Friday, May 14, 2010



Toronto motorists will take a slim victory even if it's caused by absentees and a dumb mistake. Still, the commendable vote turning down bike lanes on University Av. is just more proof that this council and its globe-trotting mayor should be pictured in dictionaries to illustrate the word dysfunctional.
The word means malfunction in structure. And that it is. Verbose, awkward, stupid, bureaucratic, posturing etc. etc. Think of any insult and throw it into the mix. The socialists, gliberals and inept pensioners on this council should all be put out to pasture this fall, but I doubt we will be that fortunate.
My views on bike lanes are well-known. Just in case, I wrote about them again in columns last year on May 22 and June 3 and this year on April 15.
I have always felt the same about bike lanes, an incredibly expensive way to screw up traffic and accommodate a few cyclists for about the half year when the weathe is tolerable. I was accused by one friend/fanatic who rode to a downtown hospital of waiting until my son Brett took his honeymoon to launch one attack on bikes, because Brett often bikes to work.
If you want to bike to work, fine by me. Just don't do it on main streets during rushhour and expect motorists, cops and the bureaucracy to accommodate you with your own special reserved space.
This idea of an experiment this summer with bike lanes on University Ave. - which would have been the ultimate in the cyclist crusade - was almost welcomed by me as a concept so silly that it might actually trigger a successful revolt by council's minority and the public against the costly spread of bike lanes through a city road network that already didn't work.
But it got rejected in a squeaker of vote with Councillor Paula Fletcher, a bike-lane supporter, voting against, blaming fatique and the fact she just doesn't quite know how to operate the two voting buttons that she has pushed for years.
It also got defeated because 17 of the councillors weren't there for the evening vote. I suspect some concocted excuses just so they could duck the issue. For lefties, voting against bikes is a little like kicking a saint, but they must have known in their gut that it was a bizarre misused of road space and that many voters in their wards would be furious.
Ducking a vote is almost as bad as taking a bribe. Hiding in the toilet or pretending that you have to show visiting relatives the town is a betrayal of your voters who expect that for $100,000 a year, you might actually stay in your seat.
It's important for every councillor to vote on such issues, no matter what excuse they can dream up, because bike lanes are almost iconic in their symbolism. Just how far does a city go in contorting its infrastructure to accommodate a mouthy minority when the huge majority of users of city streets, including transit with hundreds of thousands of passengers, will be delayed.
My wife and I drove along Bloor St. at 7.30 a.m. recently for early medical appointments. Normally we would take the subway but I was going on to the cottage, and you can't take transit to the Kawarthas. It's something the lefty bitching about motorists forget. Many people make a number of calls in a day, not just one trip to a job. And you can't deliver couches and cases of pop on the bus.
So there we were zipping along Bloor except for blocks where there were one or two cyclists or perhaps an illegally parked car. You put two people on two bikes in one block of Bloor and effectively you close one lane of traffic. Sure, as the cyclists say, there is only one person in many of those cars but there are far more cars needing to use that disabled lane than there are cyclists.
I won't praise Fletcher for pushing the wrong button to be with the winning 15-vote majority. But I will the others: Ainslie, Ashton, Del Grande, Grimes, Hall, Holyday, Kelly, Lindsay-Luby, Minnan-Wong, Moeser, Nunziata, Palacio, Parker and Perruzza.
The 13 who wanted the lanes (in this case the number really is evil) were: Augimeri, Davis, De Baeremaeker, Gimabrone, Heaps, McConnell, Mihevic, Moscoe, Pantalone, Perks, Rae, Saundercook and Vaughan.
We should also condemn the 17 who were absent. This was a major issue, certainly so in symbolism, and you expect councillors to be around unless they're in ER. Mayor David Miller wasn't there because most of the time he is busy burnishing his image in the world, not this city. Then the rest: Milczyn, Bussin, Carroll, Cho, Di Georgio, Feldman, Fillion, Ford, Jenkins, Mammoliti, Lee, Ootes, Shiner, Stintz, Thompson and Walker.
It would be nice if most of those were absent all the time from council. Same with the unholy 13. Come to think of it, even though there are some bright, hard-working honourable conservatives, it would be useful and appropriate if most of council's 45 members never returned.
What we need is more of them running for mayor, because then we get stuck with only one.



There I was pushing my fingers through the raspberry sorbet at a $350-a-plate dinner and no one at the table was complaining.
In fact, no one noticed. But then they were wearing blindfolds - although a couple were sneaking peaks I suspect - and I was wearing a blindfold without cheating, so I had no idea what part of my dessert I was pawing. A couple of truffle balls slipped away but I managed to grab them before they hit the tablecloth.
