Wednesday, January 23, 2013



"I told you so" must be one of the most galling retorts in an argument.
But I did.
I warned you and warned you (is that enough warnings) that strong mayors don't often make good government. I know that rooted deep in the consciousness of poli sci profs, media gurus, lazy reporters and a few activists is the burning desire to boil each government down to just one person.
This will cut down on their time and costs in lobbying, coverage and criticism because the targets will be just a few persons.
 So what if in Canada there are more than 300 MPPs, hundreds of MPPs, thousands of councillors and gawd knows how many senators and other important patronage post.
If federal, provincial and municipal governent can be reduced to Stephen Harper, the new feminine version of Dalton McGuinty and our very own Rusty Ford, then the watcher doesn't have to figure out the rest of the cast of thousands.
As I have written often, it's wonderful if you get a good leader and terrible if you don't.
I kept bringing that up in one of the key task forces studying overhauling the City Halls of Ontario. I kept repeating the folk wisdom that it's wise never to put all your eggs in one basket. You shouldn't do that with your investing, your future,  and certainly not your politics.
I am addicted to the TV reruns of The West Wing. Read any great political biography like Richard Gwyn's on Sir John A. Work near the top of the power structure of any large company. Wander the back corridors of power. And it as obvious as night follows day. There is no doubt that the leader is the first among equals but he or she holds power not by iron-fisted dictatorship but by keeping enough of the squabbling barons beneath them happy enough to support them so that they can  continue in power.
There are those like councillor Karen Stintz, who took speech lessons which didn't improve her delivery or her thought - or curb her ambition either - which blame City Council's woes on Rob Ford's lack of vision, or programs, or just fill in whatever they're complaining about the mayor these days.
Mike Wilson, with an honourable career behind him including finance minister and our ambassador to the U. S.,  argued with me in the old task force that a mayor should be given the tools to implement their promises during the election campaign.
Wilson is such a calm, decent thoughtful man that I felt when I argued  that I was throwing a rock through a stained glass window by bringing up the fact that corruption and stupidity are hardly unknowns on the mayoral scene in North America and some PR chump building a quiet fortune could do great damage to a civil service and the city even if they could be overruled ultimately by council.
We now have suffered through two "strong" mayors. David Miller used his powers to strut on a world stage while keeping them happy down on the City Hall farm by promoting every socialist solution that has ever suck the money out of taxpayers.
Then came Ford with all the right ideas  (if you are a compassionate conservative) but all the wrong moves in implementation.
It matters not to me whether you liked (or were flummoxed) by Miller , or a Ford Nation zealot willing to put up with clownish nonsense in exchange for real reductions in spending. The reason is that my argument applies to both. Both would have been better mayors and accomplished more if they were not "strong" mayors but the garden variety Canadian mayor which leads cities by honourable compromises and not dictatorship.
The crazier of the Miller Lite schemes,  and the obsession with heavy transit, both would have been sandpapered into better programs. Or they would have died if a consensus did not collect behind them.
There are 44 councillors and one mayor in Toronto. Shouldn't a mayor have to win 23 votes by the logic of the compromises that they broker?  Ensuring that the mayor fill all the major posts, from the chairs running the major committees to the TTC may appear to be a good idea. But that is just slammed on top of their huge PR advantage on every issue that many Torontonians don't have a clue about who does what and thinks the mayor really runs everything. Or should!
A good mayor is like a good symphony conductor, controlling everything about the product.  Success is not individual but a triumph for the orchestra, but only if the orchestra performs as well as the conductor. At Toronto City Hall you have a conductor who isn't doing that well but he certainly isn't rescued by all the malcontents who insist on playing other compositions on top of his score.
And so we all suffer, staggering from court case to crisis to cliff with the mayor and the verbal posturing from too many councillors who are anonymous even to their neighbours.
We have councillors who would be lucky to work on an assembly line who are overpaid to crank out an urban sausage where  the stuffing is petty patronage mixed with guesses and gushes and the skin is guaranteed to give you the runs when it comes to taxes.
This lot wants to rule for four years. We sure suffer in the name of democracy. Perhaps two years less a day would be better, and any resemblance to the usual jail term is intentional. Except the public is the ones who are punished.

Friday, January 18, 2013



Since there seems to be more critics than journalists these days, I write with some trepidation because I'm sure they will find this unethical.
But once upon a time, when the mail was late or went missing, I played Dear Abby.
And no one dared joke about it because I had not yet shrunk from 6' 2" and 300 pounds. I was probably the largest Dear Abby pretender in the known universe.
One of my chores as Assistant Managing Editor at the vanished Tely was to run all the departments except sports while still trying to be a real newsman.
And so it was that I was in the composing room when some ink-stained wretch grumbled he couldn't find a Dear Abby column. So I called upstairs and the secretary who was better at being a national athlete than she was as a secretary said vaguely that we hadn't got any Dear Abbys for a week or so.
There wasn't anyone left in the LifeStyle section, which had been renamed from the Women's department as a slight bow to feminism or something. No one to dash one off. So I did what all young editors do facing a crisis. I improvised myself, and didn't tell a soul at first in case there was some syndicates fine for imitating the writing of one of the most popular features in North American journalism, probably because it was so quick to read
Mary and every woman over the age of 18 have always told me that I know nothing about women, romance, women, love, women, fashion....while you get the drift.
