Friday, October 29, 2010


Toronto's Revolt Was Merely The First

The downtown lefties haven't got it yet. After spending the year smearing Rob Ford, now they are insisting the new mayor better listen to them or else.
If any mayor ever won a mandate to ignore the outstretched palms of the gliberals, socialists and mushy activists of central Toronto, Ford did.
If any mayor ever won a mandate to insist that bureaucrats no longer treat the motorist as the enemy, to be harassed the minute they drive south of Eglinton between the rivers, Ford did.
If any mayor ever won a mandate to insist the homeless and those needing help be sorted from all the freeloaders and phoney beggars, Ford did.
And this is only the start. Time for a change, the most compelling of all slogans, is stampeding through the world, particularly North America. From the U.S. Teabaggers to the suburbs of Toronto, business as usual just doesn't cut it with the voters.
Consider the giant crowd that overflowed from the Mall in Washington when Jon Stewart, a fake newsman/comic who has the sharpest knife in the U.S. when it comes to ridiculing Fox News and other media excesses, and Stephen Colbert, the over-the-top patriot, had their rally for moderation, against the crazies who spout garbage.
That was the Silent Majority fed-up with the angry rhetoric of candidates and pundits who see every person who doesn't agree with them as evil. In Toronto, we have many examples of that, from Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallice, to give her the nickname hung on her by former colleagues, to those who talked more about Ford's fat and sweat than they did about his policies that so resonated with the voters, especially suburban voters.
Now we turn to Queen's Park, which resembles a kindergarten run amuck, with the Liberals and NDP quick to accuse the Tories and Ford as bigots because they don't fawn over the politically-correct vote.
There will be another record turnout next October when the McGuinty Liberals limp to the finish line. The best they can hope for would be a minority government if the Hudak Tories falter in the final weeks.
They don't deserved to be re-elected, considering the scandalous waste in health and their failure to deal with such festering problems as native demands and barricades.
A federal election can come any day since the opposition parties aren't exactly brilliant in dealing with Harper's Tories. They're liable to goof any day. Even if you dislike what the Conservative government has been doing, consider the alternatives - Michael Ignatieff, who's still learning on the job as a "new" Canadian, Jack Layton, incapable of appealing to most voters, and the traitors from Quebec who know only how to make a good living from the threat of separatism.
The Toronto results are heartening, but we can't rest. There's always a mouthy minority out there, whether unionists, social activists or party stalwarts, who don't want new faces to be elected because that could bring change and that would upset their cushy world of fat contracts, grants and patronage.
To give just one huge example, under the policies of David Miller and the council majority when he was mayor of Toronto, it was impossible to cut spending because under the city's fair wage policy, no company could come in with a bid on a contract that was drastically below what the competition made.
After all, every company had to pay 95% of what a few bureaucrats decreed was the prevailing wage for that work. And in too many cases, non-union companies weren't even considered, although provincial legislation exists to protect all workers from sweat-shop conditions. The fair wage policy is more than a century old, rooted in a past where unions and labour legislation had no clout.
The provincial government's fair wage rate is lower than the city's, and the feds rate is much lower. Labour councils and union presidents insist that most workers are unionized so what are critics grumbling about, but the obvious truth is that union membership is declining, except for public service unions, and with the horrible example of how the auto worker contracts caused the North American car industry to collapse, workers aren't rushing to become unionists. (Written as a former union steward and bargaining chairman in the newspaper industry 50 years ago when reform was needed.)
I have written for years about how costly the city's fair wage policy is, but Toronto council has never had a real debate on it. For several months, Mayor Ford, to union horror, has promised one. And a change would save millions since this would affect nearly $200 million a year in city spending. Yet we already have new councillors saying they want to keep the fair wage policy before they have heard the facts and figures of a complex situation. They don't seem to realize that workers now have legislated protection which never existed at the birth of the policy.
There can be real savings to the taxpayers if they insist to their politicians that they just can't let the gravy train continue where everyone benefits except the general public. Every nook and cranny of an obese City Hall must be re-examined, from fair wage policies to the weird ban on herbicides to the moratorium on safe incineration rather than burying it in expensive landfills.
The only thing that should be buried is business as usual.

