Sunday, September 25, 2011



In September, 1955, little knots of nervous students gathered outside a battered wartime building to sniff each other before classes began.
It was the Graphic Arts Building of something new called the Ryerson Institute of Technology. And we were about to begin three strange years in the two courses taught there in Journalism and Printing Management. We didn't quite grasp that we were really pioneers.
It was a pleasant day. The ripe heady aroma of brewing beer swirled around us from the O'Keefe Brewery just across Gould St.
The brewery is long gone into the golden mists of vanished brews. And so is RIOT, having evolved through various names and elevation in status to the present title of Ryerson University, which doesn't catch the founding principle of hands-on education.
We were a small class by graduation in 1958. Some I've never seen again. But the class heart, I like to think, of Barrie Zwicker, Terry O'Connor, Al Sokol and me, are still around Toronto and so made it through Saturday turmoil to the Royal York for a Ryerson reunion dinner.
Migawd, we said, it's been 56 years since we met. So that must be the reason for the grey hair, wrinkles, aches and the fact we couldn't hear all the good and the bad as we shouted over the din about half-a-century of life. (Classical 96.3 FM is on a campaign for quieter restaurants. A wonderful cause I supported before either I became harder of hearing or my friends lost their voices.)
Once upon a time, Zwick was an acidic media critic and tilter at turbines, O'Connor the Ryerson information guru, Sokol a thoughful sports reporter, and me on the treadmills of columnizing and editing.
We had good careers, we like to think. And our wives have done even better. Remember that behind every moderately successful man stands a very surprised woman.
School reunions are a mixed bag. You don't recognize most of the crowd and end up greeting warmly faces you never really liked. But it's a victory lap for those who have survived. And some of us, like my trusty associate Don Hawkes, didn't even come to jog the lap because when you husband your energy, downtown Toronto and a big hotel are more gauntlet  than party.
The huge screens that are now a feature of such banquets set the mood by flashing pictures of the campus past and future. Except the campus we went to was demolished long ago except for the facade of the headquarters that Egerton Ryerson constructed in 1851 when he began his educational innovations for all of Canada..
The talk from the university brass was of huge crowds storming the doors to get in. Apparently Ryerson is more popular than a nubile Marilyn Monroe.  Pictures flashed of coming architectural gems. We marvelled because back in the Fifties we would have been satisfied with any new building grander than a brick outhouse.
All in all a fine time! Wine, even a glass of bubbly, was part of the $75 cost. The salad was excellent, the beef mediocre and the desert a chocolate marvel. I remembered back to the campus dinners I chaired as student president when we were grateful for anything resembling something you could get in a restaurant from the students in Hotel, Restaurant and Resort Administration.
Back then, of course,  wine would have got you expelled. I had to fight the administration to save six students from being expelled because they got mildly drunk on the train on a football weekend.
I wonder whether beef will still be legal (considering the forces of political correctness in food ) when our quartet gather for the 60th anniversary of the institution where we didn't know we were the lab rats running the maze in an eight-year-old experiment in education.
Come to think of it, for the $600 our tickets cost in total, we could have quite a private banquet. And we would actually hear what everyone has to say.
I would miss the pretty pictures on the big screens, of course, but the campus of today might as well be on the moon for the survivors of the early Ryerson.