I banged off a Dear Abby where the letter writer seemed slightly deranged but the advice was so convoluted, no harm would be done.
No one said anything the next day. I saw Dear Abby being read in the newsroom by the usual suspects who pretend they never glance at such folderol.
So I played Dear Abby for a week until we got hold of the U.S. syndicate and found some kid newcomer was sending our stuff to the Telegram in England. I was almost disappointed when the new material arrived. I had asked Mary for advice but she thought the idea that I would be writing about love was so nuts, she wanted nothing to do with it.
I always liked Abby, who just died, rather than the Ann Landers advice from her feuding twin sister,.
A couple of weeks later,  when I was trying to survive in the composing room without touching too much type and causing a labour walkout, a comp said there was no bridge column and why did he have to keep track of regular features like that when the muckety-mucks upstairs got paid a lot more to play editor.
He plainly expected me to produce one as quickly as a Dear Abby. I bowed out, saying Mary thought that my bridge playing was even worse than any views I had on love. Besides, I had learned from phone calls that one tiny mistake in the bridge column or a crossword would bring down the wrath of readers on my head. Grappling with the eternal mysteries of love was a lot safer.



My mother died in 1941. But her name will live again in this Boston Marathon as my son John Henry runs on April 15 with the Leukemia Society team to raise money for research into the disease that killed her.
She was called Stoffelina Janna Maria in her native Holland but when the Hoogstads immigrated, Chesley classmates renamed her Lena because she should have a "Canadian" name.
I dig out such details from faded scraps because now there is no one who knew my parents. I  struggle to know a past that isn't even a nostalgic blur.
 When your father dies when you're two and your mother when you're five, there's nothing inside me on the days that  honour fathers and mothers. I read the warm columns from fellow journalists but it's all just bitter sweet abstractions.
I write this sitting in an oak swivel chair that Dad bought in 1912 when he became a family doctor in what was called Toronto East, the city east of Yonge. He had taught to put himself through medicine at Western, then continued as a school inspector.
 But London Life offered him enough insurance work to keep him afloat because doctors then didn't get paid most of the time.  For 50 years, Dr. John Downing, and then his brother Lou,  sat in this chair and dispensed their medicine and talked gently about death and life and babies and everything-is-fine-stop-worrying.
The chair is my largest memento. The smallest is a Bible, with a zipper that jammed  soon after my mother cried and gave it to me on her death bed. "To Johnnie my big Son Use it and learn to love it is my wish Mother,"  she wrote inside, and underlined in shaky pen. Mom loved the Bible, as every Toronto Bible College graduate did in the days before even Jesus' divinity was a theological debate.  I know the Bible thanks to chapters after each meal in the dour Baptist home of her parents. Apart from the King James word music in Psalms, I have never learned  "to love it."
I  wonder about May-September romances, mothers having babies much later. and adoptions by older parents, especially celebrities, whether they've thought about what those children will face when their family is shredded early by death.  After all, my sisters and I starred in a May-November affair which reads like a Harlequin hospital romances. So Joyce, Joanne and I know the struggles to survive without a  family safety net..
They married in 1930, proof that love can blind you to opposites.  Dad was 61, a big rich confident widower. And my mother was 25, small--town quiet, planning to be a missionary like her sister. Then, he says, she "saved"  his life as his nurse by keeping him alive after he nicked himself with a scalpel and developed blood poisoning, then gangrene. This was before drugs like penicillin. Dad refused to have the arm amputated, saying he wouldn't then be much good in operations..
Dad never got full use back but his brother came from Saskatchewan to help. After  all, Dad had paid for him to go to medical school. Dad still made house calls. taking neighbourhood kids along in the big Caddy, his black bag stuffed with candy too, with stops for ice cream. Now he also had time to return to his love of education. He was acclaimed as trustee and became Toronto school board chairman. He was to be the next MP., a familiar face in Toronto and federal politics. My memories here came courtesy of PMs like John Diefenbaker, finance ministers like Donald Fleming,  mayors like Bill Dennison, and judges like S. Tupper Bigelow.
They told about their male joshing of Dad when he had three children with such a young Baptist wife.
Eventually the differences between worldly and humble would scar us kids.  Dad was vaguely United but loved instead to fish with his father-in-law, who was nine years younger. Dad took beer, my grandfather milk. He was jockey-sized, a quiet furniture finisher and deacon who hated smoking and drinking after he was "born again" while working in the Bols distillery in Rotterdam.
Dad loved kids. Once there had been a baby boy who died nameless and is buried in St. John's Norway.  Dad yearned for a son to carry his name. They must have had long talks.  After all, everyone just hoped to to live for the Biblical promise of three score years and ten.  So Dad would be gone before we were teenagers. But not having a family was unthinkable, especially when big families were the norm.. It's hard to tell from the blurred overlapping listings in the Downing Bible but Dad's family in Cornwall in the 1860s had 10 survivors by two wives. Deaths were so common, names were recycled. Mom was one of nine daughters, only five of whom survived. Her sisters had eight, nine and 11 children. So they had kids because Mom would be here to raise them.
(Decades after this decision, medical researchers said it wasn't just women who should worry about  problems for the baby if birth came later in life. There was a "paternal age effect" where the quantity and quality of sperm diminishes with age and the chances of genetic abnormalities increases. Even if Dad was aware of this research which was just beginning, he would point out the advantages for his children in a loving and prosperous home.)
