranger to development pressures which have caused the price of serviced land there to soar.

The value of the 1,013 acres released by council for development in East Credit - the area not recommended by staff - is at least $50 million.

Mississauga has boomed from an expanse of sleepy farms and quiet dormitory communities to the fastest-growing city in the country.

It has grown 26% in the last five years to become ninth among Canada’s cities. Its 315,056 people make it larger than Ottawa and Hamilton.

And McCallion has been very much part of this explosion, gaining a national reputation as a stubborn, formidable leader who always does her own thing whether the problem was the derailment crisis, heading a province-wide urban lobby or the seven days a week work running Mississauga.

She is a veteran councillor, having served since the 1960's. She had no opposition when she ran for a second mayoralty term in the last election.

As proof of the support she enjoys in her community, eight councillors and three senior officials rallied to her in this case by filing affidavits with the Peel County Court.

The court also has a number of examinations for discovery, including a cross examination of McCallion by John Laskin acting for Graham.

The mayor was asked if she had an interest in any company or partnership that has any interest in Mississauga property, whether she was familiar with Macran Associates Ltd., whether she was a Macran director, whether she knew a “Mr. Randles”, whether “Randles” was a Macran director, whether Macran has Mississauga property and whether she owned property outside Mississauga?

Her lawyer, J.L. Finlay, instructed her not to answer.

The latest record on Macran filed with the consumer and commercial relations ministry shows it is a company with a Mississauga address formed for the purpose of “development and property management”.

McCallion, her husband, and Allan and Agnes Randles are listed as directors of the company from the date of incorporation on March 14, 1974.

Allan Randles was appointed in 1974 by Mississauga council to its committee of adjustment and the Peel land division committee. He was reappointed for two terms.

On Dec. 23, 1981, he was reappointed to the committee of adjustment, a body that deals with minor zoning changes, with McCallion declaring a conflict of interest.

Records in the Peel Registry Office show that Markborough Properties Ltd., sold 2.6 acres of vacant industrial land in Mississauga on Jan. 30, 1974, to Peter McCallion-in-trust, the mayor’s son.

The price was $79,740.

According to the same records, the land was conveyed to Macran on April 9, 1974, for $2.
Macran sold the parcel for $212,640 on Sept. 13, 1974, to Tleg Investments Ltd., Elto Investments Ltd., and Strongway Construction Ltd.

The price had increased $132,900 in seven months in Mississauga’s giddy gold rush for real estate.