Saturday, December 31, 2011



One of the major campaigns in 2011, thank heavens, was the concern over bullying. May it continue for years.
I certainly have been bullied. But I must confess that I have been guilty of psychological bullying too, like most of you, where you pick the weakest member of the pack, whether at work or play or the neighbourhood, and make snide jokes at their expense and generally freeze them out.
Bullying is not just picking on the little kid or the nervous gay and beating them up.  The mind games throughout life are not bloody but more savage.
Back when I was the littlest kid in the class, and an orphan to boot, life was hardly grand in the playground or on Saturdays.
In Grade 2, a big kid cut my cheek open with a whip. It took years for the scar to disappear. It wasn't glamorous like in a musketeer movie.
Dick made life miserable for me for years too, even though, looking back, the town of Chesley, all 1,800 of us, was not really mean.
Then came my growth spurt. I went from from the smallest to the biggest in the class. Dick hadn't noticed. So he picked on me, and the circle formed, and the chant of fight fight fight went up, and I knocked him cold with one blow.
I hadn't yet become accustomed to being big, so I pleaded forgiveness for hitting so hard.
We became friends, especially when he failed a year and was wearing thicker glasses than I did. We kept in touch even after I moved to Weston, and a high school of 1,500 rather than the 250 in the school I had nervously left behind.
With good reason. There's nothing crueler to a new student than a Grade 11 class where many have been together since kindergarten. We no longer fought with fists but with words. Cold shoulders were ritualistic.
The cruelty in the relationship of children must be milked out by example and  common sense by both schools and parents. But let's not just stop there because many adults are careless in their ridicule of the funny neighbour or the strange guy at work.
At the old Telegram, we had a nervous reporter who drove all of us nuts. He was flamboyantly Jewish, which didn't help, and he was a busy body (which makes for a good reporter) who could be counted on to poison any casual conversation with prying questions.
One night shift on the rewrite desk, I listened to him shouting on the telephone and pushed down a special key to listen in. I got others to do so too. And we found he was arguing with a recorded Bell message. I told that story about Harry for years, and then he won a major newspaper award.
Good for him. Bad for me. But how many people out there wouldn't have repeated such an anecdote for years even though it made Harry look like an idiot.
You need to feed a sense of confidence and self-worth into kids, although these days some kids get drunk on entitlement and act like they're the main star in the universe.
But if you make kids feel that they matter, they can't really be bullied deep down, even if they get the occasional bloody nose.  If you won't let them push you around, the bullies moved on to softer targets.
As for the bullies who are always with us, treat them as if there were diseased and bully them right back with every law in the book. They are the jackals of society and any lion won't let them get close to the warmth of the campfire.

Friday, December 30, 2011



Cell phones are my pet peeve, but I confess some of that is envy.
If only they had been invented back when any reporter wasted precious hours trying to find a way to get the story back to the office.
If only too many cell phone users didn't abuse them.
The way they bellow, they must scare the livestock on the other side of the planet.
The way they use them in the middle of civilized conversations is a legal excuse, I submit, to throttle them.
It's distracting to have even the kids reading and texting when you are paying a visit. And at the movies or in the theatre, it makes me so mad that I can't hear for them and the steam coming out of my ears.
There's a side street feeding into Royal York Rd. just north of the bridge over the Gardiner. As you try to head north, you have to guard against speeding vehicles suddenly appearing on the bridge when you try to catch any gap in traffic. I have waited and cursed southbound TTC buses when they slow and wander and screw up the  flow because the drivers are on cell phones.
The latest law against distracted driving by drivers on their cell phone doesn't seem to have made much of an impression on the chuckleheads. It should be easy for cops to spot the offenders. All slow meandering vehicles are driven by people on their cell phones, although there may be a few who bought their licences from ethnic driving schools in a scam that the transportation ministry was slow to quash.
The cell phone in the hands of walkers who haven't talked to their buddies for at least five minutes, or  shoppers befuddled by the choices, or careening cyclists, or pedestrians strolling through a traffic signal, are annoying when they aren't irritating or dangerous.
One memorable stormy afternoon, I was walking the giant beach at Treasure Island in Florida and was ecstatic at being all alone. Just the wind and the rain and the foamy waves. A true retreat from life! If only I could have bottled the experience. Then a man appeared, bellowing into his phone. As he passed, he didn't even seem surprised when I cursed him for his noisy intrusion into my solitude.
There's a time and a place when cell phones are a wonderful convenience. I carry one but I never turn it on unless I want to use it. That's my protection against the idiots who get drunk on communicating.
If only more people did the same.
We have technological overload these days.  It's confusing. People wonder why the microwave doesn't work after they entered their password. It's so easy to buy gadgets that free your hands while driving, which makes it legal but it still hurts your concentration.
There are couples boasting on the Internet how they have adopted a policy of using cell phones only in emergency or important situations.
Wouldn't  it be more peaceful on hikes or highways or even street corners if more took such a pledge.

Thursday, December 29, 2011



This may seem a tad egocentric but I'm weary of explaining. Besides, I'm a columnist and we're used to poking at our own entrails to see if there's a message for anyone, even the dog.

And while I'm at it,  Merry Christmas! And may all your New Year's resolutions come true! 

Mary and I aren't trying to save on postage but there hasn't been much time to deal with cards in between medical visits. And Mary is about to go to hospital for more carpentry work.

In the Queen's words of the famous Christmas message, this has been an annus horribilis for the Downings. Before I departed in a huff from my Grade 12 class in Latin after a mean SOB Wes Christie accused me of cheating on the Easter exam, I learned that meant horrible year.

Things were so bad  that if I had written friends one of those chatty year-end state of the family newsletters, it would have been banned from most homes.

But back to mopping up!

The other day, Doug Holyday, Toronto's stalwart deputy mayor, lamented he hadn't seen me in the Sun the week before, and he really did like reading my columns.

There are cottagers near me at Burnt Point who tell me regularly that they never miss my column in the Sun.

At a Christmas party, a senior writer retired from the Toronto Star asked whether I'm still writing for the Sun.