The Hungry Thirties were not that for us. Dad's professional and political lives flourished. He owned big houses, big cars, the farm he bought for his parents, and a Wasaga cottage. If they wanted to visit Holland, there was a maid and nurse to babysit.
Then came the flu epidemics that bookend wars. Dad survived the Spanish flu that wasted the world in 1919 and almost killed his brother Lou, leaving him so broken he had to live in a Vancouver hotel for months to recover. But Dad was not so lucky in 1939 when an epidemic exhausted him but he still made  house calls. When he died, it was Page 1 news and the schools closed for the funeral. And my mother was left with three children, suspicious of any help. She was ill already with what was called blood cancer. When she died in 1941, my Dutch grandparents "rescued" us from the prosperous but godless relatives in a city where they still felt foreign and took us to live near Owen Sound.. There was a trust fund but the official Guardian of Ontario, which was supposed to guard us,  was costly and later found several times to be corrupt. So most of "our" money went to support my aunt, a missionary in Nigeria.   We grew almost all our food and clothes were so patched, they didn't even make good dusters later.. We paid board to our relatives until we moved out.
That was our beginnings with more grit than glory. Now the future is my oldest son is 50, and the grandmother he never knew died when she was only 35. He will honour her in a way never  dreamed of in her time. No charity marathons or United Appeals, in fact,  there were many who didn't approve of welfare.  Charity was personal. With the Downing doctors,  a family got help even if they couldn't pay. Some times they gave a chicken or vegetables from the backyard,. The bootlegger from our corner of Gerard and Greenwood paid Dad with a bottle from the basement or candy from the store.
 John Henry learned about charity walks and swims and marathons on Toronto streets with me as a slow inspiration. Now I'm no runner. Finished third in high school in the one-mile run, but there may only have been three runners because it was a small school.  But I can (could) hike. The granddaddy of charity walks  is Miles for Millions, which started at 32.8 miles in 1967 and then was shortened, thank heavens, and I say that as someone who walked every blistered foot.. After one walk of 27 miles, John Henry and his brother Brett were unable to move enough to deliver the Sunday Suns. So they laid in the back of the station wagon and gave me directions. I hobbled up the drives instead. "Good heavens," a neighbour said, "not only do you write it, you deliver it."
Then there were six Variety Villager Bike-A-Thons on a plain bike made, like most Canadian bikes then, in CCM's Lawrence Ave. factory. Toronto was bike-maker for the world, not just Canada. The first bike was stolen the first night.  It wasn't as light and trim as the $1,124 bike he now rides for 100 mile Tours near his California home.
He swims well enough to have been a lifeguard supervising municipal pools and an examiner of would-be guards. He was a water polo goalie at University of Toronto as he became a chemical engineer with a MBA before going on to Harvard and becoming another bitter loss for me in the brain drain to the U.S.
He ran his first marathon in Orange County in 2007,  and hasn't stopped cycling, spinning, swimming and running since in everything from century rides, triathlons, Ironman and half and full marathons.  In the last four years, it has been 315.6 miles swimming, 1,307 miles running, 900 miles walking, 5,555 miles spinning, and 5,565 miles on his road bike.  That is the equivalent of just over 97 Ironmans, that torturous 140.6 mile event that is composed of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and the 26.2 marathon run.
They are ordeals, as he proved in a Full Vineman. He broke a big toe, wrenched his back and scraped  hands and knee when he caught a spike after preparing his bike the day before at the course. Still, he swam the 2.4 miles in 87 minutes, did the 112-mile bike ride in seven hours and 44 minutes even though he could barely wear his $259 shoes, and then fast hobbled the 26 miles of the marathon, finishing in just under 16 hours, 40 minutes under the time limit. About 15% of the runners were behind him.
These arduous events can be expensive as well as tortuous with even modest special gear costing more than $2,400. Running is the cheapest part, at $100 for shoes that he changes every 300 miles.  But to run in the Boston Marathon, he has hotel and flight expenses and will pay $5,000 if he can't get enough donations for the team, a "bib" fee double what some events charged in Canada to discourage fraud by ringers as runners. His donation info can be found here.
 I cried after John Henry Downing III phoned about the race. After all, there was such bitter confusion after Mom died that her name wasn't even carved for 15 years on the stone besides Dad's name and that of his first wife in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
But now her name will live again 72 years later in an iconic race..

Wednesday, January 16, 2013



I might as well have been in a Tim Hortons rather than the TTC. Non-stop sucking up food and coffee in every direction.
So I filled the time to Yonge on the Bloor subway by contemplating modern mysteries. Why exactly does the subway lose money when so often it is so crowded with customers it's cattle-car conditions? Which neatly fits with the other mystery.Why do so many people eat on the run, grazing as if they were out to pasture?
I understand being rushed for time. But I think it's become a habit, to charge into work with a gallon of something held before you like the prow of a ship.
I rather like sitting and stretching and having a tea or a hot chocolate, not the evil stuff called coffee which I stopped drinking as a kid reporter because  I found that after all nighters covering murders and major stories, I had poisoned myself.
So I have had about two polite cups in the last four decades and figure I will live longer because coffee probably will turn out to be cancerous (along with just about everything else.)
