Thursday, August 23, 2012



I have kept my mouth shut for a year but this has become ridiculous. I come to bury Jack Layton, not to praise him, because he was just another politician, although his early death was unfortunate.
Ringing a John Lennon song on the Peace Tower carillon on the anniversary of his death! Chalking messages about Jack on a wall in Nathan Phillips Square. The media's fawning coverage!
My guess is they really didn't know him.
Not everyone swooned at the first anniversary of his death. Chris Selley in the National Post wrote a good comment under the headline The Wrong Song For Layton. Chris had better watch out. All you have to do is tackle some new mega-hero of the people and some nervous media hacks will use it as an excuse to fire you. I know.
For a decade I did a weekly commentary on CBC Radio in Toronto. My contract was not renewed - they said they were trying different voices - after I grumbled that John Sewell, then the darling of the CBC and the left in the media, was just a mayor, you know, he doesn't walk on water. The controversial mayor was being excused for yet another stupid stunt.
I guess as a fallen Baptist I should not have got into Biblical language, but I seemed to recall that Sewell was raised in a wealthy Baptist home and he certainly carried himself as holier-than-anyone.
Then I did a regular commentary on CFRB back when it was the giant among radio stations. I was called about the death of Princess Diana and made the mistake of saying that I thought she was a horny driven attractive woman and the song that Elton John rewrote for her was not that great.
I actually came to like the song, Candles in the Wind, which was first written for Marilyn Monroe who knew all about a public pretence of shyness and a inner desire to do anything she damn well pleased. But after I didn't participate in the international mourning for a spoiled brat, my regular spot on CFRB was filled by someone who would kowtow more to the public's latest hot heroes.
My knowledge of the former NDP leader is greater than most. I covered him as a columnist and cheerfully donated my time to a Ryerson Open College course on municipal politics that he taught as a professor.
It took several days out of my life because my recorded comments were used in most lectures but no one, not Layton or his associate or the university, thanked me. An honorarium would have been nice.
Jack always greeted me quite cordially although he disagreed with everything I wrote or said, but that didn't stop him from suing me and the Sun. One of the suits involved a Sun box which he argued was in the wrong place and hurt him when he was cycling. (As if the box jumped out at him.)
I think there was a libel suit or two but they didn't go far and I remember nothing about them.
I wish that everyone that has rushed to canonize him would remember his history as a pol who often lost a vote in Toronto council and lost elections too. He was hardly a popular alderman but was one of those named by opponents as leader of the " crazies' on council. There was the 1990 scandal when it was discovered that he and his wife, Olivia Chow, who is hardly a great thinker, had been living for years in a government-subsidized co-op despite their combined $120,000-a-year salary from taxpayers. They protested wildly but then paid $320 more a month for their three-bedroom apartment that they got for a bargain $800-a-month. Hardly a good example for the people but then Jack and Olivia never shirked from living well off the taxpayers.
He ran for mayor of the downtown city in 1991 and even though the inner city is a hotbed for the NDP and Liberals, he got only 32% of the vote. The winner, June Rowlands, a Liberal who became the city's first female mayor, got 113,993 votes to his 64,044.
And if the vote had been held after amalgamation, and included all the suburbs which definitely don't like the anti-car socialist views of the left, he would have lost by a bigger margin.
In the municipal election that year, another lefty, David Miller, had one of his three defeats. Miller also went on to become a darling of the left and the gLiberals who never admit that their heroes, these great political "statues," really have feet of clay that go right up to the thighs.
Layton  certainly became a good NDP leader, that is if you like the NDP, and I don't, and his fight against cancer was inspiring. Selley seems to have liked Layton more than I did. He wrote a great conclusion. He said that Layton wasn't a hero or saint but he didn't begrudge anyone a nice vigil. "But ringing bells in a tower for a nice guy and very good politician just seems a bit ....much. Sorry."
Don't be sorry, Chris, You nailed it.

Now it turns out that the Canadian government spent more than a third of a million dollars on the state funeral for Layton. Ridiculous!  Usually the NDP would take the lead in ridiculing and attacking such an expenditure. What a strained silence from them.
That amount, by the way, was more than the money spent on each of the last two state funerals for governors-general.