Friday, October 22, 2010


An Ugly Cry To Be Noticed

What a shame that graffiti vandals in their desperate pitch to be noticed have smeared their droppings across the lovely old architecture and ageless charm of Eastern Europe.
Mary and I found on a delightful odyssey through ninet countries that too many walls bear a scruffy crust of spray paint markings that make you yearn for a scrub brush...and a gun.
When they paste on the latest posters from the culture huskers and the bargain boasters, the dismal result is an ugly skin for even granite walls.

I no longer remember where I took the picture to the left because it's hardly unusual. My grim conclusion after we floated on the Danube River from Bulgaria to Germany on a Viking River cruise is that the graffiti vandals (I refuse to call them artists) would scrawl their tags across the Mona Lisa if they could elude the Louvre's security.
The so-called experts on gaffiti argue that it has always been with us. They point to many examples going back to cave days. Nonsense!
The red bull drawings in Spain were painted by flickering flame in a cave 15,000 years ago as a wish by hunters to remind their descendants of where they got their food.
The cave at Alta Mira is closed to the public now but I have been there, scrunched down, wondering. One ancient artist even incorporated the swell of the ceiling into his bull.
How can that be equated with punks defacing public and private property with their painted spoor which often is not graceful but just a scrawl.
When gangs "tag" their turf to warn other petty bullies away, it is hardly a deep desire to leave behind a painted memory of their existence.
I have been to Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia several times over the changing decades, but this was my first visit to Bulgaria and Romania. The graffiti vandals have laid siege to the Bulgarian and Romania walls, often humble walls left behind by the poverty of the hard times under communism. But it's bad in the other countries, worse than it was in the past.
On my first visit to the two Germanys in 1966, I don't recall any graffiti. Indeed, I found on a lonely visit to the infamous Berlin Wall that there was no markings at all, just the dismal grey concrete. There was a splatter of blood left a week before by a victim stupid enough to touch the western side of the wall. (The wall was built a few feet inside East Germany precisely to prevent people from trying to demolish it or paint slogans on it.) Significantly, when the Wall was demolished finally on that one glorious night, it was covered with graffiti.
Is this the sad price we must pay for the glories of democracy?
I wonder whether graffiti now flaunts its poisonous flowers in former communist states like Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia precisely because authorities are no longer as tough on those who would despoil the property of the people.
I certainly haven't noticed much graffiti in several visits to Russia. The same with China, Turkey and Egypt, but then the policing there is tough against any form of public expression.
Was that his experience, I asked my son Mark, who lives and works in China and is a world traveller. He said: "I don't recall graffiti too much in Russia or in South Korea, and not much in China. For one thing about China, it's not too easy to find cans of spray paint. and they're likely expensive."
Mark is one of the few Westerners to have wandered recently through North Korea. He brought back some wonderful propaganda posters which he has sold on the Internet. But spray paint and marker pens don't smear the walls of the Hermit Kingdom because not only would the cans be too costly if they could be found, there aren't many suicidal enough to become graffiti vandals. Just as in East Germany on my first visit in the 1960s, anything like a poster or a slogan better be state sanctioned or jail was certain.
Mark raised a solution that was famously used in the New York transit system where the bosses set a goal that any graffiti on any car had to be painted over that night. It worked too, because the vandals found it frustratingly expensive to keep buying paint when their markings disappeared within hours. Mark argues that China with its huge work force would find it easy to paint over any graffiti each night.
I asked Mark about my theory that the graffiti of Eastern Europe is the sad result of people flaunting their freedom from police states. His view: "I think idle hands are responsible. When youth have reasonable disposable income and venues like concerts, movie theatres, cafes and safe parks, then they will be less likely to be spray painting. I think the youth in many countries have little to do other than to pick up rocks and throw them at the authorities - from Palestinians to Afghanis. Busy them with proper schools, shopping centres and quality television and they'll become pacified."
Graffiti is often grouped with broken windows when it comes to trying to curb lawlessness. The "broken window" theory of policing is that if you fix the little blotches immediately, like a broken window in a public building, you demonstrate that the community isn't going to let petty criminals get away with anything.
In Toronto, gaffiti is worse than it has ever been. There is a mail box in front of my house that is always smeared within days of it being repainted by Canada Post. Some buildings facing subways are coated from corner to corner. So Toronto is hardly a model for Eastern Europe in this area.
Too bad! If the city got serious, and obviously it isn't now, the fines for these vandals would be increased dramatically, especially for repeat offenders, and would include compulsory community service covering the graffiti. The vandals would have to do a good job or they would just have to keep on painting.
One hopeful sign is that the new Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, has said that one of the things he wants to attack in his city is graffiti. Good, because the cost of it, to both storekeepers and utilities is enormous.
I would consider it a ludicrous failure if centuries from now, an archaeologist unearthed from the ruins of ancient Toronto a slab with mysterious symbols and for decades the experts tried to decipher the language of vanished Canada. They would fail because we can't even decipher those symbols today, whether on the banks of the Humber or the Danube.


