Friday, March 29, 2013


                                   WE NEED MORE ITEM BLOGGERS

During those days when I felt like a caffeinated hamster running in a wheel - having to find six columns a week can do that for you - I  got a memo from Doug Creighton, the amiable but tough critic of every last bit of writing in his Toronto Sun.
"Liked your column today. It would be great if you wrote more item columns," he said.
I fought with Creighton regularly in his role as founding publisher of the Sun and indeed the whole Sun chain. Even when we were drinking. But I didn't respond to this hint because I knew he was right. And I also knew, as any columnist does who has to dance naked daily before the readers, that there would be few item columns from me, also called three-dot columns because of the usual typographical device to separate the  paras, because any daily columnist who figures they can stretch an item to a full column isn't going to waste the opportunity.
After all, tomorrow beckons with skeletal fingers.
Most columnists know they stretch and repeat, and it's better to shoot as if the targets are political clay pigeons. But except for the entertainment department's recycling of press releases and movie guff,  and the humorous bits cobbled together by Page 6 performers like Dunford in his glory, few do it. Look inside the item sports columns and you see that some items are serialized
You may have only one jab or nice turn of phrase on the subject. Still, you still stretch it out.  Like too many news stories. My job used to be to do "follows" on the final edition so big stories would have a fresh angle for the next day's paper.  I certainly learned from experience that most  stories are 95% old stuff and, if you're lucky, a provocative icing on top of the old fruit cake.
If only more bloggers acted more sensibly than to give us repetitive harangues.
If only the Star didn't use every opportunity when Mayor Ford steps into another cow flap to recite everything he has ever done wrong, from an ancient drunk driving conviction to, perhaps, cheating in the sand box.
Before I take potshots, for a change. let me get into the Star vs. Ford and drinking and appearing spaced out or whateverinhell is his latest boo boo is supposed to be.
I am sensitive on the subject of booze accusations, not because it is so common in the news business but because I once overheard the whisper that one reason the Toronto Telegram failed was because Creighton and Downing, two of the bosses, drank so much.
The fact the gossiper was a woman I've known since we were in Grade 1 really made it sting. All she was doing was repeating some malicious comment by someone that either Creighton or I had disciplined or fired. As the managing editor and the assistant managing editor, we found it difficult to keep everyone happy, especially when the ship was listing.
The casual observer might think that the two of us spent a lot of time partying or at lunch. But the same observer would not know that we came to the Tely at 6 a.m., worked until about 12.30, then went for a nice restorative lunch, probably at the old Franz Josepf Room or Swiss Bear in the vanished Walker House,  came back to the office about 2 to put out the latest fires, and the final edition, and then worked and planned until 6 or 7.  In addition to that 50-hour work day, we often were out in the evening and weekends on must occasions like boring banquets.
There often was rum in my diet coke, but often there wasn't, and no one knew except bartenders. And unless you get falling-down drunk and drive, it's no one's damn business. I could be on the wagon for a month and no one knew, which is the way it should be. Many of us who work and play hard and love a cold one take pauses from time to time. And the mayor certainly is under constant pressure and often under a hostile microscope which records his every fart and belch.
Occasionally Ceighton and I went to the early races, and had a great time, often with Toronto Star editors who relaxed the same way even if the Star has always had some sanctimonious executives.


       Now some potshots, which are a lot more fun than anything about the Star.
Isn't it about time that critics and bloggers and bloated letter writers retired or trashed that stupid comment by Conrad Black that all journalists are either lazy or intellectually dishonest?  After all, there are legions of North Americans who were cheated by Black and his cronies because he was so lazy and intellectually dishonest that he lived on our money, not his.    
The Establishment figured out Black before the rest of us did. But they had a head start because of his cheating at Upper Canada College. As one Establishment pillar, Hal Jackman, the former lieutenant-governor, said famously, Conrad was a friend of his but he never dreamed of investing in one of his companies.
 I think it is bizarre, considering his dismal record and court losses, that Black gets published in the Post, and I told Paul Godfrey that in person. He didn't even blush when he said Black got the highest  rating in readership surveys. Shame on Post readers? I'm with the financial community of stock brokers and furious investors who sent in petitions saying Black should be stripped of his Order of Canada.
Ironically, if reporters acted the way Black has through the years, they would never be able to keep a job.