Even my relatives have asked.
I tell them to read my blog because the 
answer is humbling, especially for a columnist who feels that he was one of the peacocks, like all the other columnists and pundits think when they're being honest.
Our tail feathers become bedraggled when it turns out readers really don't know whether you're still strutting your views or whether you have vanished into the long night.
 I haven't been a regular columnist for any newspaper for several years, although I do pontificate regularly here.
I only returned from formal media death when the Sunday Sun ran six columns this summer on my experiences during three months in hospital, dubbed "hospital hell", and three columns on the Ex, the provincial Tories and Toronto traffic. (Only the CNE was successful in that triumvirate of opinion.)
So I'm not writing for the Sun but people still think I am. After 50 years in journalism, I actually understand why.
Columnists may be stars in the firmament of their own paper but anonymous to those who read other newspapers. If  any.
Rosie DiManno may appear some days to write half the Star but Sun readers may think the name is a species of flower. Christie Blatchford in the Post and Margaret Wente in the Globe may also be among the finest columnists in North America but if you don't read their papers, they're just some one who may have a vaguely familiar name.  Maybe TV actors?
When I'm interviewed, I scramble to remind everyone I'm no longer a Sun columnist. Yet John Tory on CFRB kept calling me that out of old habits.
 I'm still involved in several boards and organizations and find myself listed as columnist or even Editor of the Sun, a post I retired from in 1997.
Of course some of this is the nice residue of writing and editing in the Sun for 36 years after 14 years at the late and lamented Tely.
From 1971 to 1985, I wrote the first column in the paper on Page 4 five or six times a week, and filled in for Editor Worthington when he took a break from saving the world for democracy.  Even then I scrambled daily to produce columns that were longer than the present versions.
Then I became the Editor, who in those days reported directly to the Publisher, but still wrote two columns weekly, which I continued for a decade after I sort of retired.
Still, readers think I'm still there. It can get amusing. I was dropping off a son in the confusion at the airport and had to squeeze by a bus with an open door. I grumbled loudly at the driver who retorted "Why don't you write a column about it?"
I was as surprised as the day I was standing in a queue and grousing to Mary when a man asked if I was Downing. He was a faithful CBC listener and knew my voice from a decade of a weekly radio commentary. and another five years on a political panel show.
There are those, including Sun staffers, who asked why I didn't continue after nine Sun columns this year.  Well, the editor of the opinion section disappeared, leaving an interregnum between the coronations. During the search I asked about payment. Associate Editor Lorrie Goldstein said in future I would get the amount I used to pay columnists I was trying to ditch, which is less than half of my old column rate. Oh yes, because the "hospital hell" columns had been modified from what had appeared on my blog, I would get only half of even that, and nothing for my pictures. (Even the tight-fisted Star pays $50 a picture to writers.)
And if I wanted to submit more columns, Goldstein, who was filling in for the fired editor, told me rudely, I would have to audition my ideas. After all, I've only written more than 5,000 columns, several thousand editorials and hundreds of blogs and articles, so maybe I hadn't got the hang of it yet.
Gee, I thought, back when we Day Oners started the little paper that grew, I owned half of one percent. How the pioneers have dwindled along with my financial position.
 Finally, SIX MONTHS after my burst of columns, my bank got a deposit for the minimum rate for every column, even a small payment for the pictures. So a new and more sensible editor had scuttled the argument that a paper didn't have to pay even the minimum if much of the material had also been on a blog. 
In evangelical circles, ministers were said to be preaching for a call when they gave guest sermons.  There is also the expression about whether there's a light in the window.
Nope, there was no call here. As for a light in the window, not even a reflection from the Sun.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011



I doubt that anyone was surprised at the Toronto audit report that one out of every five calls go unanswered when taxpayers call the hotline 311 service when they need help with municipal problems.
What I would like to see is an audit report into how many of the 80% of  taxpayers who do get through are satisfied.
Then there are the 10% who have to wait more than three minutes for someone to answer.
So it's not just the councillors who are dysfunctional.
I have had a ringside seat watching bureaucracy at all levels, beginning in 1957. It didn't start well.
I was thrown out of the first political meeting I ever attended, Whitehorse council. The mayor couldn't believe that the kid editor of the local newspaper actually wanted to watch and not just accept what he was told later.
Since then my attempts to observe and cut through red tape have gone downhill faster than an Olympic skier. If you think the politicians are bad, you should observe the uncivil service.
It can be symbolized by the spectacle of the typical five-man city crew digging a hole. There will be a foreman who of course just supervises. Then there is the brown noser trying to become the foreman by not doing anything. Then there is the guy with the headache who sits to one side, the guy who gets coffee and, oh yes, the guy who actually digs.
That is if they're not on their break.
The 311 service is relatively new in Toronto, but other cities like Ottawa and New York have them too. Except in Toronto, only half of the 108 staff meet the minimum daily target of dealing with 80 calls  while in the other cities the average number of calls taken is 90.
But then the Toronto staffers aren't exactly the cream of the uncivil servants. Some are more like the dregs, troublesome workers dumped by their managers when the 311 service began. It was designed to eliminate the mind-boggling 75 different numbers that the public had to call previously to get action, real or pretend.
The absentee rate early this year was 12%. So maybe some of the bosses are satisfied when an employee just shows up and don't mind them answering only 30 calls instead of 80.
The 311 service cost $38 million to establish and $19 million annually to operate. It is said this was a pet project of former mayor David Miller. Good for him!
It's much more useful to Toronto even at half power than all his attempts to strut on the world stage as an advocate for the environment and just about every other darling scheme of the left.
Now if we can only get it to work.
My local councillor, Peter Milczyn, is the politician who has done the most work on the trouble call centre. He grumbles that this great step forward in service was opposed by all senior managers. I would imagine this is still happening, because nothing bugs a commissioner more than workers not under their thumb determining a department has goofed.
This prompts the basic question about just why we need 311 in the first place. Heaven knows we pay city workers enough, so they should be happy to ensure they actually do a good job when they manage to work.
 Most municipal service issues are studied almost to death before they begin. So the grey areas and the loopholes should be known. It's not rocket science!
Yet we have 44 councillors with a couple of assistants each,  the mayor's staff and all the flunkies around each commissioner, who keep telling us how busy they are dealing with calls from the public.
Then there are the constituency offices of MPs and MPPs who also get the calls from all the people who haven't a clue as to who does what in government. Maybe the MP can help with better garbage collection instead of just making more of it.
The city's audit committee wants to see if parts of 311 can be privatized. Perhaps it would  work better if we just outsourced all dealing with complaints to some centre in India where they would answer 80 callers a day even if you aren't always sure what they're saying.

Sunday, December 4, 2011



So my friend Dave Garrick tells me a funny story about medical mistakes.
I laughed, and then I worried.
Dave was famous around Toronto for his wit, community service and leadership at the Ex, CN Tower, SkyDome (which apparently has another name) and Winter Fair. Now he and Joy live in and enjoy Kingston, which is just more proof that Toronto is no longer the greatest place to live because of hassles like traffic.
Dave had an operation recently and as part of the post-operative care, the doctor prescribed a stool softener. When he collected it at the drugstore, the instruction on the vial read: "Take one capsule twice daily into left ear for constipation."
On another occasion, the phamacist gave Dave the medicine for another person, and just to balance things out, gave that person Dave's medication.
I wrote about medical mistakes in my blog on August 15 titled Post-Mortem On Hospital Hell. It was my conclusion to a five-part series in the Sunday Sun and on my blog.
My incidents were dangerous since two could have killed or crippled me.
And they keep happening to the Downings.
I took Mary to the hospital for a wonderful surgeon to check on her knee replacement  that he did several years ago. Now her hip was bugging her and perhaps she needed the other knee done as well as a hip.
 We waited for two hours past the appointment time and then a resident working under the surgeon said she also needed to have X-rays done on her hips as well as her knees. Mary had wanted that done at the start but was ignored.
 So another two hours later the same training doctor calls up an X-ray on the computer screen, shows us the arthritis in the hip area and says that it's up to his boss to make the decision but it seems obvious she needs a hip replacement.
He leaves and as we hunker down in the long wait for the surgeon, I wander over and look at the X-ray. The resident wanders by and I call him into the cubicle. I point to the X-ray and the data listed in the upper right corner. I told him it was the X-ray of a woman 19 years younger than Mary.
No surprise! No apology! He just searched for the right X-ray and came to the same conclusion.
Hospitals now go to elaborate procedures to ensure that doctors operate on the right part. When Mary had her knee replacement, there were eight or nine checks to ensure that everyone knew exactly which knee joint was to be removed. It got tedious but after the old horror stories of the wrong limbs being removed, it is understandable.
I'm sure many of you have received purported stories/nonsense off the Internet about the annual number of deaths caused in the United States by mistakes by doctors, hospitals and pharmacists.
The so-called authoritative studies are permeated by hysteria by the usual suspects. There are also campaigns by activists pushing alternative medicine. I really don't know what to believe.
They say that doctors and hospitals kill more people than guns do. The annual toll ranges from 120,000  up to 250,000. Or so they say.  Stories insist that medical mistakes are the third-largest cause of death in the U.S.
 It's obvious this "menace" would be hard to  pin down because doctors and hospitals aren't running around broadcasting mistakes and the cause of death is often hard to determine.
It's up to you to make sure you're not a statistic.
When I see a doctor, I carry a notepad like I did as a working journalist. I date the page and scribble  the main points.  In the last three years, twice I have found wrong info in my file. There was also the "disappearance" into the system of a morning of crucial esting on my heart. It was only retrieved and studied by the cardiologist after I pointed out the absence.
Medical care today is wonderful but also is a bewildering maze where you have to pay attention and not just take things for granted and every off-hand remark by a doctor as law.
 In the words of the patrol sergeant in the old TV hit police show as he sent his constables out on the street: "You be careful out there."

