Monday, June 21, 2010



Let me take you back to more civilized days in political summits when the G8 met in Toronto in June, 1988.
It was the final night and I as Editor of the Toronto Sun had been invited to a farewell bash. And so I found myself sharing a table with three men, one of whom I knew because he had been security for a premier. I had spent countless hours with him leaning against walls in several countries, exchanging muttered curses over the more inane ceremonies.
Turned out that this was a summit of sorts too because the three had headed the RCMP, OPP and Metro Police operations for the summit.
There was a big media gripe that summit about a guy who returned home from a hunting trip and as he carried his rifle into his house, a helicopter spotlight lit him up and cruisers swooped up and police pinned him to his driveway.
"Just how far do you guys go?" I grumbled. And one said: "We'll do whatever we think we can get away with."
I've never forgotten that. That top cop was outlining what he considered was one of the fundamentals of policing. It was up to the courts and the politicians and the media and the public to push back when he went too far in the pursuit of crooks or even just to guard a clutch of leaders.
The four previous summits held in Canada were weenie roasts compared to what is being done under a Conservative government that is not conservative. The excuse is that this is a chance to show Canada off to the world. Sure, it is. For several million, you could bring in the travel press and get a lot more bang for your buck that a billion bucks wasted on pols.
I will not waste your time by detailing all the obscene wastes of public funds, the trampling of basic rights and the disregard for reality demonstrated by the security forces involved in this summit. We have been reading about them for weeks. They sound like a deranged Monty Python skit.
There are so many, it is a wonder that some of us don't vomit as we scan the latest news about three-metre-high security fences, store owners having to close shop, condo residents having to endure security just to go home etc.
Just imagine what could be done with that $1 billion in wastage. In fact, wouldn't it have been wonderful if it wasn't collected in the first place. And yet we waste a billion on a PR stunt where little real business will be conducted and any statements were precooked a month ago.
Each decade brings new excesses in security. Premiers and prime ministers have gone from one guard on routi
ne days and a couple of cruisers when they go to a hotel to shutting down the street outside the hotel and even closing highways like 427.
The leaders often aren't comfortable with the cocoons but they go along with it and then their successors aren't given a choice.
I remember a Mountie pushing my wife aside in a Royal York dining room so that PET could pass. "Do that again and I'll deck you," I yelled. Trudeau, walking mere feet away, indicated that I had made a reasonable response. Today, I guess, several decades later, I would end up on the floor and then in custody, getting bruised in the process to teach me a lesson.
Press credentials often aren't a shield. In fact, we often are used to shield the politicians, so terrorists have to shoot over us.
Most of my anger is reserved for all the petty anarchists and professional demonstrators who are the justification for the security. If these yahoos didn't exist, we wouldn't have to waste all this money and energy. Many have little real insight into the real worlds of politics, trade and business, so their silly signs, anarchist agendas and amateurish chants are like paint blisters on an aircraft carrier. I would prosecute every demonstrator for every act of civil disobedience because there's plenty of opportunity to make your views known in this world without trying to harm or shout down those who took the trouble to get elected.
But there is no justification for the Ontario government to suspend the basic right of you and me not to be hassled by police just because we happen to be close to a security fence. There are many who came to live in Canada to escape cops stopping them and demanding identification because they felt like it.
The crazed over-reaction of our police to summit security is rooted in the desire to avoid being embarrassed in front of other police forces if a major incident happened here. I remember going to a royal function and being stunned by all the police on the streets of Toronto. I saw the police chief and said he must have every cop on duty. Why? He was not evasive or apologetic. "I don't want to be known as the police chief of the city where the Queen or any royal was hurt or even killed," he said.
The only good thing about the G8/G20 embarrassing summit is that it is so costly and so intrusive to the life of a large downtown that the politicians may come to their senses and start saying no to such dumb ideas as fencing off downtowns to keep the cattle, I mean the politicians, from the people.
The next summit should be held on a boat, perhaps in North Korean waters. And the rest of the world could enjoy their summers.