Don't all transit funding stories sound the same?
Can you image in this over-taxed land that anyone sane would regularly propose new taxes to help subsidize transit riders who already cost city taxpayers an annual fortune.
The local board of trade is a well-meaning stuffed-shirt outfit and I can say that as someone who turned down a lucrative job there. Which came with free golf membership, but then they sold the golf courses.
When the board, composed of fatcats who can pick their own times to come and go, thus avoiding the rushhours, recommends a 1% regional sales tax and a 10-cent tax on each liter of gas, it's ignoring the fact that all of us who don't have tax lawyers on their speed dial already lose half of our income to taxes.
The existing excessive tax on our gas was started originally to pay for road and transportation improvements only. And that was the widely publicized excuse. Now it is used to bail out governments when they're going bankrupt on their latest wet dreams. There's more than enough collected there to fund a subway to Hudson Bay with all those nice new trains that look so great when they're not jammed like railway cattle cars.
If you want more proof about how gasoline taxes used to be justified by politicians, consider that when  when President Dwight Eisenhower built the mighty interestate highway network in the U.S., he said  this  may cost a fortune (hundreds of billions in present dollars) but it wouldn't be paid for out of income tax but by taxes on the gasoline used by all the motorists who would use roads like I-75 to drive the width and length of the country.
I'm sure that the same arguments were used when the 400 highway network was built in Ontario.
I actually tried to get around the U.S. and Canada before all the super roads were built. The trips were longer, indeed we now drive the same distance in half the time.
It was big news when the Davis government eliminated the last tolls on roads in Ontario. Now the idiots want us to this again? C'mon, tolls were originally collected by workers who got their jobs through politics. So now we avoid more government workers in booths  and go to electronic devices like transponders. And then we hire a lot more people to look after the balky gadgets and collect the payments, an  operation which, as has been shown from the stupid operation of 407,  can be inept and infurtiating.
The public is smarter than the pols since polls show that there is wide skepticism on transit taxes even though everyone knew that we were supposed to tell the pollsters that we really did believe it was fair and intelligent to let governments steal a lot more  bucks out of our wallet .

Another story about another chief planner who walks downtown and takes a short subway ride to work. Maybe we should only hire major planners and transportation officials who face gridlock daily and don't ignore or write off the concerns of the millions who chose not to live downtown with the comfortable and the young not smart enough yet to reduce their overhead by not paying a ransom to own or rent condos.
Let's have less crap about the virtues of walking and cycling and more serious study on improving the existing network by removing the kinks because most people and all commerce move around by vehicles while also paying hefty subsidies to the transit riders. And, oh yes, hefty fuel taxes.


Ralph Klein was an untidy hard-drinking Tory populist mayor and later premier, exactly the kind of man who would have bothered the hell out of the Toronto Star and the semantic egotist, Conrad Black.
After all, he started life as a City Hall reporter. And somehow despite the sleazy laziness that Black tars all journalists with,  even before they reported his convictions and court defeats with relish,  he managed to become the legendary King Ralph who was one of the most popular politicians ever to hoist a beer in Calgary.
Golly, you think the reason the Star hates another other overweight populist so much is because it fears he may also go on to be a premier several times. Have to nip these people politicians in the bud so they can't become politically incorrect Grit-haters who scorn the phoneys and pretentious.
No, that is not another reference to Black, but it could be.
Of course the Star chose to run a picture of a fat, sweaty Klein with a drink in his hand on its Internet front page after Ralph died.  Assholes!