Saturday, December 3, 2011



When I was a kid reporter,  I was assigned by Art Holland at the lamented Telegram to leaf through the Canadian Medical Association Journal and other medical publications, especially the famous New England one, to see if there were stories the paper could pursue.
We had a medical reporter but for some suspicious reason I got to do a lot of reading. After all, I was the son of a doctor and nurse.
Never did I come across an editorial that resonated through me like the editorial in the latest Journal saying it's time hospitals abolished parking fees for the sake of their patients.
As my beloved grandfather used to shout out during the service in the little Baptist Church on the hill, Amen Brother!
The editorial says the parking charges amount to nothing more than user fees and so are an impediment to health care. In fact, it suggests, there may be legal challenges under the Canadian Health Act.
An example was given about patients who have been waiting weeks to see a doctor who rush through the consultation when they realize they will have to pay more, say $5, for parking if they stay. Since I visit a hospital every two weeks as an outpatient, I can sympathize with that situation since you can wait hours past your appointment time just to get to the doctor and the parking charges can soar.
The Star dug out examples of Toronto hospital parking charges and reported all the usual malarkey from excuse spokesmen about how the money goes to patient care, general operations and research. I know the drill as a long-time member of a hospital board. (We also had a barrage of complaints from  neighbours about all the parking by staff and visitors in front of their homes even though after 60 years it was obvious the hospital had been there long before them.)
After spending three months in four hospitals earlier this year, I can testify in any court that parking costs were a continual headache for my family and visitors. In fact some only came to see me when they figured there was a chance to park on the street instead of paying the $2.50 for 30 minutes at St. Joseph's Health Care Centre.
Turns out that St. Joe's is almost angelic compared to other Toronto hospitals, like the $4 for 20 minutes at Mount Sinai.  The excuse person there said it helped support programs and equipment upgrades. (I thought that was the responsibility of the costly medicare program.) I am being sarcastic when I say that at least Mount Sinai has a $2. At the University Health Network (TGH, Western) it's $28 and $4.50 for 30 minutes.
No wonder outpatients drag themselves there by the TTC. Just don't bleed on the subway car.
I remember a few years ago when my late brother-in-law was in York County Hospital (now Southlake ) in Newmarket that I almost didn't have enough cash to pay for the parking. I had remembered the hospital as a modest operation because over the decades before when I visited my sister who was one of the head nurses, parking was easy and cheap.
 Now even suburban hospitals rush to gouge you so they can balance their budgets. Except for families of modest means, already rocked by the alien experience of having their routine interrupted by a loved one being incarcerated, parking is a significant cost that may well cause some to skip a visit when that may be the best medicine that could be given that day.
Toronto hospitals may pretend they're not in the parking business when they have their lots and garage that can accommodate a thousand or more cars each but it's just another commercial operation like the coffee, gift and sandwich shops.
Oh yes, they do operations on the side, besides the ones on our wallets.

Thursday, November 24, 2011



There was a picture in the Toronto Star of an Occupy Toronto protester offering a tulip to a clutch of cops as they ended the aggravation/occupation/ruination of a downtown park.
Probably just a stunt to embarrass the cops. Everyone knew it. Yet the picture is significant because of the four cops whose faces could be seen, all were looking at the camera and not at the peace offering of a flower.
One cop was non-commital, one was bulky and challenging with hands on belt,  as if to say to the photographer did you put this demonstrator up to this, one almost was sneering and then there was the sly one who looked like he had been caught stealing cookies.
Long ago when I was a police reporter, I would not have lingered around that quartet,  especially if it were dark. I learned that cops were always cops, especially in groups, and strange things can happen if the public isn't watching. And the public's watchdog, the media, better step carefully too.
I wonder what would have happened to that flower or the demonstrator if the camera had not been there.  Would there have been threats or worse? Yet it was only a tulip.
 If there are people who believe that the eviction would have gone as well without the media watching, then they're delusional and should not be allowed out.
There has been praise, and there should be, for how the the police and the city handled all the pretend campers. And there have been pundits rushing to say that the demonstrators won.
Perhaps! But I say to these so-called economic demonstrators, and to the native activists who also use sit-ins and blockades, and throw in some violence too, that they better proceed carefully, that they should not misjudge the temper of the times and think that what they do is acceptable to the silent majority and to the police hired to protect the property of the silent majority.
Just watch the next time a nice park is taken over, not just for six weeks but the demonstrators say they will be there forever unless their goals, whatever they are, are achieved.
The Bible is filled with references to 40 days and 40 nights. But that was the ancient code for a long time. And so this demonstration went on for 40 days. A really long time! Too long!
 Do you really think that the residents and businesses that border whatever is the next protest site will sit back and let the thoughtful, weirdos and loons interfere with neighbourhood life for one week, let alone 40 days and 40 nights.
I think the next ragtag Tent City better be used 24-hours-day (this one wasn't by most supposed campers)  because the demonstrators will return to find only grass.
I am struck as a Toronto taxpayer by the number of demonstraters in Tent City and in the G20 riot who are imports. They come from outside the city, and some times the province and even the country, to raise a little hell in a decent city.  After all, this is where the media, their megaphone, is concentrated for their utterings which can range from the delusional to the impossible.
Then there are those who are just street floaters because they have no address and just live rough and act tough to get help from the poor suckers who are still on the treadmill. And, tragically, the mentally ill who we have allowed  to be dumped on the cold streets to save a little money.
Tent City was just the evil flowering of a modern phenomenon where everyone feels free to criticize everything even when they do not have the vaguest connection to the issue. Raising hell for the sake of raising hell, not because you really care that much.
Look at all those who criticize and are offended by events or politics in Toronto when they choose not to live here. You look at the addresses of those who write letters to magazines and newspapers - and believe me as an editor I have read thousands of such letters - and it is not unusual to find people who choose to live hundreds of kilometres from T.O. lecturing Torontonians and their agencies for sins real or imagined.
The greatest irony to me about the occupation of a nice  park was all the signs and chants about how evil Rob Ford is. Most of the mouthy would not have known the mayor if he was standing beside them. I doubt that any of the occupiers could have told you what Ford stands for. To them he was just another fat cat politicians -and his blubber doesn't help - and the fact that he looks on wasteful spending of taxpayers' money as his number one concern was lost on them when it is their concern too.
If you can't identify your enemies better than that, how do you intend to win the war? But then did they really expect to achieve anything with their childish antics, a cell-phone generation that kept dialing the wrong number because it was a different way to kill time and be noticed.
Take away the 24 hour news cycle, the relentless hunt for filler news and the need of TV for pictures to space out the talking heads, and the Tent City would have lasted a few days. Instead the city was held hostage by a small mob and the media that feed on their antics.
For shame!