Politicians Should Be Terrified

Should be a record turnout for the Toronto municipal election. Good!
I would expect the same for every election at every level in every western country for the next few years because the dislike, if not hatred, for politicians hasn't been this fierce for decades.
City Hall in Toronto, that curvacious iconic building, now seems a symbol for rot and waste. Only the lefties and Grits among the downtowners have not been furious because council has been voting their way. As a result, the downtown-suburban split has never been so bitter and the feud should hang like a spectre over every major decision of Toronto's new council.
Anger with politicians spills over from every media, whether you're watching the haters of Fox TV lauding the Teabaggers in the U.S. or listening to Canadian talk radio filled with contempt for the latest gaffe by the McGuinty gliberals.
Talk to the better politicians and they confess privately that they don't blame the public. Many of their colleagues deserve it. They only remove their foot from their mouth in order to shoot it. They abdicate their responsibility to represent their riding and go along with one-person government, whether it be by a mayor, premier or PM.
As a result of this anger, veteran politicians are in trouble or are toppling. And Toronto may have a new mayor, Rob Ford, who wouldn't have had a chance in the last municipal election four years ago.
The financial calamities intermingle with the ineptness of the bureaucries in issuing even a simple contract. The failure of Canadian and American politicians to deal with the awful mess left by the bankers and financiers surely infuriates us even if we still have a job. The future is so blighted for our children that there isn't a parent who doesn't worry about it in the wee hours when devils dance in the corners of our mind.
At the basic level of our governments, where the potholes expand and the paint peels in the classrooms, along with real schooling, things are a mess.
Under David Miller, the globe-trotting socialist, the infrastructure rusted and weeds carpeted any civic space. Tune to a city council meeting on TV and you ended up cursing the bullshit and wondering why they couldn't spend more time making the city work. The lefty coalition of councillors were like carpenters who want to debate the philosophers rather than fix your door.
Mary and I have a sign on our lawn for Morley Kells. Over the years there have been many signs there for Kells as he has run in municipal and provincial elections. "Elect a New Councillor" it reads.
My friend Morley, of course, is hardly "new" to politics. But he is reaching out to all the voters who are fed up with what they have been getting, which in this case, in westend Ward 5, is careful Peter Milczyn, who is positioning himself as being opposed to what has been going on at City Hall for too many years. So Milcyzn is supporting Ford, who wouldn't be in a dead heat for mayor if there wasn't such a cry from the public for a change.
Time for a change has always been one of the most compelling political slogans. But there have been few elections in the last few decades in Canada where it has been such a dangerous slogan for incumbents.
It would be a smart idea for voters to remember that there are candidates among the new challengers, like Kells, who are hardly new to politics. Morley has been an councillor and controller on Etobicoke and Metro councils. He was a Tory MPP, and a provincial environment minister who ran into trouble because of his tough talk. Then he was the Ontario Olympic Commissioner who resigned because he didn't like how the big boys behind the Olympic bid for Toronto were imposing their plans without public discussion, for example on the Exhibition.
So what we have with Morley Kells is a warhorse who doesn't like the municipal madness of the last two terms and armed with his experience would be a formidable foe of business as usual.
He has demonstrated that he is willing to give up power and salary if he doesn't approve of what is going on.
What we need is more politicians in every position in Canada who are their own person, who won't let party, political correctness or convenience determine their vote.
On Monday, I pray, we all will really vote for change, and not for business as usual.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A Gentle Answer Turneth Away Wrath