Thursday, March 14, 2013



When I was a kid reporter surrounded by what I considered the giants of Canadian journalism, the annual National Newspaper Awards were a really big deal.
The Toronto Telegram got more than its share of NNAs. And when I left my decorated colleagues and went out into the trenches to do battle with the Star in one of the toughest newspaper fights in North America, I was facing more award winners, although, as we crowed, not as many as the Tely's.
The NNAs were handed out on a great weekend that was the Toronto Press Club's not-so-humble celebration like the Oscars  in L.A. Invitations to some events had to be earned. Politicians on the make made sure they were there. It was the anchor in our claim to be Canada's best newspaper town.
It all began with the Byline Ball on Friday night, then a Saturday brunch for the Canadian News Hall of Fame, then the presentation banquet with a famous speaker like Walter Cronkite. Survivors would struggle into the Sunday brunch thrown by Toronto firefighters where they handed out their awards.
 I remember Mayor David Crombie giving a speech there lambasting most of the press in the room and then giving me as press club president a set of gold cuff links with the city crest. (Today that would be scandalous.)
Upstairs in the Royal York were the roaring hospitality rooms of companies like INCO which figured it was a smart idea to wine and dine the press, just as the firefighters did to ensure they got paid as much as the cops. Room numbers were prized.
Now mostly just memories,  except for the NNAs. And there are some, particularly at the Toronto Sun, the Tely's phoenix, who claim an official cold shoulder by the NNA committee, although Andy Donato has been nominated this year. Yet with his incredible production record, you would have thought he would have won more than once.
The ball featured a Miss Byline contest, which may seem quaint now, especially to feminists. But many beauty queen winners, such as Judy Welch as Miss Toronto, found it launched great careers. And Carol Goss Taylor, went from Miss Byline to Miss Toronto to head of the CBC and B.C.'s finance minister. The night of the ball, she was just this lovely shy thing from my old high school, Weston, and her parents said she needed a chaperone. So Mary and I looked after her, although if her Dad had known some of my thoughts, I wouldn't have been acceptable.
The ball is gone, along with the Press Club, the hall of fame and most beauty contests. The banquet wanders the land, demonstrating, I guess, that the NNAs are  truly national even though the idea was born and nurtured in Toronto which remains Canada's best media town. Firefighters have a separate lunch.
I look back on all this with some bemusement as someone involved in every part of the weekend and press club and later as a NNA judge. And I remember, as many of us do, my entries that I think should have won the NNA instead of that #$%*$##@ one.
That was as a columnist. My record as an editor is much better because I like to think that I was responsible directly for two winners, indirectly for one, and then there was my advice to Donato in 1976 that he was putting in the wrong three cartoons in his entry. So I made the final cut, he won, and for several years, I was pressed into service each January as his advisor. When that didn't work, he went back to ignoring any advice I might try to give him, especially if it was a cartoon idea.
Peter Geddes was a brilliant but moody two-way man at the Tely (both writer and photographer) when he left us for a sabattical in his native Australia. He had been back only a few days in 1964 when the Star came out with a Page One scoop that Bob Reguly had found Hal Banks in the Brooklyn navy yard..
 Reguly won an NNA for the story but not for the picture he took with a cardboard camera he bought in a drugstore. (When thugs spotted him and pursued, the cab saved him by speeding away. Reguly was so grateful, he took the film out and gave the driver the camera. Legend says the Star wouldn't reimburse him.)
Geddes was dispatched to Manhattan without knowing the slightest detail about this huge search that Canading authorities had been making for the crooked union boss