Saturday, November 19, 2011



The Canadian National Exhibition, Canada's largest fair  and one of the largest in the world, had another successful run this year.
Not that you would know it from politicians and media.
Despite bad weather on Labour Day weekend, when the Ex expects to get 25% of its total attendance, the Ex had 1.31 million people enjoying themselves on the 192-acre site.
Critics will point out that hundreds of thousands more used to come, but many figures were fibs, fewer people are getting in for free, and the city keeps grabbing off the best buildings and renting them year-round, meaning they're not available for the fair.
The city as landlord runs things through an Exhibition Place board which grabs off the millions in profits that the Ex makes  - more than $8 million in the last decade - screws with the CNE budget, and doesn't protect the Ex against such problems as the Maple Leaf Sports mint that runs the new stadium making it difficult for the Ex to use it.
At the Oct. 20 annual meeting, a new CNE president was elected. Brian Ashton has just retired as a city councillor and was so good that I kept urging him to run for mayor. But the media didn't mention his election  except for small weeklies in his home turf of Scarboro.
I know all about how anonymous the CNE leadership has become. When I was elected CNE president,  the media ignored me too.
The president and general manager were once major figures. Hiram McCallum retired as mayor of Toronto to run the Ex. Presidents included captains of industry like George Cohon of hamburger fame and Oakah Jones of Consumers Gas. Fred Gardiner, Bill Allen and Paul Godfrey, all powerful chairmen over the Toronto regional municipality, dominated Ex politics.
It was Godfrey who teamed with Premier Bill Davis to have the Ex run by two boards, the EP one to be landlord and the CNE one to run the fair.  They did so to avoid politics that would handicap the building of a new home for the  Jays. The team started at the Ex but moved to a costly site with screwed up parking just to avoid city politics.
 So the separation wasn't necessary. Yet we have a chaotic situation where even governors and directors are unclear about who runs what. So the fair, which started life in 1879, is now a tenant in the home it built over the decades.
Thanks to several studies that suggested the provincial money pit known as Ontario Place (OP) be joined to EP, there are quiet talks going on about the Ex's future. Should the CNE be independent of EP? Should there be a new deal between the two? Should the two join OP? Should the old Fort be part of the mix, possibly with the nearby armoury?
I sit on the important CNE committee involved in these talks. However, I do not have a conflict as I write because nothing definite has been decided and my views have been known for years.
I doubt that the public cares. It sounds like a debate about how many bureaucrats can fit on the head of a pin, to rework the old theological conundrum.
Yet the benefits could be huge. Not just in the saving of tax money as all the staff duplication is eliminated but in a better festival centre for entertainment, trade and even education. After all, it is plain that OP must be improved because it has lost its way to such an extent it hasn't even been charging admission. The fair program each year has become richer and more diverse. Just imagine what would happen if the Ex controlled everything and it didn't have to give away all its profits.
An important provincial study suggested that old Fort York be included in any merger of EP and OP. The KPMG study for city council on possible savings in the bewildering maze of operations didn't include the fort but did talk about a 5% saving in a merger of the two places. A piddling estimate because surely it would be more.
This is hardly an easy deal. You just can't take a cleaver and separate the CNE from its landlord because the fair benefits from capital costs covered by the landlord, such as the Coliseum makeover and the building of the huge trade centre. EP also provides equipment and staffing for the Ex, for which the Ex pays a confusing amount.
What I hope is that at the end of the day, participants won't bite into the results as if they were big cones of candy floss to be savoured, then discover there really isn't anything there but a tiny bit of sweetness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011



I'm tired of environmentalists who figure they invented recycling.
I'm tired of money-sucking Hydro lecturing us on how to save electricity as it charges us more.
I'm tired of taxes wasted on solar, water and and wind schemes that don't benefit the public but only look good and make investors a lot of money.
If we could take the posturing out of the green movement, it might accomplish more and not just be a boom-and-bust kind of thing where the public loses interest every decade because it's offended at the hype and alarmed at the poor results.
For many Canadians who have survived to pensionhood, we husbanded our resources when we were young because we had to. We look back and remember when our cities and towns were a lot more efficient and wastage was considered something only the rich could tolerate. And many of them were only rich because they had saved.
You can get a little nuts when you consider the "improvements"  of today.
What's the sense of producing ethanol when it costs more energy than it saves,  drives up the price of food,  ruins outboards and benefits mainly giant corporations?
What was the sense of the tedious separation of  garbage in Toronto when it just ended up in the same bin?
Wasn't modern recycling just the creation of pop companies and grocery chainss so they didn't have to handle all those empty sticky bottles?
When I was a daily columnist, I took the first three years of a new environmental science course at U of T so I could peer inside the facts behind the activists of the various Probe organizations. I wasn't impressed. I kept thinking they're reinventing the wheel.
The good old days often weren't, even in the nostalgia of older Canadians.  But when it comes to eliminating waste and efficient living, we used to be kings. Of course they hadn't yet invented the throw-away society and the environmental movement.
As a boy, I lived in Chesley, a town of 1,800 near Owen Sound. We grew most of our vegetables on the empty lot beside the little house that was heated by a cook stove.  We got hot water by running the pipe through the firebox. The storm windows were heavy, like the winter underwear, and also worked.
We kept Leghorn chickens out back and ate those that languished at the bottom of the pecking order. There were no cultivators or power mowers. We burned leaves at the curb in one of the sweetest smells for a city streets. (They stopped the burning not because of  pollution but to protect the asphalt.)
Grandma had preserved the fruit we ate after every supper. When a jar went bad, this Baptist home fed it to the chickens and wondered why they staggered around.
Milk and bread were delivered to the door. You put the coupons in the milk box that every home had to house the bottles coming full and going back to be recycled before the word had been invented.
Delivery wagons were pulled by horses that knew the route better than the drivers and moved automatically. Groceries bought down on the main street were delivered free in a service paid for by all the grocery stores. Department stores delivered for free within a few days.
Everyone returned pop bottles for the deposit. Old newspapers were used to start fires and to line drawers. Magazines, especially the Geographic, were saved for neighbours or the hospital.
Holes in socks, sweaters and gloves were darned. Diapers were washed  for reuse. String was saved in big balls. The washing was dried on clothes lines and smelled great.
Houses had only one radio and later only one TV. There was one electric outlet per room. because there weren't labour-saving devices in every corner. Only one telephone receiver in a house and the poorer homes shared with a neighbour, often the same one with whom you shared a box in the central post office.
 You didn't have a home freezer but rented a locker in a freezer plant in the dairy which sold buttermilk for a nickel a pail.
Water came from the tap and no one carried water bottles. Some houses still had a well and pump. Baths were for Saturday night and showers only came as rain.
Rain water was collected in barrels under the down spouts. But we didn't get silly about it. One example of the modern stupidity over water conservation, when Ontario has more fresh water than most countries, is toilets that really don't flush very well. Another is the purchase of bottled water when there used to be public water fountains.  We had  Exhibition Place put an expensive system for capturing rain on the roof of the old Automotive Building when one of the larger lakes of the world is just across the road.
Of course the same Ex built an expensive wind turbine. When I voted against it at the board, I pointed out windmills have been around for centuries, there were hills around the world that had dozens of the renamed windmills,  and there was no need to have a costly demonstration downtown. At least they moved its site out of the lovely rose garden.
Fifty years ago, no politicians or bureaucrat wanting to survive would have backed such costly nonsense with toilets, windmills and water conservation.
When we were kids, we wrote mainly with pencils because paper was expensive and we used something called an eraser.  Pens were refilled with ink from bottles or ink wells. There were rumours of girls'  pigtails being dipped in the wells  on school desks, but in my school, the girls would have killed you.  Early ballpoints were avoided because they leaked.
You rode your bike to school or walked. No parents ferried their kids.  Parents walked or took the streetcar or bus to work. Few drove on short trips because in the winter away from block heaters, cars were tough to start.
At night no one went to a health club because they were too tired. Exercising by machine sounded like medieval torture. And no one ordered in because pizza hadn't been invented yet in Ontario. A restaurant meal was considered extravagant.
But by gum, the greenies say we were backwards. Yet we  used the compost heap and chickens to get rid of the kitchen scraps. The burn barrel and the wood stove took care of the rest. No one had costly garbage collection like today's featuring giant bins stuck in front of houses. . Housewives would have rebelled at being turned into garbage pickers.
It was only 50 years ago, just a wink in the eye of history, but we were just doing then what had been done for decades before. Except no one called it green. It was just considered really dumb to be wasteful.