It was a culinary treasure hunt. It was also a lot of fun. It also taught all the diners at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind headquarters on Bayview Ave. about what the blind and the partially sighted among us face every day, when not being able to see is not just a temporary lesson from being blindfolded but a fact of life that is to be endured and then to be conquered.
The dinner was titled Visions Gala 2010, the first of what is hoped to be an eternal annual event on behalf of the CNIB. It raised more than $50,000 as the organizers lived up to its theme of "Ignite Your Senses" by presenting us with the Alata Harmonia Chorus of Canada singing the music of blind composers and blind virtuoso performances by pianist Nat Giangioppo and singer Becka deHann.
The food was great, prepared by Compass Group, but the evening only lived up to its billing of "exploration, discovery and delight" - the words of John Rafferty, the CNIB president - when after the black cod and beef tenderloin we had that "trio of the senses' desert served in the dark.
It looks like just another photo opportunity for politicians but when the world that doesn't have a disability is confronted with the hassles of dealing with one, we all benefit.
So it was a few days early when Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman trundled around in a wheelchair to experience the dumb hurdles created by the thoughtless. In Ottawa, one of the new senators, Vim Kochhar, was doing the same. And such "stunts" were happening in most Canadian cities.
By now the public is used to the pictures, but they should try to get used to helping our disabled neighbours conquer the barricades which too many of them have to confront daily, whether on transit or in public buildings.
Vim Kochhar is a veteran in these battles on behalf of the physically disabled as the spark behind the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons and the Canadian Disabled Hall of Fame. (I wrote about the hall last Oct. 27 as we created it out of the Terry Fox Hall after the Fox family because jealously protective of Terry's name.)
Oh yes, it was the best dessert that I've had in a series of formal dinners, that is if the dry cleaners manage to get all of the spots out of my jacket.

Thursday, May 6, 2010



It would be a hot topic around the Toronto press club bar but press clubs everywhere have disappeared faster than reporting jobs and media revenue.
Just who is going to cover events in the future and produce the foundation of basic reporting on which the tottering superstructure of bloggers, columnists and commentators rest?
I doubt that some bloggers have thoughts greater than one ungrammatical put-down paragraph. But the poor man's columnists, plus all the hotline hosts and TV talking heads, really can't function unless someone actually goes to the meetings or digs up the dirt or covers the trials or wades through the crisis or interviews the movers and crooks and cops.
Journalism isn't falling out of bed and sitting down at the computer in your undies and firing off an insult about a story you just heard on radio or TV. You just can't take the lint in your belly button and weave together enough of a story to support even a bad rant. There has to be a writer somewhere who actually wrote the first story for a newspaper, because, as is well known, the news on TV and radio is stolen 99.9% from newspapers.
And lately, the poor reporters, the foot soldiers of the media, have become an endangered species as fat corporations figure that a few columnists, wire service copy, inventive editors and some pictures will just be the thing to keep the ads apart. Oh yes, sports too, because it's easy to cover and you can fill a lot of space with action pictures and stories even of practises. Movie reviews are also a cinch, compared to the nitty gritty of winkling the truth out of bureaucracy.
Jon Stewart, the comedian who is one of the best critics of media around, had Jon Meacham, the Editor of Newsweek, on his show the night that it was announced that the veteran news magazine is going to be sold. The graffiti scrawled on the wall says it will fold.
Meacham felt that only the venerable Economist was making money among such magazines and that maybe the best thing is to concentrate on producing good daily coverage of events for the Internet and then package the best of that for a magazine to be printed weekly for those who like to hold news in their hands. After all, reading the computer in the tub is not recommended.
The important part of the interview was Stewart and Meacham worrying about just where the basic fodder in news was going to come from if newspapers and magazines continue to languish and their staffs continue to be decimated as the bosses try to keep afloat.
For Southern Ontario, there are textbook examples of the squeeze on reporters and news coverage. The National Post is so slim some days that you wonder why they bother. The Toronto Sun is being squeezed like a dish rag so that Quebecor can get every last buck out of it to pay for its dismal management.
There doesn't seem to be a month when there aren't major firings and layoffs and closings and mergers as news rooms and press halls and call centres are crimped and shuffled and combined.
The Sun is reshuffing columnists and beats, presumably to cover the yawning absence of reporters. Ironically, it is returning to its roots, before it was cash cow,, when basically it was a paper of columnists and not much else.
The Sun rose like a phoenix out of the ashes of the Toronto Telegram, when the beloved Tely was folded by the Bassett family to make some money. The Tely featured a half-dozen columnists that were often the talk of the town. So the Sun's founders, basically Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington, decided out of necessity to go the Tely one better and make columnists the backbone of the new tabloid. In fact, the legs and arms too.
For example, until 1985, I wrote a daily column on politics on Page 4. I was said to be a City Hall columnist but actually I covered politics at every level, walking between City Hall and the Legislature and flying to Ottawa for throne speeches, elections and budgets. Generally there was no other coverage of the same events for the first few years.