He phoned to tell me he was got one picture of Banks on the deck of a tug before goons had chased him. I relaxed. At least we had something. Then the darkroom technician brought me the dripping picture. I phoned Geddes to say he had photographed the wrong guy, that Banks, in casual clothes, was in the background, out of focus, while the guy in the gangster suit, sharp as a tack, was unknown to us. So Wasyl Kowalishen returned to the darkroom, with me standing over him giving unwelcome advice, and worked with the enlarger, dodging and using all the old tricks, until he rescued more of Banks.
And Geddes won that NNA even though it should have also gone to Reguly. Afterwards he turned his back on the business even though he had fluked into the top award. He said if he had continued, it would have cost him his marriage and turned him alcoholic. He never came to collect the award or cheque.
 Years later,  after Margaret Sinclair and Pierre Trudeau had just married and went skiing at Whistler, we discovered Geddes running the ski lift. He said he had sold all his cameras. I urged him to go to a drugstore, like Reguly, buy a disposable camera, shoot a roll and I would have it collected. He refused for any amount to scoop the country. In those days, not everyone had a camera in their phone.
When Michael Popovich won for the Tely in 1970, it was almost as strange as the Banks affair. He had written, sort of, the account of a drug addict shooting up in the grimy washroom of a restaurant on Dundas near Jarvis before he died.
The tale was all there, mangled, So I rewrote it, completely, from lede to death. Popovich never thanked me, submitted it to the NNAs, won, never thanked me again, and left the business to become a GTA councillor.
In 1989, I was the Sun Editor and determined to get more photographs into the paper.  I loved pictures, as do most readers, and we were a tabloid, daily discarding many pictures taken by one of the finest staffs of news photogs in North America. So I started two pages of pictures each Sunday in the Comment section. Some were photo essays, unrelated to hard news.
 One day I was brought a compelling array of pictures taken by Sun and other photographers on a private project to capture the gritty side of downtown. Sleeping on subway grates or in cardboard boxes etc. The gifted Fred Thornhill won the NNA that year because we ran his picture in that section that the  bosses grabbed away from me months later. The Sun has never repeated on a regular basis.
I was so impressed by a series of political gems by Doug Fisher that I urged him to enter the NNAs. When I found he hadn't at the deadline, I put in the entry for him. He won a Citation, and sat uncomfortably at the presentation because he didn't believe in that sort of thing.
But most of us do. It was wonderful to work with all the stars who won NNAs at the Tely and Sun  And I include on my list all those who won before or after they worked with me. I'm looking forward to Donato winning for a second time because he earns it for his wit, his pen and his longevity as a cartoonist and painter. Not bad for a golfer!
My list is a Roll of Honour:  Lubor Zink, Peter Worthington (4 times), Judith Robinson, Ken MacTaggart (2), Andrew MacFarlane (2),  John Fraser (3).  David Billington (2) Bill Dampier, Dorothy Howarth, Laurie McKechnie, Del Bell, Val Sears, Wayne Parrish (2), Jean Sonmor, Bill McGuire, Marilyn Dunlop, Bill Stevenson, Linda Diebel, Bob Hesketh, George Gross, Scott Young, Bob Pennington, Al Sokol, John Robertson, Al Strachan, Russ Cooper, Yardley Jones, Ralph Hicklin, Ted Reeve, Trent Frayne, Barry Gray, Allan Fotheringham,  Peter Dunlop, Stan Behal, Mike Cassesse (2), Christie Blatchford, Bob Reguly (3)  Ron Haggart, Bill Sandford, Tim McKenna, David Cooper, Sean Browne, Michael Peake, Veronica Milne........
I've probably forgotten some but the list is quite incredible, especially when you consider the bitching that the Sun is ignored. Just look at what its photographers have done, although that staff has shrunk  to a pale shadow, along with the space, and the photographs are processed in India.
However,  I'll always be quick to add more names from the Sun, and other former colleagues, because every winner should be special to colleagues and readers and be eternal despite any chill in the business.