Monday, November 14, 2011



Arguments about our national sport or our national game are so much fun because they don't matter a dam. (In honour of the dentally defective rat, I have dropped the n.)
I divide Canadians into two groups: those for whom beavers have been a nuisance and those who think all our animals, especially the beaver, have sacred places in the Canadian identity.
I know beaver have become part of our language. We praise someone by saying he works like a busy beaver. But that's the problem. I just wish they didn't work so hard.
Canadians should have been warned decades ago because Grey Owl, the famous writer about beaver, who even cut holes in his floor as a beaver door, turned out to be a phony Englishman without native blood.
The latest fuss has been triggered by a Conservative senator, Nicole Eaton, who says the polar bear should replace the beaver as Canada's national animal emblem because beavers are a costly nuisance. Amen!
There are several ironies. Eaton has spoken in the past in praise of beaver but then a family started living under her cottage deck every summer. As a senator she should be careful about suggesting changes to the status quo. Beavers are plentiful but Canadian senators are an endangered species.  She's also a member of the Eaton department store family that had a great rivalry with the Hudson Bay Company which was built on the backs of dead beavers and put four beavers on its coat of arms in 1678.
I have had countless encounters with beavers but, thank heavens, never a polar bear outside the zoo. It's on my bucket list of something I want to see, something I share with centuries of  people going back to  prehistoric and medieval times who had fearful admiration for bears of all kinds
Unlike most Canadians, I have worked in the North, but not where the magnificent polar bear was monarch of all it could sniff. The true north strong and free is best represented by the polar bear.
But in the Yukon beavers are a problem too. I was Editor of the territory's only newspaper, the Whitehorse Star, and trying desperately as a 20-year-old not to blow my cool in the midst of a hard-drinking collection of really weird refugees from the rest of Canada.
My publisher, Harry Boyle (not the CBC one), had bought property on a remote lake, a log cabin that dated back to the Gold Rush and was coated with yellowed newspapers and magazines. There was only one other dwelling, not occupied since the miner had shot himself. When we went to explore, we found we had to wade for a hundred yards because the road had been flooded by beavers. We moved carefully since outside the car we were vulnerable to the grizzlies and moose who lived there, and we had neglected to bring a rifle powerful enough not to glance bullets off any charging animal.
I said I would go back when we could drive all the way.
Over the years I have had friends who grumbled about beaver damage on their farms. I wrote about Toronto parks and conservation authority officials who always seem to have a beaver problem which was complicated by those who just wanted to watch them cut down expensive trees so they didn't get a toothache.
But the toothy menaces became my annual problem when I bought a cottage on Burnt Point in the Trent River south of Havelock. Beavers welcomed me after the first winter by chopping down three lovely silver birch in front of my bunkie. For 30 years I have wrapped trees in fence wire and barbed wire, poured disagreeable liquid mixtures of stuff including cayenne pepper down the bark, and resorted to every protective gimmick that I heard about from locals or discovered on the internet.
Despite that, I have lost a baker's dozen of mature trees and countless saplings and bushes. One beaver chopped down a tree by pulling down the protective wire mesh and then didn't even bother to eat one twig.
I last wrote about beaver in a blog titled Getting Tough On Wild Life. That was just after I found that beaver had chomped down an evergreen that my son Mark and I planted 15 years ago and I hoped would soon resemble other lovely trees around the cottage.
Since then I have been in daily battle with a beaver and its mate who try to use the boat house more than I do. I played classical music 24/7 in the boat house and when that didn't work switched to jazz and left the light on. Nothing worked, it smelled like a dump, and it was a bit disconcerting to keep stepping on a beaver.
One day I was carrying a hiking stick and when the big male was tardy in vacating, I hammered him over the head. It swam into the channel and then circled back. A long shot, but I got a rifle from my gun safe and tried anyway. I may have hit it because it never came back.
My grandsons rather liked it because if they snuck up quietly, they could see it sleeping on its back with its little paws in the air like a giant gerbil.
A neighbour had suggested she would collect enough money to hire a trapper. I pointed out that the trappers used to charge $50 but it had gone up a lot. Besides, I said, he would just skin it. After all, Canada was built from the hides of dead beavers.
Didn't I worry about the authorities, she asked? I pointed out the OPP was in no position to be tough because its brass had beaver evicted from behind their Orillia headquarters. Besides, I had so much proof of beaver damage, it was disgusting.
(I really try to let nature exist without harm. Just leave me alone. I try to drive away the thick water snakes rather than kill them, I ignore the muskrat that lives in the point even when it built a second nest on the outboard support of my pontoon boat, the minks that live beside the muskrat are never bothered and I only shot the porcupine because it kept gnawing the cottage.)
Let's run through the pros and cons of this fun debate which is a grand diversion from matters that really count. In confusing stock market lingo, I'm a bull on the bear but a bear on the beaver.
Bears can eat you but beavers can't. So that's support for the beaver. Polar bears look great but beavers look retarded. So that backs the bear. Beavers are industrious and are praised as gifted engineers, but praising their hard work is like complimenting a terrorist. Beavers are monogamous, which used to be a compliment before Canadians became so horny. Polar bears want to mate with any bear in the neighbourhood, which mimics the nightclub scene any Saturday night.
No wonder that in a recent popularity survey, the polar bear has pulled ahead of the beaver because bad-ass handsome strong creatures are much more a Canuck thing that some squashed runt that hides in a mud hut when it isn't vandalizing the neighbourhood.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011



It's 10 a.m. just west of University on Adelaide. Illegal parking has congealed both sides of the street.
A cop, probably paid duty, stands nonchalantly on a corner ignoring everything and everyone except his cell phone. Several bulky construction trucks block everything. Two workers argue. No work is being done.
Then a cyclists zips the wrong-way on the one-way street of Simcoe through a red light. No one pays any attention, certainly not the cop.
Just another weekday morning downtown.


On a weekday morning, the outside lane of University just north of Adelaide is blocked with City of Toronto vehicles. Parks employees are grooming the orphan parkland in the middle of the avenue. An hour later, they move to the other side of the strip of grass and flowers and block the other side.
And a journalist wonders why they can't do that early or late or on weekends. After all, I've worked newspaper shifts starting at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., midnight and 2 p.m.  Why can't our municipal employees also work similar shifts so they don't block major roads when traffic is heavy?
Or do they have to act like librarians staffing our libraries during most of the hours when most people can't use them?
Remember when banking hours were only from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If stuffy bankers can change, why can't all those public workers who supposedly serve taxpayer? Or doesn't that fit with time-clock mentality and fat pay for easy work?