With Worthington, the eternal columnist, and Doug Fisher, the dean of the Press Gallery, completing our political triumvirate, no one seemed to notice that we really had no political reporters, especially with Bob MacDonald functioning more as a bare-knuckle columnist.
In Sports, we had George Gross leading a trusty band of columnists. In Entertainment, George Anthony covered movies and North America like a champagne-soaked blanket. Joan Sutton strutted on high heels around the LifeStyle world and stared down society.
It all worked, and the Sun confounded its critics. But each year reporters were added and in time the Sun resembled a mature newspaper where editors actually had assistants and there might actually be more than just one reporter on a beat.
Now the Sun is setting in that area, and columnists are shouldering more of the hard news load.
But there can be problem when you rely on your big columnists to always provide the major, and sometimes the only, coverage of big stories.
One of the charms of being a columnist is the freedom to pontificate about whatever takes your interest. You don't, or shouldn't, assign columnists. If the editors keep calling up columnists and telling them to write on a specific event, then the columnist is just another feature writer and the job is no longer as attractive.
This will come as a shock to all the kids who show up and tell the interviewing editors that they would like to be a columnist but the best columnists have a decade or so of tough service first as reporters and editors. They should be among the newspaper's best reporters but that doesn't mean they want to function as a reporter. Where's the fun in not being able to call the mayor a super mouth?
We face a challenging time for those of us who like our commentary to come with the icing of real facts. Imagine the despair of all the spielers and bloggers out there if they actually have to do some digging themselves and find that trials can last for weeks and a political debate for an eternity. Journalism isn't just ripping off the facts from others and saying what you think about them.
The free ride can't last forever. The outfits who still employ a few reporters will figure out eventually how to recover some of their costs from the Internet and the death spiral for media will cease.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Be it ever so humble, there's no place like my cottage bench.
I dream and watch the Trent River from it for hours. Hassles of the Big Smoke that is Toronto burn away like the morning mist under the June sun.
I escape to it in my mind from any corner of the world. When the spirit feels battered by the awful sights of the refugee camp. When the plane is delayed for another three hours. When the visitors become as tedious as feared.
Most of us have a peaceful hatch in our mind when we need a magic carpet to flee misery. In Dan Brown's latest bestseller, The Lost Symbol, his hero, Robert Langford, imagined that he was lying beneath a vast night sky when he battled his crippling claustrophobia.
I still have the bench I bought 30 years ago. It's rotting and sagging but the kids perch in it to watch the evening fire and roast gooey treats. The second bench is just a memory. It was so fine, it was poached. And the current one looks like it was cut out with axe but it's a comfortable sit, and that's more important than looks.
Yet the second was a thing of beauty. A Costco kit for around $119 that sat under a leak in the boat house for years when my enthusiasm waned within minutes of the purchase. . One rainy day, my procrastination had become silly even to me. So I ripped open the rotting cardboard to find the boards were just fine but the instructions had a hole in the middle from mildew.
But the French version was fine. So I phoned the daughter-in-law in California. She is so francophone, the Plains of Abraham were named after one of her ancestors - her family lived on the edge - and the composer of our stirring anthem, Calixa Lavallee, was another relative. Marie translated, through giggles, my atrocious French, so for once that compulsory duplicate French instruction was useful.
My wife and I did everything right. Soaked the boards in various preservatives before assembly with really good screws and carpenter's glue. My finest assembly yet, after cursing Ikea for years.
Great to sit in. And we celebrated with the first of, we hoped, many cold beers. Maybe some tea too.
Then came the cold November night and my eternal search for some plump pickerel. I groped through the gloom to the end of the point and made my first cast. Lost the minnow. Cursed that I hadn't brought a flashlight out but backed up to my bench to sit and bait the hook again. I went sprawling. Someone had stolen the bench on which I had spent so much time.
My theory is that the louts who occasionally float in party barges off the point and curse and drink beer and maybe even fish figured it would be a great lark if they liberated my bench. So they clambered over the rocks that edge the point and shoved it aboard their pontoon boat. Too bad they didn't break a leg.
Of course I had branded it with my initials in a secret nook. So I searched up and down both sides of the Trent. No luck. Just irate dogs. So I added the bench to the strange assortment of stuff that I've had stolen over the years, which includes a wheel barrow and aquarium.
The river that runs through my life is as magnetic as a fireplace when it comes to staring and dreaming. A big fish jumps. The carp school in sex play. A loon keeps company, our two solitudes not meeting but not at war either. The lights come on in the cottage and the choice now is between the assaults of the bugs and falling asleep before the TV.
Give the kings their thrones. I'll take the cottage bench and the river and my thoughts....