Sunday, March 10, 2013



For those deprived people who don't read the Toronto Sun but pick up a free copy of the Star or Globe,  let me tell you that things can still get interesting with The Little Paper That Grew Up And Then Was Drowned By Crazies From Quebec.
Mark Bonokoski, a veteran columnist and editor, has nominated, in effect,  Peter Worthington, the first Sun editor and marathon columnist, for the Order of Canada, the second highest honour in the country.
Good for him! Bono knows how to lead with his heart. (As he demonstrated months after this column was written when he spoke at Worthington's funeral.)
A week after Bono's boost, Worthington declined, listing what he has done and covered in his incredible career,  like a veteran describing a chestful of medals and ribbons. His experiences were worth more than the honour, he said.
Of course Worthington should have been given the national honour years ago, far more deserving than the media hacks, dubious pols and industrial dictators who routinely are given the Order. But Worthington, I suspect, has been critical in a few of his thousands of columns and other media commentaries about the process and some winners, and the Establishment remembers these slights.
There is the problem that he was never a member of the Annex/Mount Royal axis of power that reveres CBC anchors, Globe columnists and Trudea in his canoe.
I am a veteran of selection committees for various honours, and the experiences have left me cynical about how too many people and their buddies push themselves forward with CVs that are longer, and just as strange, as any novel. They'll list every speech they gave, even if it was just to the kennel club.
I chaired Toronto's civic honours advisory committee before Mel Lastman abolished all that kind of stuff after amalgamation because he thought the suburbs would be jealous if a downtown tradition continued. I thought we did a good job, for example honouring Murray Koffler, the Shoppers founder,  when he had been slighted for years. And Jewish Torontonians notice those kind of things.
I was a director of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, although a little baffled when the board installed the entire Canadian hockey team that beat the Russians in 1972. What happened to picking and choosing? Then the board took the hall to Calgary after the feds, Jean Chretien and Sheila Copps, screwed the old hall out of millions by grabbing away promised space in Ottawa. I suspect Copps' secret plan was to put it in Hamilton. All she got later was one of the finest fighting ship ever for Canada, destroyer G62, also known as Haida, which had a fine home already beside Ontario Place.
I have been a director from the start of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame which used to be known as the Terry Fox Hall of Fame before the family grabbed the name back because they said it might interfere with their fund raising. This Hall is packed with wonderful and deserving recipients but the selection process can be arduous because of all the material that is sent supporting a few flimsy candidates.
I was there at the end of the Canadian News Hall of Fame. The board was spread across Canada and  wanted me to head it from Toronto but my secretary refused to help. And then no one else wanted to do it either.  There had been some controversial choices, like the committee member who didn't do much work until he stepped down to get the award,. There were obvious winners, like Worthington, and modest winners, like Doug Fisher, who only accepted because his columnist son Matthew told me he didn't want to embarrass me after I nominated him.
Fisher just didn't believe in these honours or in competitions like the National Newspaper Awards, the most important media awards in the country.   In fact he was only honoured in the NNAs because I sent in his entry. An honourable man who towered literally above his colleagues as Dean of the Ottawa Press Gallery, a title we at the Sun gave him, and it stuck.
Fisher never got an Order of Canada. His absence is embarrassing, and it must cause some of the media chuckleheads who did get one to squirm, that is if they are capable of embarrassment. Of course Fisher started life with the CCF-NDP and defeated a Liberal giant, C.D. Howe, in a win that rocked the country. In his gritty decades as a columnist and TV commentator, he used his files to unmask and excoriate politicians and policies across the spectrum. Many in the Establishment feared him, and didn't like his home, the Sun, for the same reason.
Worthington was a bigger thorn, but as his four NNA awards and one citation, in categories ranging from feature (1962) corresponding (1969) to editorial (1972) and enterprise (1978) demonstrate, he has been a major media figure for half-a-century.
I was one of the leaders in the campaign years ago to get an Order of Canada for Allan Lamport. A high point came when Hal Jackman, the former lieutenant-governor, took off his Order of Canada white pin at a dinner honouring Lampy and said he wouldn't wear it until his old friend got one too.
 I was told by Esmond Butler, the haughty private secretary to the Governor General, that it was unseemly - "it's just not done" - for anyone to campaign for anyone to get the honour and, in fact, it would kill any chance.
 I became irate, pointing out that Lampy was approaching 100. And he should be honoured for having been an MPP, Toronto mayor, veteran Toronto councillor and chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (when it meant something.) He launched a gale of change that ended the stuffy Sunday when nothing was open and blinds were down in store windows by getting Sunday sports approved. The fact that you can dine out or drink or go to a movie or shop on a Sunday in Toronto and later in Ontario is due to the Sabbath changes that Lampy started. He bulldozed through using language so contorted and colorful and apt that his Lampoonisms are still quoted by those who were in their diapers when Lamport stood astride urban politics like some colossus. Remember "you can't lead a dead horse to water."
If you want to know just how difficult it was to do anything on a Sunday, a bylaw had to be changed to allow for the Jays to play on Sunday afternoons, and that was in 1977.
It is just nonsense for any imperious aide to the GG to deny that there isn't fierce lobbying with the advisory committee. A senator sighed when he told me about how many people plead with him to put in a good word. Then there are campaigns organized by leaders (?)  who have been pushed into it by friends and constituents where dozens in public life are asked for letters of support,
A group of us organized that dinner for Lampy as part of our campaign to get him the honour. My heavens, we even got editorial support from the Toronto Star, which unnerved us a bit.
The galling fact is that there are too many recipients each year. It diminishes the honour.  The same thing happened in grandiose fashion when thousands in 2012 were given the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal. That was nice for recipients, and I pick my words carefully because I got one too. But it would be nicer if there were fewer, and I believe Worthington, who also got one, made that point too.
 It took years but Lampy finally got the Order in 1994, almost half a century after his colourful career exploded on the front pages of newspapers. Fortunately, he was still around, holding court every noon at the old Hot Stove Lounge at the Gardens like a genial emperor.
But this was ignored by the Sun even though it had been the leading media voice demanding that Lampy should get it when even convicted fraudsters like Viola MacMillan had one. (Obviously the process can be weird since Conrad Black and Garth Drabinsky got them even though questions had swirled for years around how they did business. I'm not mollified now that they've been cancelled.)
To demonstrate just how dumb it was when the Sun didn't print a story about Lampy, another recipient in that announcement by the GG was Lionel Schipper, a really nice lawyer and contributors to charity when he wasn't busy as chair of the board of directors of the Toronto Sun.
And the Sun forgot to mention him too. In fact, the Sun never even ran the list, with the excuse, perhaps, that it's not big news because too many get the Order. True, but a few do deserve it, like Peter, and he might even stop writing columns long enough to accept.
Not bad for an army brat!