They used to be called coffee breaks. A pause to recharge. Drinking and eating on the run ruins the break from routine, unless you are so frantic to inhale something, you are willing to forget about anything to do with taste.
And it seems too many people are. At coffee breaks in the office, in the tsunami of customers chanting double double as they roll over a Tims, in the crowd loading up at the snack bar before the movie, clustering around the street food trucks,  in the mobs of teenagers descending on food joints after school, it seems that the famous old warning of every mom about not eating between meals is now considered as outdated as a wringer washer.
On my latest jaunt through the transit foodies, I got off at Davisville, the TTC's home station, and noticed that the escalator was broken, which filled me with glee because now TTC brass had to labour up stairs like the rest of us in a system which can run buses better than escalators.
My destination was my opthamologist who peers into my eyes every year to see if anything is sticking there from medications.  A fine fellow with a deft touch with whiny kids. He graduated from a famous university but will continue to be anonymous because I want to slag his patients.
His door has signs on both sides asking people not to truck in snow and rain and food and drink. He's done it for years. I kidded him about the sign asking parents not to feed babies just before he examines them. I said there was probably no medical reason, he just didn't want them barfing on him.
He conceded there was some truth to that because one of the reason he became an opthamologist was he didn't much like vomit. But he added there could be complications from asphyxiation.
I waited in mid-exam for my pupils to dilate from his drops, Plenty of time to observe the fat mother pouring juice and an entire bowl of some white mush into her tot. Right under the signs banning food and drink, especially for young squirming patients.
Beside me a formidable lady was trying to settle an hysterical boy of around 11 who acted as if the doctor was about to pluck his eyes.  When she whittled his whining to a dull roar, she extricated a large hamburger from a suitcase-sized purse and chomped away. The doctor spotted this when he emerged from his sanctum and called her a nice criminal in a friendly way. Why didn't she eat that out in the hall where the giant strollers were parked, also in response to a sign banning them inside, which I wish would hang in every public location, strollers now taking up the space of small battle tanks.
This very large lady proceeded to eat enthusiastically out in the hall, but she was allowed to watch her cranky son through the open door. It was 10.30 a.m. She was hardly missing a meal.
Activity subsided a bit, and then a modern dad with a baby in a carrier showed up and to keep the cute infant quiet, proceeded to feed him from a variety of plastic bags stashed in his manpurse.
You can't start them too young, apparently.
The doctor told me he had a couple of large immigrants, perhaps from some part of the ruined Soviet empire, who marched in one winter day, ignoring the mat for the boots outside, and spread moisture far and wide.  He ordered their boots outside, pointing to his sign. The main mom scowled and yelled in rebellion. He insisted. She persisted. Then he lowered the boom. No exam unless....
 Wish I had been there to watch that, because they probably had a kielbasa or two in their pocket, and maybe some vodka, and that's a great way to pass the time as your pupils dilate. But I'm now traitor to my thesis that 24-hour-consumption everywhere has become rude.
I survived my exam, to some relief. And so to home, as Pepys and the other diarists used to say. I was gratified to see the escalator was still broken under the TTC headquarters. I was still wondering why a system that carries nearly half a billion people a year and is always jammed except at, maybe, at 1.34 a.m., can't be a money-maker. Must be those union contracts.
Maybe we should get more revenue by taxing the munchers like that guy in the subway car corner who appears to be eating a large TV dinner, the debris sifting down around his feet.

Sunday, January 13, 2013



I used to hitchhike a lot. So did many people. And they still do in countries like Cuba. There's a new way of officially promoting hitchhiking called slugging. I wonder if slugging may not be a useful no-cost solution to gridlock.
I talked about the joys of hitchhiking, but it wasn't until I read a story out of Calgary in the National Post that I realized that hitchhiking may flourish again in Canada.
The new planning chief in Calgary thinks it would be a good idea to set up assembly areas near High Occupancy Vehicles lanes. People would wait there and any lone driver who wants to use the HOV lanes which are banned unless he has passengers would pick them up.
Apparently there are other names for slugging, such as casual carpooling, dynamic ride sharing and spontaneous carpooling but I like slugging because it doesn't have a bureaucratic taste.
Rollin Stanley used  to work in traffic in Toronto, although I don't recall him promoting that idea here, and then worked in the States in such cities as Washington where he says 25,000 commuters now use this informal system that began with the city's HOV lanes. There is even a guide to slugging etiquette.
You know, no loud talking on cell phones, asking the driver to change the music, grilling of other riders.
The main drawback is danger from a driver who feels he has a captive victim. Stanley argues there's safety in numbers. If there are several people in a car, 99% of the danger is dissipated. It's just as safe as transit where drunks, crazies and rowdies are not usual.
This is more a job for public awareness than it is for the bureaucracy. After all, the city can't start marking waiting areas because then the officials and pols will want to have permit stickers etc after a long and expensive study by consultants which will tell the pols exactly what they want to hear.
I see from surfing the Internet that both the technique and the name of slugging has been around in various cities for several decades. I confess that despite my omnivorous reading in transportation issues of all kinds, this was all new to me. And obviously to this City Hall although it may have been proposed by some radical during some long and tedious debates on traffic where the left specialize in trying to screw the motorist.