Friday, September 16, 2011



And so the political muddles continue.
The America media are consumed by Republican presidential candidates to such an extent that I skim Time magazine and avoid CNN and the rabid dogs of CNN.
For politicians, especially Tories, it's once more into the breach. It is a muddled time, with the federal Tories riding higher with the disarray of the opposition, the provincial Tories contemplating how they blew the election, and  the Tories at City Hall hungering for something to muzzle the downtown lefties wanting to continue to live off the fat of Toronto.
Which brings us to Rob Ford. He's suffering from the curse of modern politics, that the media and taxpayers persist in wanting to view all politics as one-man rule. There may be 460 MPs, MPPs and councillors, but for Toronto consumers of the relentless news cycle,  politics is just Three Mouthketeers - Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty and Rob Ford.
If only that was true. We could embrace dictatorship and save a lot of money by firing all those pols.
Despite all the new powers that have been given Toronto mayors since the city and suburbs were merged, despite the cocoon of aides and uncivil servants who surround the mayor like a security blanket, Ford still has just one of the 45 votes on council.  (Or two if you remember his tag team with Big Brother.)
The public and reporters want Ford to walk across the harbour. And so what if the left wants to shoot holes in his rubber boots!
There is nothing Ford can do as mayor that hasn't been done before.  No matter how bombastic or fumbling this populist leader can be - or brilliant and determined - he's hardly unique. There have been tight-fisted conservatives before, thank heavens. The problem is there haven't been enough of them.
The story is still the same. Those who forget our political past are doomed to have it repeated.
I can tell you as someone who has watched politics from the Fifties on, often at point blank range, the 15 mayors, and the six chairmen who led the vanished regional council, were a rich stew of ego, brains and stupidity.
So where will Ford fit in?
Will he leave his name behind, as some did, on expressways, squares, stadiums, pools and complexes.  Or will he vanish into the mists, like so many of the 64 mayors since York became Toronto in 1834, trading muddy streets for potholes.
Some accomplishments were enormous.
 Allan Lamport, who was only mayor for 2 1/2 years starting in 1952, was the godfather of our two airports and took the stuffiness out of Sunday.
 Paul Godfrey eliminated the unfair two-fare system for suburban TTC riders and brought the Jays and, damnit, a costly stadium..
Fred Gardiner had one loyal secretary, but built the infrastructure foundation.
Nathan Phillips had two helpers, but built an iconic City Hall against enormous opposition.
Neither had the strong-mayor powers given Ford or his staff (which he has slashed by a third from what David Miller had in his bloated system.)
But the public and  media had not yet made government a one-man show and pinned anger and desires like a tail on one council donkey.
Ford's honeymoon, such as it was, is a distant memory. In the two years before campaigning suffocates all other activity, he must tame the downtown hatred that wants to blame him for everything and praise him for nothing.
Even a brisk stroll down memory lane can bring perspective. Mayor have screwed up basic facts before, and mangled metaphors, so let's wait before trying to dump Ford into an unused subway tunnel.  Remember when Lampy said "you can't lead a dead horse to water."  Or "when you're talking about me, keep your mouth shut."
Or when Bad Boy called in the army to handle a snow storm and screwed an Olympic bid by saying he didn't want to end up in "pot of hot water with all the natives dancing around me."
Mel Lastman knew all about getting into hot water. Ford has got to go some. But the Jane Jacobites and downtown activists wouldn't praise a mayor from suburbia if he gave them each a million dollars.
 Ford was an executive with the family printing business rather than a lawyer, a profession that has dominated. I've told him what a weird mix of jobs his most recent predecessors had - speech therapist, municipal clerk, movie theatre owner, roofer, accountant, probation officer, appliance huckster and educator.
 David Crombie would have been Ryerson University president if he hadn't become mayor (I know as a member of the search committee.) Don Summerville was a goalie with the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils when the team won the Allan Cup, had played with the Leafs in practise, and died in a charity game.  Leslie Saunders had been the head of the Orange Order for the world.  (Most mayors until the last few decades were lodge members and the city only got its first of two Catholic mayors in 1979.)
Phil Givens went on to be an MP, MPP, police commission chair and judge. And of course Crombie and Art Eggleton were federal ministers, and the Tiny Perfect Mayor chaired a staggering number of organizations. Alan Tonks, Dennison and Lampy also served as MP or MPP.
Is Ford just a one-term mayor? Will he go on to major posts like so many others? The jury should still  be out.   Remember that Ford won because of the hunger of the "silent" majority for less government.  That hasn't evaporated in the heat of the opposition.
His mantras of cutting taxes and staff still reverberate with most Torontonians. If he leads us into a municipal strike, it won't be the most unpopular of moves since most Torontonians hate their high taxes, and too many of them don't have a job.
So when you hear the screaming from union leaders, lefties and glib/lib councillors, remember that anyone who wants to strike while Toronto is trying not to sink into a depression is nuts and hasn't a hope in Hades of having most taxpayers on their side.

Friday, September 2, 2011



There doesn't appear to have been traffic hassles in the Garden of the Eden but I'll bet they started the next day.
When you read about the Ages, you find more examples of downtowns screwed by traffic than there are stop signs in Toronto.
Rome banned daylight deliveries. The London of Dickens could barely move. The avenues of Paris were a wonder until the traffic circling the Arc de Triomphe became so fierce, gendarmes stayed out.
And politicians, particularly in Toronto, have always talked a great game about solving it.  Yet each year it has grown worse so reports saying that Toronto has the worst traffic in the universe have people saying so what else is news.
As long as council pays attention to the 10-speed gliberals who insist that transit and even bikes are the salvation to the mess on our roads, there's no hope.
Certainly not with the red tape monstrosities  of toll roads or toll lanes.
Consider the basic fact that what you see is what you get with our streets. No one is about to broaden Yonge. Even in much of suburbia, there's neither the space, money or will to build major changes. Look at the ruination of Black Creek, which was supposed to be an expressway before politicians chickened out.
The answer to the daily headache is that city has to move more vehicles more quickly on existing roads. We have to ignore those who refuse to admit that most people and all goods do not move on transit but on the same roads that City Hall has handicapped.
Just try moving a couch on the bus.
It would make sense and save money, frustration and pollution if we made the roads more efficient. An easy start would be to cure this measles of stop signs. Just double fines and take cops away from their cash-register speed traps. No need for a stop sign at every intersection.
Too many neighbourhoods have been turned into baffling mazes because they have enough clout to wall themselves off with signs, one-way streets, and barriers so that those awful other people who drive will avoid their streets.
But what do we hear out of City Hall?  Not easy solutions that would save hundreds of millions but the  transit-in-the-sky. Hey guys, remember that transit uses roads too.
We just had another official confess that 80% of speed humps aren't needed. We used to call them bumps before the city flattened them, probably because of law suits, complaints about damage and the refusal of emergency vehicles and the TTC to use streets with artificial bumps midst the potholes..
Not only do they cost $3,000 each, there's more pollution. And bad backs!
Anti-car zealots love to lecture City Hall about getting more people into each vehicle. Of course we should work towards that by giving benefits to car poolers. But then I would also like to see more than one rider on each bike.
Since our cyclists are more aggressive than our drivers, and broad streets during rushhour aren't quite the conduit they could be because of a few bikes sterilizing a lane, the city should ban cyclists from major streets during those hours. (I'm sure my son Brett who often bikes to work, can find side streets.)
Back when we blossomed as a regional centre, back when the CCM plant on Lawrence near Weston was one of the world's largest producers of bikes, Toronto was famous for traffic innovations.
A rookie councillor just called for traffic signal synchronization. A good idea, and it was when Toronto was a pioneer in that 50 years ago. Of course City Hall screwed that up, just as it killed every other good idea in moving people.
The Sun's founding publisher, Doug Creighton, dispatched me to Singapore because it was renowned for its innovations, like one that divided drivers into groups that had to alternate driving into the core. The engineers interviewed me instead because their texts had written by Sam Cass, Toronto's traffic boss over four decades, and wanted to know what great stuff Toronto was doing.
Not much, I told them. Because the official policy was to screw the driver.
Now there's hope, if we can get the Fords to lift their gaze above ground. Making what you have work is not as glamorous as subways to nowhere but it's smarter.