The first opportunity for drivers to drive between Park Lawn and Prince Edward to Royal York as they head north from The Queensway is Glenroy Ave.  For 20 blocks they can't cross Mimico Creek because some objected to a bridge decades ago. So the rest of us in Etobicoke have been sentenced for an eternity to a crippled traffic flow.
So Glenroy, which is only four blocks long, is a very busy street. It was used by emergency vehicles and buses and hundreds of vehicles, and of course all the illegal parking by parents dropping off their kids at the junior school on the street.
Now there are speed humps between the new stoplight at one end and the deliberate narrowing at the other. If you need a firetruck or ambulance when seconds really count, you won't get any quick help along Glenroy because emergency vehicles won't use streets with speed humps.
And the throat constriction makes it difficult for cars to get in or out, and just one truck can plug it dangerously as cars try to squeeze by.
 I know. I have lived one house away from Glenroy for nearly 50 years.  I know that the traffic that doesn't want to face the road hassles use the first through street to the north, Edgemore, and use it with such vigour that few stop at the one stop sign and many barely hesitate at an irregular dangerous corner.
All this comes with no thanks to politicians and traffic engineers who don't live there. And residents of a dozen or so houses on Berry as it ended in a dead-end street. So thousands of people daily are inconvenienced by NIMBYism running wild,  and councillors who don't give a damn.
Toronto is nearly 250 square miles, dotted with similar problems left behind by selfish neighbours and gutless politicians.


And we wonder why our traffic is a mess.
Perhaps if a few more cops actually helped traffic instead of manning cash-register speed traps, it would be better. Actually when I see a speed trap in the usual cunning locations, I wonder why the cops instead of punishing us don't hand out medals to anyone who actually manages to get close to the speed limit on a major Toronto street.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011



One of the silliest bullshit stunts by media come in the preening boasts about "exclusive" interviews with prominent figures.
You know, the editor knows the personality or leader was interviewed at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. but bigawd my guy had an "exclusive" interview at 2 p.m.
Walter Isaacson has been the main editor at Time and an accomplished biographer. After his book on Steve Jobs was released, Isaacson has appeared on or in just about every media outlet known to man. In fact, it would be easier to list the media that haven't featured him.
So I found it amateurish nonsense in the Nov. 14 Maclean's in the column marked "from the editors" for one of them to write that Isaacson had talked to their correspondent "in an exclusive Canadian interview."
An "exclusive" interview is something to crow about if it is with someone who hasn't been talked to for years and has something to reveal. That happens rarely in in the relentless 24/7 news cycle where you can be bored within a day with the coverage of the death of some person you didn't even know had been alive.
Any media boss that wants to hang an "exclusive" tag on a talk with a PM or CEO who is quoted widely and regularly should be forced to take a Journalism 101 course.
Now I have had my share of "exclusive" interviews and scoops but I became so weary of such breathless claims that I almost never said so.
In fact, in one ''exclusive" interview with a world leader, I thought it would be presumptious to take a bow.
I headed the Canadian delegation to the International Press Institute which had hundreds of publishers and editors from more than 50 countries who would meet annually in some controversial city like Jerusalem to fight for democracy and press freedom.
Doug Creighton, the founding Sun publisher, grumbled about me going off to Japan at a busy time. I told him that among the speakers was Nelson Mandela. You can go, he said, if you get an "exclusive" interview. Nuts, I said, and went anyway.
The conference gathered in ancient surroundings in Kyoto near the famous Zen garden where you use a raised walkway to look down on 15 moss-covered stones surrounded by carefully raked gravel. I was walking and staring down and ran right into a big guy who started to fall off the edge. I grabbed Nelson Mandela and saved him. "Migawd," I said, "I just wiped  out the guest speaker."
His bodyguards were furious but Mandela waved them away. Then we all went off to a buffet. I slipped into the line behind Mandela and chatted. His favourite food was porridge, he declared. Then we stood under a tree with our plates and talked some more.
I asked why he was in Japan when his then wife, Winnie, was on trial back in Jo-burg. "We have good lawyers," he said.
My interview was interesting and ran big on Page 2 of the Sun. But I never said it was "exclusive," not with the brass of every major newspaper in the world all around us eager to gab with him at any opportunity.
The next day, Mandela gave the keynote speech. I figured out his exit door and stood there. As he walked by, he said: "Here's the Canadian who hits so hard. What did you think of the speech?"
I said I didn't like it because he hadn't written it himself and it ignored the Zulu, one of the major groups in the future of his troubled country.
"How did you know I didn't write my speech," Mandela demanded. "Because when you got to the end, you turned the page and there wasn't anything there," I told him. He laughed and said I had caught him.  What a great man! He evolved from just another terrorist to a wonderful forgiving leader almost worshipped by his people
 He's been erased by Alzheimer's, unfortunately, so his appearance are few and careful.  It is one interview I will never forget, even though it was only "exclusive" for a few brief moments on a sunny day under a shade tree in the garden of an ancient ruin

Saturday, November 5, 2011



I have been a member of the selection board for this wonderful hall since it began in 1993.
But for the first time I have had a bitter taste of the hurdles faced by the 82 members.
When the board met this year to make its choices, I had to send mine in by telephone since at the time I was trapped in Runnymede Health Care Centre, unable to get out of bed or to walk or even stand.
Many of our inductees over the years know exactly what I faced. Except I got over it and they don't.
I learned what their struggles were all about to improve access to public buildings for the disabled, to change the look in a stranger's eyes to understanding rather than a baffled ignorance.
At the induction lunch at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, an unfortunate choice I thought as I laboured up 39 steps from the street, we heard great speeches from David Crombie, a song bird among mayors, David Onley, our lieutenant-governor who towers above his wheelchair, and Rick Hansen, the man in motion who has muscled his wheelchair through many lands to, as the program said, move the world to action.
Members of the hall, which used to be called the Terry Fox Hall of Fame until Terry's mother raised constant cranky objections, have transformed this country, founding the CNIB, being leaders in the Paralympics, skiiing their chair to the North Pole, and the list goes on, humbling the rest of us who haven't had to grope or stumble through life.
The latest inductees included Archie Allison, the popular stalwart at Variety Village, a cause dear to the heart of my friend, Doug Creighton, the founder of the Toronto Sun.
 Then there was Benoit Huot, born with a club foot, who failed at hockey and baseball but not as a swimmer, winning eight gold medals, four silver and four bronze in three successive trips to the Paralympics Summer Games. He shrugs it off. "All I've done for 20 years is to look at the bottom of a pool for eight hours a day."
And the McKeever brothers, Brian and Robin. With Robin as his guide, the legally blind Brian has won seven paralympic gold medals, and astounded the world in Vancouver when he also made Canada's Olympic cross-country ski team. He didn't get to race, however, but the brothers handled that with their fine sense of humour. Robin quips that his brother is always following in his footsteps. And Brian says he has learned to meet challenges head on, which occasionally are trees.
However, the best line was delivered by Rick Hansen. He did a bungee jump for Rick Mercer's CBC TV show and said later when he was asked how he felt: "I can't feel my legs."
The luncheon audience roared at that. No doubt everyone returned to their offices and told everyone how awed they had been to learn of the feats of the inductees. As one said, life is not a destination, it's a journey. And they never let disability run them into the ditch.