But if Torontonians became accustomed to a car pulling up to a corner on some suburban street and the driver offering a ride to SEVERAL people waiting and waiting and waiting for the bus, slugging may become a tiny help in moving hundreds of thousands of people daily.
You may actually meet some nice people.

Friday, January 11, 2013



So another plagiarist bites the resignation dust because he was one of a motley crew who don't have the smarts to do what real writers know in their gut that they have to do. Attribute!
The top official of the biggest school board in the country somehow never learned during his stellar career that it's okay to quote others but you have to name them too. That's the proper thing to do. But this word pirate posing as an educator pretended all the stories and sentences were his.
 Good riddance to sneaky copycats. It is so easy to do what all good writers do, to use the words of others as building blocks for our creations of language, and to say who we're quoting.
After all, there are so many clever thoughts and phrases flooding our history and literature and public life that anyone who boasts they have uttered something original has wandered into a swamp.
I have not come to praise plagiarists but to bury them. (Yes,  I'm cribbing Shakespeare.) Yet there have been famous speeches which are a web of thoughts stolen from the greats who have gone before. It's not always as black and white as print on a clean page.
Remember the quip that plagiarism is stealing from one source, scholarship is stealing from many. That has been said so many times, there are probably an army of people pretending they said it first.
When is it research and when is it stealing when you examine some ringing statement and find it is a blend of thoughts? Take one of the most famous quotes in addresses by U.S. presidents, what John Kennedy said in his inaugural. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Great!  But over the years, revelations showed that more than just JFK had a hand in fashioning that inspiration.
JFK's speech writer and friend was Ted Sorenson. Just before he died, he spoke at the University Club. I tried to get to him afterwards but he was slow and blinded by age and the circles of admirers made it too difficult.
What I wanted to ask was how those lines were formed. There is a book that says that Kennedy had a headmaster who said them so often in class, students used to roll their eyes. We also know that Warren Harding almost 50 years before in a presidential address gave a ponderous version. We also know that  2,000 years before that, Decimus Junius Junenval laid out this challenge to citizens in a speech to the Roman Senate.
Kennedy cared about words. He worked endlessly on the speech, getting input from many, such as Adlai Stevenson and the famous Canadian export, J. Kenneth Galbraith. And of course it was stitched together finally by Sorenson, a formidable wordsmith.
It certainly would have slowed the wonderful cadence if JFK had credited his old teacher or a Roman statesman but he didn't. It is interesting to speculate a half-century later, in the age of Google and cell phones that give you instant access to the vast world of words, whether that quote would have so memorable if it had been delivered in this era of inevitable paper cuts from critics and nerds who are incapable of soaring language but are quick to play Sherlock Holmes on message theft
I  confess that I once plagiarized. I was in the middle of the nightly ordeal of writing my daily column when my mother-in-law phoned to say she was having a heart attack. I sped to the rescue but found it was indigestion. I returned frazzled to the Sun. I agonized and then it all flowed. I was rather proud, until months later when I was in the library and found I had written almost the identical column five years before.
What has always puzzled me is that so many accused plagiarists are also good writers. They are informed and thoughtful. Dick Beddoes, a Globe sports writer, once copied an entire column on boxing from a sports anthology and was caught by Doug Fisher, the famous political columnist who also was a sports historian of note. Yet Beddoes was a feisty communicator who could raise your ire with his fire when he zeroed in on some bum as a player.
It gets more complicated in newspapers because in the business of writing history in a hurry, editors often confront scoops in the opposition and have to decide immediately whether to "scalp," which is to rewrite the other paper's story, or to try to match and improve, or just ignore.
I was rewrite chief with four reporters working for me at the old Tely. We took dictation, fattened wire service stories, cleaned up the copy of our colleagues, chased stories by phone and had this major chore of scalping. You would only have an hour or so to try to confirm the story and get a new angle. It wouldn't be unusual not to find out anything,  and then it would be up to the main editors whether they would run a rewrite.
One Saturday after I got promoted, the Star had a major scoop on the FLQ crisis and I decided as the editor in charge of the Telegram that day not to scalp the headline story because our reporter in Montreal had no idea whether it was true or an invention.  On Monday, the brass decided frostily that I had done the ethical thing, but one that had cost in street sales.
Media commentators who really haven't laboured long in the trenches may scoff at this but plagiarism in news story is not considered by the brass as improper as in the articles and columns that can be composed far more leisurely.  That is why it is so serious when pundits are accused, and that just happened in the Globe with Margaret Wente, a good columnist, and with the guest article in the Star that brought down Chris Spence from the school system. It is so serious that columnists are suspended, humiliated by public apologies from their bosses, or even fired. There is a blot against your reputation that colleagues never forget. One respected journalist who had worked at the Sun before the Star committed suicide when he was accused.
I am not bothering to deal with radio and TV news department routinely ripping articles out of the Toronto newspapers and then regurgitating or going out with clipping in hand to remind reporters of what questions to ask when they shove a mike in a face.
My published output is probably 10 million words when you add together 6,000 columns, 3,000 editorials, many magazine articles and four books. Then there were hundreds of radio and TV commentaries. So I was as busy as some of these media personalities who have cut corners or researched carelessly and decide to save time but still impress readers through plagiarism.  But Ted Schrader, a great journalism prof at Ryerson, had drilled into us the fundamentals of journalism. I can't recall any lecture from him on plagiarism because it was the opposite of everything he stoof for, but then, we don't give lectures against murder.