Thursday, September 1, 2011



Writing about the CNE reminds me of what Liz Taylor's eighth husband is alleged to have said. He knew what was expected but wondered how to make it interesting.
But let's consider the state of the petticoats on what we call the Grand Old Lady of the Lakeshore.  I think we can give her an easy makeover.
After all, the Ex this year is great. The grounds look great. The free entertainment is great. The families wandering in clouds of sugar highs and midway bewitchings are happy.
Yet it all could be better.  I'm not here to put a hex on the Ex, which has been the oneupmanship game since the Ex began in 1879, but to sell you on how the annual fair could be improved and anchor a new year-round festival centre.
It has a huge start with its international rep.  At 1.3 million in attendance, it is the largest in Canada (yep, larger than the Stampede) and fifth largest in the world among such attractions.
It makes money for taxpayers - more than $7 million in the last decade - while employing more than 6,000 for back-to-school cash, but it could make more.
It could and should be combined with the financial loser, Ontario Place (OP), which seems to have lost its way. The two would blossom with a synergy that would bring savings which could be invested in new attractions.
That recent KPMG study for City Hall floated the idea of selling Exhibition Place. Or combining the two Ex boards. Or combining the Ex and OP.  The study talked about a 5% saving in administration costs. Surely it would be higher if all the duplication was eliminated.
Activities beyond the 18-day fair could be increased. The grounds could and should be the primary home for walkathons and marathons. Why close expressways and vital traffic arteries when an interesting course would be around the Ex/OP and then along the lakeshore to High Park and its hills and leafy vales. It's dumb to screw traffic when such an alternative exists.
The Ex and OP could be united by short grass-covered tunnels for the Lakeshore, The transportation corridor that hems it in on the north could be covered by what was called the Parkdale Platform when it was proposed decades ago. The bizarre traffic patterns through its westend, which resemble drunken scrawls by traffic engineers, should be corrected. There's no need to strangle the Ex with roads and rail,  and more park could be created from the duplicate expanses of parking.
Let me reveal my conflicts before being unmasked by critics who love to trash the Ex without actually going there.  I was one of its fiercest critics but evolved into becoming the CNE president and vice-chair of the Exhibition Place governors, the landlords. I wrote part of the CNE history and sit on a committee hashing out a new deal with the governors.  I have often written about an Ex/OP merger on
But enough back-patting.  Few visitors care about the politics there, which can be fierce, or the history, which can't be recaptured. You no longer go to the Ex to see the freaks or the newest technology, whether electric trams, public lighting, TVs or the latest cars. The Ex is no longer opened by royalty and famous generals. The crowds have shrunk as the country changed.
Yet you still want to be entertained. And to see interesting stuff.  And to buy. I really don't understand that last bit, and neither does my wife, but we have two chairs in the living room that we saw there, and there's a "spirit house" column in the back yard that a son bought there.
There's something for everyone, a smorgasbord where the trick is not to fill up on the salad. I am credited at the Ex with the line that if it didn't exist, the city would have to invent it.  It's still true, even if you feel you're wading through "treasures" from Asia.
The Ex boasts about its benefits to the community, about direct economic impact in 2009 to Toronto of $58 million, and of $60 million to the province. I 'm always suspicious about how they arrive at such figures but there's little doubt it feeds the economic pot by its existence.
At the opening this year, the gag was the Ex was a "calorie free zone."  Fran Berkoff grumbled in the Sunday Sun about all the calories in the often goofy fair food. She's a smart lady but she misses that fairs are a traditional time to forget diets. In fact, surveys by fairs, like the California fair association, show that exotic food is a great lure to a fair.
So is just watching a wandering clown, or Neil Sedaka, or the parades, or the human cannonball, or those planes......