So I've driven my Hyundai Elantra Touring for more than 2,000 kilometres and know why Canada's car journalists have just called its sedan cousin one of their cars of the year.
I am pleased, but a little irked that once again you can't believe the advertised claims for how much gas a new car model uses.
I really shouldn't be surprised because there have been studies by reputable organizations that show that 99.99% of all claims by car companies about the mileage of their latest models are too low.
Everyone fibs!
In the latest house ad I've seen from Hyundai,  the claim for the Elantra Touring is that highway mileage was 6.4  litres per 100 kilometres or  43 MPG.
The noted car writer Glen Woodcock, my Associate Editor when I was Editor of the Toronto Sun, assures me that you no longer have to break in cars. It used to be that at the start, you were told to drive at various speeds around 110 and not cruise at any one speed, particularly anything over 120.
But I keep my cars for a long time, so I still believe in being careful for the first week or so. So I wasn't roaring around the city and did a sedate 110 on the highway. And I got the claimed 6.4 litres for my first 1,000 km.
Then I did the annual milk run to ensure the cottage was closed properly. At speeds around 100 on the Gardiner and Don Valley, then 116 on 401 and passing at up to 125. Finally 95 or so on roads near the cottage. A similar trip back, except traffic was heavier and I had to use the Lake Shore and its rash of stop lights because the Gardiner was arthritic.
So that was a typical highway trip for me.  And my mileage was 7.9 litres, not that advertised figure at all. Of course Hyundai and the other car companies get the claimed mileage by driving carefully at speeds that would have you rammed on Canadian roads, not under ordinary driving conditions for most drivers.
My main complaint has to do with the ride. I was warned by analysis in Consumer Reports and other publications that the ride was stiff and bumpy. Okay on the highway, but since Toronto streets now resemble something from a city that has been shelled, the ride is certainly a drawback, so much so that if I had been buying a car just for the city,  this would not have been a good choice if I was worried about my back.
I'm happy though, even if I had to take a silver colour rather than the lovely red if I wanted a car without a wait for months. As it was, I got the car a day after my son Mark went back to China, which was one reason why I wanted the car ASAP.
You certainly will find that buyers will pay the price for Hyundai's success, now that the Elantra is challenging to be the top car in Canada in sales. I found the Hyundai dealer on the Lake Shore in Etobicoke to be so indifferent to my business that there wasn't even a reply to a email that I sent.
And the 2011 model were sold out when I went to the dealer on Dufferin. I had to buy a 2012, which was probably a good idea since there are supposed to be significant improvements, except you wouldn't know that from Consumer Reports which still lists its test of a 2009 model on its internet site.
I look forward to years of happy driving, but I certainly will be dodging potholes.

Monday, October 31, 2011



For me, Halloween is a night for ghosts and goblins, shrunken heads, and memories of the biggest gamble in life for my family and me.
It was on Oct. 31, 1971, that 62 of us worked in a shambles of an office to bring out the first Toronto Sun.
I had turned down one secure federal job in Ottawa and even safer municipal job in Toronto to work for less money on a risky tabloid. Was this going to be the resurrection in a new body of  The Telegram, which had always tried to be different and have fun and not play it safe and pushy like the Star?
As I wrote the first of thousands of columns in my tiny study, the youngest of my three sons, Mark, cried as lustily as his three-month-old lungs would allow. And Mary, who never confessed her doubts, tried to keep his rowdy brothers quiet.
My career had been soaring. Was I about to crash, and take my family with me?
Up to that point, Halloween had just been a time to carve clumsy jack-o-lanterns and try to ignore memories of humble Halloweens as a boy in Chesley when all we could afford was to dress me as a ghost under an old sheet with burned cork smeared on my face. No candy when I worked the neighbourhood, but then there wasn't much money either.
The Sun prospered, my doubts withered and the years spun by. The Day Oners tanned in the glow from our Sun. But then shadows came and the original pioneers, and the newspaper itself, shrunk through retirements, deaths, accountants and the wicked witch from Quebec.
Finally the big occasion at this time was for the Worthingtons and Donatos and Downings to gather for anniversary dinners,  to tell grand tales about trips and to boast about what our kids and grandkids were doing.
And I would take a nostalgic stroll past a real ghost house in my own neighbourhood where John Gault and I investigated for days and wrote stories which became front-page sensations in the old and lamented Tely.
Then a couple of years ago, Halloween took on a marvelous edge. Mark had grown up to work for eBay and helped a fascinating man sell a great blue whale's skeleton to a Saudi sheik for a lot of money. Events like that don't happen every day so Mark and the seller, Billy Jamieson, became acquaintances. And Jamieson invited Mark and his parents to his lovely downtown loft where shrunken heads and war clubs adorned the walls and there was a mummy a floor below the haunted fish tank mounted in an old hearse.
Yes, all the words in that paragraph are true.
What a marvelous setting for a costumed Halloween party. You could perch on an electric chair from an American prison and listen to Jamieson tell how you had to make sure you were buying a real shrunken head from long ago and not just from a recent murder victim.
Jamieson's Halloween party was one of the most authentic in the land. If a real ghost had shown up to elbow me aside at the bar, I would not have beens surprised.
This wonderful picture of Jamieson taken by James Ireland captured the crazy mix of showman and explorer that percolated beneath that erratic mane.
The story of Jamieson and how he sold a pharaoh's mummy to Auburn University for $2 million in the stuff of legend, and TV shows too.
I wrote about Jamieson in blogs Come Smell My Shrunken Head, Shrunken Heads And Great Explorations,  Billy Jamieson And His Shrunken Heads, and then, sadly, one marking his death on July 23 this year.
If you wonder about all these references to shrunken heads, I keep making them because the public is fascinated by them. I can tell from the tracking of my blogs that month after month, people make their way via Google to read about one of the most interesting men I have ever met.
As I type this, the door bell keeps ringing and Mary confesses that she's down to the bottom of the baskets to apple juice and granola bars. It's a happy time. The neighbourhood is renewed with kids blossoming among all the old farts.  There have been Halloweens when no one came knocking, no one chanting trick or treat. I always say I want the trick, which baffles the rookie elves and fairy princesses.
I could tell them of a time when the rumour at school the next day was of the occupied outhouse that was pushed over  on to its door, which made exiting messy, to say the least, and all the windows that were soaped on houses and cars belonging to the teachers.
Maybe it happened. Maybe it didn't. So what! Halloweens are an illusion anyway, when kids can yell and make demands of adults and pretend that when they grow up they really will be astronauts or football stars and maybe even a vampire.
It's a time to imagine great things. Because there are only a few like Billy Jamieson who actually do what others only daydream about, to explore ancient ruins and deep jungles and to act like Harrison Ford seeing Petra for the first time.
R.I.P. Billy Jamieson. I have no idea when your birthday was, but it should have been Halloween.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011