Post Script:
After the party was over and the windows fixed, there is confusion about who did what to whom. Yet two things are certain. A big city's downtown is a dumb and expensive place to stage a summit. And demonstrators really don't care about issues. They just want to preen in the media as they burn and trash and act like pretend anarchists with rabies.
I feel sorry for the silly kids who got caught up by the thugs and didn't realize that with all those cops brimming with a mixture of doing your duty and bravado, just being in the vicinity was asking for trouble.
Will we ever get the truth about the burning cruisers and whether they were just decoys? Why could media cameras capture the vandalism but not the cops? And why is it that a few cops always use these occasions to harrass or bash some reporters? Do they really suffer from permanent media envy, like boys looking at a man's penis?
I just wish it had never happened, with all its hype and costs, that Harper and captive cabinet stopped elevating themselves on our dime.

Sunday, June 20, 2010



This is a warning. When friends and relatives ask about how opening the cottage went, I curse and wave my fists and deliver a 15-minute monologue until they edge away with a strange look in their eyes.
After all, it only took five weeks, four visits from the plumber, two visits from the back-hoe operator and assorted copper elbows, taps, Band Aids, shower head, water pump etc.
And many many dollars.
It all began the first week of May, a pleasant day as I recall, and it all ended in humid June just before I had nightmares about tearing down the whole damn cottage to find every last inch of diseased plumbing.
My story even comes with a villain. I just wonder if someone hasn't been playing games with me. Sweat and frustration can make you paranoid, you know.
I closed Burnt Point last November just before fishing closed, working all day to clean gutters, store stuff, and to do all the countless tasks of the last cottage day of the year.
And then, dog tired, as evening came on with a cold rush, I pulled my water line out of the Trent River, opened every tap, and pumped all the water out of the system.
Or so I thought. In my most paranoid hours of misery this spring, when leak followed leak followed leak, I just wondered if someone out for a stroll after I left, noticed the water trickling out of the tap at the low point of the system and, helpfully or mischieviously, turned it off. And so water remained and became frozen havoc.
My first warning of the coming miseries came as I marched into the chilly water this May to sink my foot valve and start the torturous process of priming the pump. Pail after pail after pail. In 30 years, it had never taken this long.
Then I seemed to see and hear a pin hole leak underneath the tank beneath the pump. I disconnected the whole damn affair, only to find no sign of the leak. Yet I also found when I visited the local stores that a new tank cost more than half of getting a new pump/tank kit.
So I bought a new pump and tank. After all, the old one was more than 30 years old and some years I had kept it going only through strange parts, chewing gum and prayer.
Then I discovered that the new pump needed a new configuration of pipes to connect to my little system. So I called Bob Emery, the plumber in Havelock, who said he was in the spring rush and I wasn't one of his customers but he would come in a week or two.
Plumber Bob phoned me in Toronto two weeks later. He had connected the new pump but I had a leak in the hot water pipe behind the shower. Did I want to open up the wall and save some money? Sure I said, no need for his carpentry at $50 an hour.
Took down the panelling in the room beside the bathroom and cut a hole, by guess and by god and by ruler, to where I thought the shower pipes were. Nothing. Turned on the hot water. It was down below. So I picked up a new floor and cut another hole.
Plumber Bob came a week later, fixed the pipe under the floor and found another leak behind the shower that I hadn't seen before.
Turned the hot water on again. Now there was a leak far under the shower. There is no crawl space under my cottage at that point, so I called Darrell Brunton, who can open an envelope with his back hoe. But even Darrell with his skill couldn't dig UNDER the blasted cottage. So I did, with a hatchet to cut the roots and a hand shovel. In three feet, down four feet, to find a big rock with a concrete block on top just in front of the leak.
Since I had now destroyed a garden, I went all the way and had Darrell uncover my sewer pipe to the septic tank that has always given us trouble.
Plumber Bob came back, smashed the block supporting the cottage out of the way, and fixed the leak. Oh yes, he said on the telephone, he found a second leak there too but there was now a leak behind the kitchen sink.
So I returned to open another wall and floor. And Plumber Bob returned to fix that leak and then a new leak that appeared behind the bathroom sink. And he replaced my sewer pipe.
So what in the end was the good and the bad, the damage, besides to the nerves of Mary and me? Well, we got a good flush out of it with the new sewer. And the pump is new too, and we probably needed that.
Our modest water system is only one kitchen sink, one bathroom sink, toilet and shower. But the innards of every tap had to be replaced as Plumber Bob mended eight leaks in pipes and elbows. I suspect he regarded me as a bit of an idiot as I counted out the hundred dollar bills, babbling that I had drained my system for 30 years and never had a problem.
Emery departed and Brunton returned to fill the hole just outside the bathroom wall. I dug and pounded and raked and planted grass and watered and replaced bushes. And Mary and I each had a shower and then celebrated the return of water, especially hot water, to our cottage. I promised that I would hired Plumber Bob to turn my water on and off, and carpet the driveway with mines in case someone really was fooling around with me.
The next day, Mary returned from the pump house with the news that every cottage husband loves to hear. "The hot water tank is leaking," she said. And I said put a pail under it and went fishing.