We were taught  to construct our stories from the arguments, observations and facts of others and to be meticulous when you described whom they were. You were told not to fly solo with your own  thoughts until you had something to say because of experience.
What baffles me about Spence, the resigned school czar who had hordes of admirers, is that when he read the cute story about the girl saying she was drawing God, why he didn't just repeat the story, and give the source, without pretending it happened to his son. It's still a good story, one reason the real author has told it so often.
Obviously stealing from others had become a way of life, from thesis to speeches to guest editorials.
It all comes down to your basic approach, remembering that much of what we say is triggered by the thoughts of others. I have used what I think is an insightful saying and if I can't remember who said it, or dig it out of a small library of quotations that most writers have, I just say "as someone has said..."
 I love to tell stories - some friends claimed I'm in my anecdotage - but I never pretend they happened to me or my family when they didn't. They're still interesting. As for jokes, when you read any big book on jokes, you conclude that every punch line has already been used and it's daft to pretend that you made the joke up.
There are commentators and politicians who have become famous just because they can take all the speeches and reports on a major issue and distil them into capsules of thoughts. I remember Phil Givens, a Toronto mayor who could shoot from the lip with the best of them (a line borrowed from many) who rose from alderman because he could summarize hours of debate in a few clear sentences. So when reporters were skipping through their notes, they always quoted Phil because that saved them from having to quote most of the others.
This is where plagiarism hides under a cloak because there is no doubt that the speaker or writer is repeating the thoughts of others as well as their own. But the thefts that are so revolting are when the  plagiarists are so busy making money or are so dumb or intellectually lazy that they don't even try to compose their own anecdotes or descriptions.  That is fraud
I end with this caveat. I have not read recently any columns on plagiarism. Any resemblance to arguments by people much brighter than me is purely coincidential. No writers or books have been mined in the preparation of this piece.
And no animals were harmed either.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013



It has been overlooked in the hurly burly of media history but the Toronto Sun was fortunate to have chairs of its board of directors in early decades which helped enormously as the Little Paper That Grew became a voice that couldn't be scorned.
John S. Grant, who just died, gave a gentlemanly touch to the upstart newspaper that could be the despair of even its friends.
The first chair had been Edward Dunlop, a courtly leader from Rosedale who had proved his guts by falling on a grenade dropped by a soldier in a second world war training exercise and was blinded.
Grant was followed by Lionel Schipper, also an agreeable presence at our functions who managed always to ignore at least one embarrassing incident, the Sun being the Sun.
The heart and soul of the newspaper was, of course, the founding publisher, Doug Creighton. The first Editor, Peter Worthington, was the fire and brimstone of the Sun's viewing with alarm all the stupid pols and scoundrels of the world. And above them, sort of, was the board, led by those elegant chairs, who must have occasionally had a bad case of hearburn when their friends wondered wotinhell the Sun was up to now.
What I liked about these chairs is they actually read the editorial and the main columns, something that I'm not even sure my family did.
 I recall Dunlop, who had the paper read to him by his lovely wife Dorrie, complaining mildly to Creighton when one day the editorial, my column, and my regular commentary on CBC radio were all similar attacks by me on the same target. I grumbled that I didn't know our chair also listened so carefully to the CBC and one had to cut corners when Worthington was off saving the world and I had to do his job as well.
Grant was the first person to congratulate me on my editorial the day after I was appointed Editor and I managed not to tell  him that it was hardly my first one. The chairmen paid close attention but not even they realized how many tasks each of us were expected to perform back when the entire editorial staff could meet in a small bar. And often tried to.
For those conspiratorial critics of the media who visualize powerful millionaires dictating a paper's approach to every issue, the Sun was a galling exception. The Sun was born thanks to the backing of city developers tired of being bashed for even reasonable projects. But Dunlop, who had been a provincial cabinet minister, brought an Establishment shield to the fight, and Creighton and Worthington were too proud and adroit to be be kept in anyone's pocket. So the enemies who wanted to dismiss us as a tabloid/shopper tool of contractors never got traction.
In fact, the Sun was so independent that one prominent developer took me for a steam and some whiskey to grumble about some of our stances and when I mentioned this to Creighton, he got annoyed, saying the developer had nothing to do with the paper. But he did, I pointed out,  he had his lawyer there as his silent proxy.
Grant was a refined personable host even when one of our columnists had just bashed away at some public company for which he was the lawyer. Dunlop also managed not to complain when we kept proving we were a conservative newspaper by bashing policies of his former colleague, Bill Davis, a scarlet Tory. Schipper was important to the building of a domed stadium because he headed a committee looking at the best sites. He never said a word to me as I cheerfully lambasted the project every chance I got, although Creighton suggested it might be best if I saved my rhetoric for my column, not the editorial.
Creighton made the Toronto newspaper world wildly jealous by having annual directors' seminars in lovely or intriguing corners of the world and would invited several staffers from all levels to dine and drink with the bosses. It would be here that Grant would demonstrate to joggers that he was a Master runner competing in national and international races. Schipper also was much fitter than most Sun staffers who would say snidely that he must be fibbing about his age in the company biogs.
In the newspaper business, where your image can be a life preserver or a killer, John S. Grant and his colleagues were shields when they could have been chinks in our armour.