Two other couples were enjoying an autumn weekend in a B & B with Mary and me when the transmission of my van started acting up. You know, Dodges when they get to 125,000 kms,
So I limped back to Toronto at 100 km/h because the traffic would have run right over the top of me if I had gone slower.
Just another example of how 99% of Ontario drivers drive faster than the speed limit on our highways. Trouble is, they drive at a mixture of speeds because not all of them feel they can trust the unstated deal by the OPP to let you go 116 or so without worry.
I have made the case to three transportation ministers over the years  that when Queen's Park insists on a 100 speed limit on  Highway 401, all it does is encourage scofflawism.  And it is not healthy in a democracy to have too many laws,  bylaws and regulations that everyone ignores.
One of those ministers confessed that if he stuck to the speed limit, his trip to Queen's Park after a weekend in his riding would really be an ordeal.
Strangely enough, some of my colleagues on the Ontario Safety League, a volunteer advisory agency on safety, particularly on the roads, didn't share my views that it is silly to post speeds of 100 when most traffic routinely goes at 115 and a few at  120, and the OPP only pull you over for greater speeds than those, or for erratic driving
What prompts me to return to this chestnut of an issue is that the British Parliament is raising the national speed limit on major roads, which is already 70 mph or 112 km/h, to 80 mph or 128 km/h.
The justification is that the transport ministry says this will be a fiscal improvement because it would reduce travel times.  The minister says that in the four decades since the speed was set at 112, there has been a large decline in fatalities. Officials think that faster legal speeds would be safer too. I'm not sure I would agree with that but the experts say that accidents happen when you have vehicles moving at much different speeds and we certainly get that now.
Environmentalists have rushed to condemn this, saying it will increase fuel consumption. An interesting argument since one could argue that a stream of traffic moving easily at 120 would not be burning much more gas than the present dog's breakfast of different speeds.
For me, the major problem in driving our 400 series of super roads is the rogue 18-wheelers which will ride your bumper in the middle lane even if you're doing 120.
Let the cops pull them over after they see their traumatic stunts, and go after the idiots running at 130  or more, and leave the rest of us to cruise easily and safely at a speed that is definitely not the one that  authorities post.

Saturday, October 15, 2011



Coming soon to your friendly neighbourhood drugstore is the latest red tape hassle of the Ontario Ministry of Health.
Starting Nov. 1, and right now in some drugstores, identification must be shown to collect prescribed pain killers. You want some Tylenol 3, then you or your spouse better have a driver's licence or government ID or passport or an autographed picture of the health minister.
The first idea was that everyone had to show this identification. Now it's been changed to the person collecting the pain killer if their name isn't on the prescription. Since Mary picks up most of my prescriptions, which is not unusual in families, she will have to deal with this new nuisance.
So what's my objection? Because most of the time it's unnecessary. You give a prescription from your doctor or clinic to your druggist. Often the name and address of your doctor, your personal details and those of your family, are already stored in the drugstore's computers. The pharmacist checks the prescription to see if it is valid, and 15 minutes or so later,  and it definitely will be longer thanks to this new red tape, you get your pills and you ease your pain.
Barry Phillips, the druggist who runs the Shoppers at Bloor and Royal York,  has a form to be filled out by his staff for each prescription - while you stand in the queue and fume - and that form must be kept for two years.
 Naturally he and all pharmacists are annoyed at this latest snarl of red tape. After all, the druggist has to be satisfied that it is your prescription to fill it in the first place. The prescription would be rejected or your name and your doctor would be double checked if there is any suspicion.
 Demanding and recording identification at the end of the process is just a waste of time and paper since the original prescriptions have always been kept for two years.
It's not just the pharmacists who are upset. My GP, Bernie Gosevitz, one of the world's best doctors, tells me that doctors are upset too by the new red tape.
Twelve pages of information have been provided by the government. Of course the Ontario Public Drugs Program Division has to do things like that to justify its existence in the costly health system of Ontario which devours around 43% if the provincial budget.
The first justification is to provide education and raise public awareness about the safe use of these drugs. Except that's the job of the prescribing doctor.
The government says there has been a 41% increase in narcotic-related deaths in Ontario following the addition of long-acting oxycodone to the Ontario Drug Benefits Formulary. So all those pensioners out there who are eliminating their chronic pain by getting almost free drugs thanks to the province will no longer die because they or a relative showed their driver's licence  to a pharmacist.
The government tells us that prescription narcotics are a lucrative street commodity for individuals and organized crime. There have also been a significant increase in pharmacy robberies. So showing a  licence to get Tylenol 3 is going to reduce robberies and alley sales.
It's a little like the government is going to reduce car thefts by demanding drivers show their licence before they buy gas.
At least it gave me something to talk about with Phillips other than the inability of the police, city hall and parking officers to control the illegal parking by cabs at his back door. His wheelchair ramp is often blocked by cabs clustered at the Royal York subway station. The same cabs also block you when you try to back out of the metered parking. They are a problem every daylight minute.
Yet 22 police division, Councillor Peter Milczyn and the zealot parking enforcement officers are incapable of unsnarling a main entrance to a store which has many customers who find it difficult to manoeuvre around the cabs.
But the same parking officers will swoop down like vultures if you are a minute too soon or too late for whatever petty bylaw they are enforcing. It doesn't matter if it's very early or very late, you get tagged but the cabbies sit there handicapping a busy lane.
I am sure that authorities will bring out the handcuffs if you dare show up with a prescription that doesn't match the latest dictates of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Wouldn't it be nice if the ministry concentrated on solving the present crisis in hospital care rather than twiddling their thumbs and looking for bogeymen among ordinary Joes and Janes!



Of course Rob Ford shouldn't have been driving around holding a cell phone to his ample face. But there's a nice side to this story.
Mayors of Toronto, like all major politicians and captains of industry, can have cars and drivers provided to them. It certainly increases their productivity and the number of visits they can make each day instead of sitting fuming in traffic.
So Mayor Ford likes to drive his own minivan and not use a city car and driver. Good for him. It certainly fits with his genuine man-of-the-people attitude. Now if only someone will show him how easy it is for hands-free operation of a phone in a car.
Not only does that reduce accidents, it reduce the number of  idiots driving slowly and wandering between the lanes while infuriating all the drivers around them.
Once upon a time, when Toronto had a four-person board of control elected across the entire city, the mayor and the four controllers all got limousines with licences running from 5000 to 5004. And to reduce the jealousy, they were quick to offer lifts.
Nathan Phillips used to have his car stop at the TTC stop at  St. Clair and Avenue Rd. and offer lifts downtown to startled commuters. The council chamber for the regional government was a few blocks from City Hall, so reporters packed into Fred Gardiner's Cadillac for the trips back and forth. (That car was once used to take a prostitute to hospital after she overdosed in the council washroom during a break in a hearing before Gardiner.)
There were no armies of aides or spacious offices in the old city hall. The board of control had  offices which were large closets, and one secretary each. Aldermen would come in and coax the secretaries to write letters for them.
The controllers had a lot of extra work and not much extra pay but they certainly gloried in those limousines with the special licences that all the cops knew.
They got special perks too, like two tickets to every Leaf game. Since Don Summerville, 10 months the Toronto mayor before he died playing goal in a charity game, had a wife Alice, who hated hockey, he took me to those special free seats just behind the Leaf bench.
Summerville was popular in the sporting world. He had been a goalie on the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils when the team won the Allan Cup and had played in Leaf practices. So everyone knew Don in the Gardens, but I was anonymous..
We sat near one of the Leaf owners, Big John Bassett, who also happened to be my publisher. One day he was walking through the city room of the old Toronto Telegram when he spotted me typing at a battered desk. "You work for me," he demanded? "How can you afford to sit in those seats behind the bench?" I  explained, but didn't tell him I paid Summerville back by writing some of his speeches.
Now Summerville is just a name on an east-end pool. He is so forgotten, his name is often misspelled in the media. And the limousine fleet and the free tickets have dwindled with time too. But let's not expect with all these changes that we want the mayor to be driving himself, although it's good he gets a bitter taste of traffic. It's safer if he just concentrates on cutting taxes.