The Officer Bubbles case continues as an embarrassment to cops everywhere. And the case of the surgeon charged with speeding because he was rushing to operate on a patient given only a 50% chance of survival has just been settled, sort of,
And cops wonder why many people don't like them and their neighbours treat them differently. Because too many of them act more foe than friend in any encounter. And the public, who pays their damn hefty salaries, want safety and security but not at any price.
I wrote about the speeding surgeon on Jan. 15 in a column titled Cops And Docs And The Law. I have no intention of again reciting my anger at the lack of common sense shown by the radar trap officer intent on giving him a $300 ticket even though he was rushing to operate on a critically ill patient.
Now the prosecutor has dropped the charge 10 months later, which is a good thing because nothing makes the law-and-order establishment look stupider than a lack of common sense that borders on the criminal. The bad thing is the doc has had 10 months of hassle.
It's actually simple. Cop pulls speeding doc over. Doc uses the emergency excuse. Cop asks for doctor to provide evidence of such an emergency, such as a letter from the hospital administrator. If the letter doesn't arrive within a reasonable time, the doc is given the speeding ticket plus a public mischief charge, and the offence is reported to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Sorry, it isn't rocket science to figure out a compromise solution, even though the cop spokesman for the Toronto force talked about how the cops would continue to enforce the Highway Traffic Act and did not apologize for the radar cop not using the discretion which is within the power of all police.
About this point, hothead cops, who love to be petty dictators, will level the usual charge against critics that I am anti-cop. Actually I have received eight journalism awards from the Toronto police association, have served on an advisory committee at headquarters and have had several chiefs and one OPP commissioner as friends.
But as was plain from the attitude of many at the presentation dinners, the police really want the commentators on their activities to be all or nothing. Either you're with us or against us and you can forget all about that objective crap.
And now to Office Bubbles, the constable stupid enough during the G20 Summit in June to threaten a young female protester for blowing bubbles. It's a petty incident that is now infamous throughout the world. Imagine some cop bristling with gear, surrounded by armoured colleagues, telling a girl that if one of those soap bubbles touches him, he will charge her with assault.
Naturally Office Bubbles is being ridiculed in every possible way on every possible form of communication. And instead of taking his lumps over how dumb he is in PR, he's rattling the legal action sword. He should fall on that sword instead. Can't his colleagues and senior cops get through to him that they are mortified that he is a poster boy for over-reaction that stands out even in the over-reaction that was everywhere during the G20 security.
The Officer Bubbles nickname will follow him to his grave unless he smartens up.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Do Voters Care About The Media's Choices?