Thursday, August 16, 2012



Mary and I drove along the once familiar roads because my big sister, Joyce Long, was celebrating her 80th birthday in the gym of the Listowel Baptist Church.
It was supposed to be a surprise with family and friends but there was a picture and notice in the paper. That's the nice way things happen in Ontario towns.
My big sister took me into the church kitchen to meet the "babysitter" for the day, a congregation member taking her turn to watch the church while there was an outside function.
"She was one of the ladies who prayed for you," Joyce said.
I was stunned. I didn't really know that there was a church in Listowel praying for my recovery during my three months in four hospitals in the spring of 2011.
Joyce, my sister Joanne, and I started our church life in the tiny Baptist church on the north hill of Chesley, a town of 1,800 near Owen Sound. Our church would have fit into the gym in Listowel. We didn't even have a washroom or hot plate. There was a big mortgage and we had to share a minister. The Downings were most of the choir. And now Joyce went to a big church with no debt and three ministers. And a congregation that prayed for a profane back-sliding journalist who watches the Gaither Gospel Hour on TV instead of going to church.
Later, Joyce introduced me to another lady who had prayed for me. And I tried to explain to her that I wasn't much for church these days after a boyhood when my sisters and I lived with Dutch grandparents who read a chapter of the Bible (but not the Songs of Solomon) and knelt in prayer after every meal.
It was overkill. And I couldn't get over some of the murderous and strange acts of the Old Testament. So Mary looks after church going for the family, faithfully attending mass and ignoring my youngest son Mark (who is founding his own religion) and my views on the Bible after extensive reading.
My boyhood has marked me, however, The Toronto Sun became famous for the replies at the end of the published letters because no big paper then did it. One day I met a minister who commented that I must have been raised in a Christian home because often the replies I wrote had a Biblical flavour.
As I drove back to the Big Smoke from Joyce's party, I kept thinking how moving it had been to meet people who prayed for my recovery without knowing anything about me.
I was telling about my humbling experience to friends who now live in Warkworth. Connie and Glen Woodcock. Connie is a great columnist and Glen, the Sun's former Associate Editor, has a big band show on Sundays on 91.1 FM and writes knowledgeably about cars.
Both are active in the Anglican church in Campbellford. And after I told them about Listowel, they told me, for the first time, that they had their church pray for me in the Intercessionals which are a nice part of the Anglican service.
I was touched again. Maybe I had survived and then learned to walk again because of forces beyond my understanding and beliefs. After all, deep down where my childhood nestles, I do believe that prayer works,  even if I now wear the crusty facade of a heretic.
Connie said that they had also prayed for Hec Macmillan, for nine years the mayor of Trent Hills (which includes Warkworth and Campbellford.) Macmillan has recovered from a savage bout with esophageal cancer which has transformed his life, his eating ( a noted hand at barbecues who can no longer eat his ribs) and carved his weight in half. And Hec had come to their church to thank them.
So I set off to see Hec at his service station in Campellford which has the cheapest gas in town.
I almost didn't recognize him behind the counter until he spoke to me.
I told him that I was moved by the news that after his recovery, he and his wife, who hadn't been great churchgoers, had attended each of the seven churches in town to give thanks for the prayers. Now that was something I hadn't done.
Hec said that I had got only part of the story from the Woodcocks. The Macmillans had gone to services at every church in his sprawling municipality over the pleasant hills of Northumberland County
Some 27 in all. They had even waited for the little church in the hamlet of Trent Hills to open for the summer months.
And Mayor Macmillan has a story to tell, with some tears. There is a mystical edge to it but then he is entitled since he beat one of the new and growing killers of the murderous cancer world.
He says that he never really believed in anything before until he had tangible proof.  Then came his surgery and the ordeal of intensive care that no survivor ever forgets.
.As he told Pete Fisher, his friend and reporter at the newspaper Northumberland Today,  "I got shown something that I can't explain. I can't prove it, but I can say that nobody will ever convince me that the power of prayer doesn't  exist or that it doesn't work."
The mayor says that he wasn't overly religious before all this but he has always believed in God.  Now his Sundays have been transformed. "I haven't missed a Sunday at church since I got home and I go to a different church every Sunday because there were so many people pulling for me, I don't know how to repay them.
But Hec Macmillan being Hec Macmillan, and the mayor, found a way this spring to honour the churches even though he has always been a believer in the clear division between church and state. He gave his Mayor's Civic Pride Award to all the churches, faiths and congregations of his municipality.
The minister at the Campbellford Baptist Church, Lionel Pye, was pleased at the honour and said it had been a "priviledge" to pray for the mayor. We're delighted that the Lord heard our prayer and answered our prayer.''
Those are the words of my youth, when all I was allowed to do was pray and read the Bible and everything else was the work of the devil. Words I haven't though of for decades.  But they now have a new meaning, thanks to the prayers of strangers.
And I have churches to visit.