Monday, January 7, 2013



So now the great royal party is over as 2012 disappears in the rear view mirror and 2013 is so upon us, most of us are now dating our cheques correctly. (Despite what computer geeks tell us, you can't pay all bills on the Internet.)
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee was an incredible success, from the great pageantry and good will  on the Thames to the giddy heights that the Queen enjoys in popularity polls. Any discussion about whether we should have British royalty as the supposed head of our country has been washed away in the last decades of her reign. Even Prince Philip doesn't seem quite so bumptious. Anti-royalists are content to hold their fire until the Queen is gone.
One way Canada celebrated was the awarding of a medal in her honour. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal. And how Canadians reacted when they were awarded one, or celebrities and dubious scofflaws got them, says a lot.
The pop sensation, Justin Bieber, got one from the PM, partially as pay, I guess, for half-time at the Grey Cup. And some people didn't like that. There were tarnished recipients like the two women who keep attacking abortion clinics. And a lot more people didn't like that.
Ordinarily you could count me with the opposition, but since I got the Queen's Jubilee Medal too, I think it is a petty meaness to criticize fellow recipients. I have always believed that how a person receives an honour or an award says a lot about the person. Effusive "I don't deserve this" turns me off as much as the swaggering egotist who says it's about time.
But let's forget about tolerance when we survey one of the more irritating recipients, Allan Fotheringham, who is great as both a writer and a self-promoter. Foth got one via Art Eggleton, the senator and former Toronto mayor, and then preened about it in the Sun and Macleans, both publications for which he once laboured and pissed off his colleagues.
Foth even played games in public. He sat smirking in the middle of a reception after a Donner lecture with this and the previous royal medal pinned to his suit. A vanilla ice cream suit. Under a light. Working to be the centre of attention even though as one of the veteran stars of  Canada media, it really isn't necessary.
I saw Eggs at a dinner and chastised him for being the conduit for getting an award for a professional anti-royalist. After all, Foth is the guy who would make sure he was close to the Queen at a garden party and then rush to his terminal to let readers know that not only had he partied with the Queen (a huge crowd was also in attendance) he didn't much like her being Queen of Canada. Eggs reacted to me as if it had all been a huge joke, but then maybe I'm judging incorrectly for the first time after 44 years of knowing him.
Foth got his at a presentation ceremony, and wrote about it.  Peter Worthington, who got his in the mail, didn't write about it until Foth pranced into his sights and then did his normal delicious ironical doubletake on Foth talking about all the royal functions he had been at even as he scorned the whole business.
As Worthington pointed out, he also had been at many royal parties but didn't specialize in saying so just to shoot them down. I agreed with that as a writer who has also been at a lot of royal functions and only written about them a comparative few times. (I must confess, however, to have written several times about giving the Queen a tip on a longshot in the Queen's Plate (it ran last) and a few times about what the Duke told me (after deleting the racier language.)
The media are never shy about puffing up their stars when they get such an honour. And that's the way it should be. So the Toronto Sun was delighted in print when Chris Blizzard received the Jubilee award. Chris has long been a knowledgeable political columnist and Sun stalwart, so she certainly deserved it, not only for her many years of journalism but also for all her volunteer work, particularly in the Anglican church. I was tempted to write that she got it as one of the most ardent fans of the Brit TV series Coronation Street that I know, but I knew Chris would scorn me for an inept attempt at humour.
A lot of these medals were handed out. And whenever I got cynical about the number, I would get more heart-warming proof that receiving an honour in the Queen's name is always appreciated.
An e-mail would come from Joy Garrick in Kingston that Dave got one for all the decades of volunteer work in Toronto. Or at our annual New Year's Eve dinner Paul Corey proudly announced that his wife Mary got one for her Sick Kids research.  Bob Bundy told me over a fine lunch at the Hunt Club that he and wife Trudy and their daughter had all got the medal for charity work.
Good for all the recipients, although I'm not sure about the singer or the abortion zealots or Dr. Foth. Now I'm looking forward to what happens on the 70th. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013



I know, I know, there will already be people grasping for poison language. After all,  I dared to use "freeloaders" in a criticism of the dereliction in basic duty by our police, courts and pols in dealing with the minority in our native minority.
 They want to continue a fat life, or a criminal life, or a rich activist life, by PR stunts, blockades and propaganda campaigns so distorted that they should be used in journalism classes as examples of what to look for in media misuse.
If you remove the "halo" effect in polling, which means that too many people tell pollsters what they think makes them look good, an overwhelming majority of Canadians are furious with our "authorities"  being pushed around by a few natives.
In fact, I suspect there are many native Canadians too who are furious with the incredible fortunes in taxes that are being skimmed off by some native leaders while too many natives live in awful conditions.
The real outrage is why so many of us allow ourselves to be muzzled and gagged by some native supporters and activists, many masked illegally, who use threats and clubs and blockades to get their way.
I'm a big boy when it comes to being condemned for what I write but the gang of supporters of supposed native rights, from land occupation to harmful fishing, makes every commentator in North America think twice, or three times, when it comes to criticism.
So fiery nonsense routinely pours out against our premiers, our prime minister and the U.S. president, calling them crooks and jerks and whatever diseased epithet that those of diminished IQ can find in comic books, but just trying saying anything critical about the flamethrowers in the native movement and you will find calls for your head.