ONLY $4.6153846 A MINUTE

I couldn't believe my eyes as Mary and I walked slowly to our car because there, fluttering in the wind above the disabled parking sign, was the droppings of Toronto's parking bandits, the dreaded yellow tag.
I've never got many parking tickets and that dropped to never in the nearly three years since Mary got the sign for the car, technically a "disabled parking permit," because of bad knees. This means you can park without paying at meters, use the special disabled spots and park in No Parking zones. You still can't park near corners, intersections, hydrants and TTC stops.
We had parked on a quiet Etobicoke side street, Birchview, which runs for two blocks west of the Royal York subway station. No Parking from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., which is understandable because of the commuters who would park there all day and take the subway. But there is an added wrinkle I had never noticed before, a second sign banning something from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
There is an icon on that sign that I had never seen before. Turns out, after an Internet search, that it was a No Stopping zone. Now I had never seen a No Stopping sign that doesn't say that in words but in Toronto, you shouldn't be surprised at anything authorized by Toronto council and its bureaucrats.
My $60 ticket was issued at 5.47 p.m. Thirteen unlucky minutes to safety. $4.6153846 a minute. I had parked there without guilt figuring that at that hour, I was really not hurting the residents, and it is legal for me to do so with that sign. Seems a strange No Stopping zone, decreed so by the long vanished suburban council of Etobicoke. But the way the majority of politicians are these days, motorists should consider themselves lucky that they are allowed to even drive down a street.
The secret rules for tearing up tags have just been revealed out of the murky underground of city politics. Since I am a senior citizen and my wife, also a senior, has that disabled permit, I probably after a few days of phoning and waiting in line could have had the ticket cancelled. But it's never that simple.
I also could have fought the tag because the parking control officer (or whatever is the official name for the green hornets) had not signed the tickets, just scrawled cramped initials.
Now I suspect that this petty tax collector really does know how to write, which makes me wonder why the legal system no longer requires a real signature on something that is costing a taxpayer $60.
After all, the system requires us to endlessly write our signatures, so this petty indifference to the law does bug me. Just another reason I was tempted to fight the tag. And there does seem to be a black hole into which your parking appeals go, so that you never actually get your day in court and your tickets go into limbo.
You are considered guilty by the system right from the get go, no matter what they pretend about innocent until proven guilty. The bureaucrats, allowed by the politicians, have made the appeal system as arduous as they can get away with. Even when you win, you've wasted so much time fighting parking tickets or minor speeding fines that the system still has exacted its pound of flesh.
Of course these parking officers are also notorious for ignoring the disabled signs. I recall years ago when I had lunch with David Onley, now the lieutenant-governor. Onley parked right in front of the restaurant in a No Parking zone. Legal because he had the sign. But he said he still worried because there had been cases of the police having a car towed, despite the disabled sign, and the driver, with his wheelchair in his car, had a difficult time in getting to the pound to retrieve his vehicle.
It was just a short time ago in the same Bloor-Royal York area that I saw a parking officer park the wrong way on a street, meaning the driver's side wheels to the curb. When I pointed out to her that she had parked illegally, she said sarcastically that she really must give herself a ticket. I told her to park correctly. She didn't.
So what's my point in all this? I think that with 13 minutes to go before the parking is legal for everyone, a parking control officer has to be a king-sized jerk to put a $60 ticket on a car displaying a disabled sign. I complained to the cops at 22 division and they agreed that it really was a silly thing for the green hornet to do on a side street but such complaints are no longer handled by the police.
So I held my nose and wrote out a cheque because life in TO is so much of a hassle these days, you just try to forget the minor annoyances and concentrate on the major blunders.
Many years ago, the beloved Moaner of the Beaches, the late great Ted Reeve, wrote a bit of doggerel for the old Telegram. Let me paraphrase it.
When I was young and in my prime
I used to fight this crap all the time
Now that I'm old and growing grey
I just insult the jerks once a day.
But next time I see a parking control officer flout the law flagrantly when they park, I will stand beside the car until it is moved or towed.