If Rob Ford was a lefty driving a rusty Ford, there wouldn't be this fuss.
But Mayor Ford is a righty driving his very own brand new Caddy.
So we have the squealing over him being photographed apparently reading while driving on the Gardiner. Apparently the traffic was actually moving for a change,  the anti-car policies of his opposition, the socialists and gLiberals, not working for one blessed moment.
Let me make observations as someone who has ridden a lot with chauffeur-driven politicians and CEOs because of 50 years of journalism. And I think the drivers are worth their weight in stock options. I've seen the evidence.
Shouldn't we thank the mayor for driving himself in his own car when he was entitled to follow in the tire tracks of many mayors and major politicians in being driven around by a chauffeur and car provided at taxpayers' expense?
Since we don't know just how long he was reading, or what he was reading, he may be guilty only of doing what many of us have. A glance. If you disagree, then you boast that you pull over to the side of the road every time you look at a map or an address. Which is a lot of hooey!
I suspect he was briefly at a speech or some report to refresh his memory. After all, the mayor has many faults but let's not pretend he doesn't pay attention to the traffic around him.
And to dig up an old offence for drinking and driving in Florida strikes me as meaness by sanctimonious citizens and media who believe in not hanging murderers and giving thieves a second chance but not, bigawd, that plump mayor who believes in driving himself to reduce the costs of city administration.
I agree with the law against hand held cell phones. I believe in cops pulling over drivers who are shaving or doing their makeup or are otherwise distracted from the task at hand, not running over me.
So I am not trivializing the incident, but it was an incident and not an accident.
I have fumed behind too many drivers meandering across lanes or driving too slowly not to think that drivers should concentrate on driving, not on any other task. So use cell phones with the hands-free gadgets which are simple and inexpensive and let's not being texting or reading text or generally being a distracted jerk.
But back to the main point, Ford isn't doing us a great favour when he scorns this useful trapping of power, the free car and driver. As I have written before, politicians and bosses with huge responsibilities SHOULD use a car and driver because it makes them more efficient and the public benefits in the long or even the short run. They can read background documents while the rest of us seethe in traffic jams. They can make more visits, just plain do more work.
In the early days of the regional city, the first Metro chairman, Fred Gardiner, had a tiny staff. So he spent every evening being driving around by a secretary/bookkeeper monitoring the vast infrastructure improvements. The same big car used to carry Big Daddy, reporters and anyone who wanted to hitch a ride between our offices in old City Hall and where the Metro meetings were held in an old York county building.
Big Daddy, a nickname from the comics, retired to a job as hydro commissioner where he took a car and driver as his main compensation. We benefited from his enormous knowledge.
Nathan Phillips, the Mayor of All the People, who was mayor of  Toronto longer than anyone except for Art Eggleton, used to have the limousine stop at Avenue Rd. and St. Clair in the morning and ask people at the TTC stop whether they wanted a ride downtown in "their" car.
The four controllers, who along with the mayor formed the council executive, each had a car and driver. That old Board of Control functioned better, as one result, than the current bloated city executive.
Paul Godfrey, who is famous for dealing with calls and problems on the same day, used a car and driver as Metro chairman and newspaper and baseball boss and still talks about just how much more a person can do when they don't have to worry about driving and parking. (His driver, an old school friend, had to be directed by Godfrey in the early years because he didn't know downtown.)
Doug Creighton, the Sun founder, rode up front with his driver/friend and scorned anyone who didn't. Since Doug was a regular on the social scene and spent long hours at work and play, not even the greenest of our reporters questioned how the boss moved around town.
The drivers hardly sit around during long meetings. They are often used as couriers and take over some petty chores for the boss. Their uses are as different as the city streets.. I even remember the time Big Daddy's car and driver delivered a drug addict to hospital after she got the shakes testifying before him at a Metro Licensing Commission meeting.
Ford is hardly the first mayor to have police say he should have a driver. Police demanded that Hazel McCallion get a driver out in Mississauga, thus easing the anxiety of all the people hosting late night events that McCallion loved to attend. She drove the way she avoided conflicts of interest. Not very well!
Ford suffers because he doesn't look mayoral, more like the bully/fat guy in high school who can't get a date. He has the right philosophy towards spending but is awkward, to say the least, at implementation. He just hasn't thought enough issues through.
 I think he too often stumbles from gaffe to mistake, because his wing man, his brother, has the political instincts of a beaver. It should have been obvious to both of them that it would be better for all of us if the mayor was driven by someone. The only people who criticize a major mayor or politician for a car and driver are those who don't know a damn thing about how the real world, and Toronto traffic, works.
May they be doomed to forever live at King and Yonge at 5 p.m. on a hot summer day. Then their objections will melt along with the pavement.
Of course in the end Ford will be given a driver. And this fuss will die down... until he puts his foot in it - or his mouth - again.
There is another good result, according to the quip from a former Ford colleague who wishes to remain anonymous (CNE  president Brian Ashton.) "At least now we know he can read!"