Maybe literally!
One of the times I was taken to the Ontario Press Council over columns I had written, or columns I had allowed to be published, that were critical of the native "situation," the complainant turned out to be a woman living at U of T who had a painful stutter and the Achilles' heel that she knew no natives and had never visited a reserve.
The complaint was directed at Matthew Fisher who had visited half the reserves in the country, around 300 or so, while working for the Globe and Sun.  The council, which didn't much like the Sun, ruled in my favour because the complainant basically just thought we always should talk "nice about the Indians."
The dean of  Canadian political commentators was Doug Fisher, who just happened to be Matthew's father and a former  MP for a riding with many reserves. Fisher used his intricate knowledge of government to add together the incredible sums being spent by the federal government on natives. It started around $12,000 per native per year in cash before you got into the freedom from income tax and sales tax, and then there is the aid packages, free land, special scholarships  and other concessions that also cme from provincial governments. And it's far higher now!
Yes, you guessed it. Someone complained to the press council about Doug Fisher and me but the council, which already had a taste of the Fishers' formidable knowledge which led both to despair about how politicians and police deal with natives, decided not to do battle again.
I wrote about natives barricading Highway 45 with a bonfire for weeks and the chief at Alderwood  threatened to take me to the court or press council. She demanded in a letter to the editor that I be fired, not realizing she was asking me to fire myself. Not a great thinker. I drive through that reserve a hundred times or so a year and the next time I had to make a silly detour I decided to vent my anger by shouting at the demonstrators and the police. There were threats I might be arrested, not for burning a hole in a public highway but because I had been indignant. You know the area in question because of all the stores selling native cigarettes there, an industry so rich, the multimillionaires who run it are happy to subsidize any native willing to block even a sidewalk as a distraction from their gush of gold.
I was at a function talking to a high-ranking OPP officer about how irritated the public was with lax policing at demonstrations and obstructionism and how happy I was that Julian Fantino had a tougher stance as the new OPP commissioner. "We have to do something about that," he said. And they did. The Fantino before Caledon and the Fantino during were as different as sunny day with gloomy night. Outrage followed outrage. Ordinary citizens were trampled while cops stood by. And Christie Blatchford's great book about that boil on the police nose showed it in such detail, that the friend who gave me the book had to read it in bits because it infuriated him. I had to put it down for a week before finishing it.
I think it is significant that any major story about Canadian reserves, even if it is wrapped in cotton batten by the CBC or Star, reveals that native incompetence, if not corruption, is greater than any federal failures. The federal money being skimmed off by a few is staggering.
I can remember criticizing David Crombie, then and now my friend, for championing a huge expansion in the number of natives and Metis entitled to benefits while he was Secretary of State in Ottawa.
Crombie was holding forth at a government presentation at the Park Plaza when I entered. Crombie said: "Downing just came in, and he's been critical about what I have done for the natives. I don't think he knows one."
But I did.
 My first newspaper job in the Yukon had a reserve right in Whitehorse where the waste of government aid was legendary. My publisher urged me to write about it. He never had because he wanted to live there for awhile, and with Indians (what they were called then) living all around us, he didn't want to get any mad at the Whitehorse Star, the only newspaper in the territory.
 I hired a native who had lost in a provincial election to improve how the CNE dealt with minorities but it didn't work out. He was a favourite of the Bill Davis' Tories but was too sensible for native leadership to tolerate for long. (The Ex decided later to become a supporter of natives with special ceremonies, and invited a major chief to speak at the opening. He began by welcoming us to his land. I whispered to another former CNE president that we were sitting on landfill. There was also a native claim on Toronto Island, most of which was scraped from the harbour bottom.)
A nice Sun reporter persuaded me to employ a failed native journalist who was bedevilled by drink. It was the worst failure of my career. He never produced anything but expense accounts and phoney excuses for not showing up for weeks. Unfortunately, I discovered, not an isolated incident.
 I paid a neighbour for a new cottage roof and discovered too late that the reason it was a good price is that he had used his girlfriend's treaty card to buy everything cheaper and with no taxes.
The talk over cold beers on the cottage dock, the conversations at the swim-up bars in the Caribbean, the griping over coffee in the cafeteria, often turns to how most of us think natives are getting away with financial murder.
The hunters and fishermen I know, some of whom gather to curse the natives fishing for pickerel while they are still spawning, become apoplectic at the suggestion that somehow natives have a better grasp of nature than the rest of us. Maybe a century ago, before the white man was so good at hunting and fishing regs that there are now more bear and deer in Southern Ontario than in 1900. Whether it comes to the Trent or Georgian Bay or B.C. rivers, I know of no biologist who approves of when the natives fish or the catch they keep.
This is almost trivial compared to some native claims for land in the Yukon or Newfoundland or Southern Ontario where there is no evidence that they ever lived or even hunted.
But why continue. This will go on and on until there is an uprising by Canadians, from barricades and sit-ins to demonstrations, against the pols and cops who favour a few of us. The problem is, too many of us are busy earning a living so we aren't free to block tracks or highways or bridges because we are funded by government aid and the smuggling of cigarettes and booze.
If native protest isn't a billion-dollar industry, it is in the hundred of millions. And we are the ones who pay and pay and are told to turn the other cheek so it can be slapped.