A veteran colleague from the trenches of journalism wonders whether the media, particularly newspapers, have clout with voters when they say for whom they should vote.
Did they ever?
The answer, in my unhumble opinion, based on fifty years of observation and participation, including too many years writing those newspaper slates, is that a newspaper's urging support of their candidates used to be crucial in the process.
It no longer is as important, but it is still major. After all, why else would major candidates and party leaders have aides or even themselves practically beg for an editorial board with the top editors, especially the person who thinks they control the editorials.
After all, we live in an age where something like 40% of young people believe what they read on the Internet. How disturbing! I used to give journalism lectures on how important it is for young reporters to distrust most of the stuff they read on the Internet and offered some clues as how to sort the crap from the crap.
I go back to the age when Nathan Phillips and Frederick Gardiner were the municipal leaders of Toronto and not just the names on a square and a highway.
While it is easy to dismiss Phillips as ancient history because he last was mayor in 1962, he did serve eight years, and only Art Eggleton served more years since Toronto began in 1834. And I know from watching him in action, and later writing his memoirs, that getting a newspaper to back him was the most important issue in his political life.
So close was the relationship between the Toronto Telegram and Nathan (he hated to be called Nate) that on the night of his first win, when he was devastated because his beloved wife had just fallen down the cellar stairs and was unconscious, his victory speech was written by a senior Tely editor, Laurie McKechnie. It included the phrase Mayor Of All The People, which became his identity.
I learned not to be cynical about newspaper slates when I witnessed many voters carrying to the polls the slate that they had clipped out of the paper. And not just young voters and new Canadians either.
Doug Creighton, the spiritual leader and founding publisher of the Toronto Sun, insisted that we had to have a slate a year after we began. We had absolutely no resources. Just me and an occasional reporter. But we produced a slate in 1972 (which didn't recommend our star columnist Paul Rimstead for mayor) even though there were hundreds of candidates with six councils and six school boards. We even recommended hydro commissioners.
It has been written often how when Creighton, Peter Worthington and I met to discuss Toronto mayoralty candidates, Peter and I said Tony O'Donohue should be the person, though we could be persuaded for David Crombie, and Doug decreed we would support David Rotenberg. Peter resigned for the first time, saying our investors had interfered, but then thawed and wrote an editorial about how Crombie and O'Donohue were fine fellows but we were supporting Rotenberg. Creighton grumbled to me he should have lost the debate but written the slate
I survived the strains of composing the slate editorials in the 1970s by seeking the advice, secretly, of Metro chairman Paul Godfrey. I didn't know that Creighton was doing the same thing. When Godfrey came aboard as publisher in 1984, he was an old hand at the Sun slates but he could now dictate, which he seldom did.
Slates have always been controversial within newspapers as senior reporters and editors clash over pets and enemies. I know colleagues who were devastated at our choices because it hurt trusted sources. The Sun, to its credit, always believed that the best slates in party elections were ones where we recommended candidates from every party, although conservatives were our main choices. I even supported a Communist for York school board.
The fact that we were not partisan completely caused confusion and even a great confrontation between Godfrey and me. In a federal election, I wrote a slate which picked Grit Elinor Caplan in North York over Tory Paul Sutherland. Turned out Godfrey was a close friend of the Sutherland family, which I knew, but was also Paul's godfather, which I didn't know.
I was at the cottage when the storm broke. Thank heavens we were friends or I might have been axed. Godfrey finally settled for a contrived Page Two picture the next day of Sutherland planting one of his signs. But Caplan won.
The bottom line about media slates is that they are important because the media and the politicians think they are important. This becomes obvious to any voter really studying the coverage. And many of them are smart enough to realize that the bias of the newspaper plays a major role in the choice.
Of course the Toronto Star would support a downtown Liberal for mayor because George Smitherman is a trendy high-spending gliberal who does missionary work for his sexual orientation. A high school dropout who says he's no longer addicted, ahem, to "party" drugs, who pretends he's really not a pit bull, is the Toronto Star's choice to rescue a city with a devastated infrastructure. Square Rob Ford, who doesn't believe in throwing grant money at all the issues the Star holds so dear, is seen as the devil to be maligned because he is more careful than Star editors with taxpayers' money.
But then David Miller was the Star's kind of mayor. And he was a disaster. For that matter, so is the Star when it comes to politics. Now there's one slate to ignore.
Voters should consider what the various papers say are the best choices but in the end, it's up to you. After all, thank heavens, voters, not newspapers, finally make the choices, and there often is a folk wisdom about the results. Besides, the alternatives are awful.