Saturday, March 2, 2013



The news that high school teachers ended their protest against extracurricular work as goodwill in response to what they called "positive talks' with the province should be greeted with the cynicism their general strike statements deserve.
They're ending it because parental support is eroding faster than the teachers can dream up reasons why they are maltreated.
And I think that polls about public attitude towards teachers salaries and conditions already are skewed too high because too many adults bite back their misgivings and go along with teachers because these men and women, after all, keep kids off the street and occasionally teach the three Rs.
Of course the elementary school teachers are continuing to boycott doing anything extra for their pupils. I'm not surprised. Their bargaining team generally demonstrates that they wouldn't have passed kindergarten except for mark inflation. I went to an elementary school in the town of Chesley and there were no extracurricular activities. But that was in the dark ages and I thought teachers had improved since then.
I don't think there are many outside the education system who really support higher pay for teachers.  I don't know anyone who thinks it was a marvelous bargaining tool to stop the coaching and teacher support of student activities from choirs to the school play.
In fact, there is a deep hostility against the salaries and conditions of all those getting paid from our taxes. Older voters remember when teachers and civil servants were happy to accept lower salaries because they had such wonderful job security. Now they want it all, protection even for lousy workers, and salaries above the average.
Of course there must be some out there who support teachers and don't think their months of  holidays, and easy working conditions should tame their incessant demand for more, as if they were holding out a bowl for more food in a Dickens story.
I guess they never have looked at what teachers get paid just across the border, even though American teacher unions are seen as potent forces in elections. Teachers certainly try to influence Ontario elections too. I remember the cursing hostility with which teachers greeted Tory MPPs when I watched them door-knocking. Right now I suspect that a good approach for an Ontario political party would be to  run "against" the teachers and have in their platform the idea that enough is enough when it comes to grabbing money from taxpayers.So when Tory leader Tim Hudak says the Liberal government and NDP are too busy listening to the unions and not the rest of  Ontario, I think he has a winning stategy for the next election, even if the environmental zealots, lefties, NDPers and their mouthpiece, the Toronto Star, may fall into an apoplectic rage at the statement of the truth.
I found that extracurricular activities at high school were a marvelous part of my education, even though the football coach was a mean bastard who did that chore because it was "expected" that was what gym teachers did. I participated in everything, from intramural and school teams to the choirs, school play, student council and yearbook.
I must say, looking back, that they weren't onerous chores for the supervising teacher and most activites just lasted a month or two. Often,  the teachers just floated around the perimeter.
For teachers who argue that all this is extra work, and then add that they often have to do work as well at home, this is hardly unique. Journalists are expected to know what is happening in the newspapers and the world BEFORE they report for work. Anyone in business who wants to be noticed and promoted does volunteer work, joins service clubs, and helps churches and charities.
If anyone thinks you get ahead just by working the minimum work day, let them adjust quickly to unemployment.
I suspect that anyone hiring teachers privately judges them on how much extracurricular work they do in addition to their marks or whether they burned down the last school. And that's the way it should be. Surely the principal of every large school knows who goes above and beyond the minimum classroom time and who vanishes at the afternoon bell.
Better teachers, which means the gifted ones and those happily involved in extracurricular chores, should be rewarded with merit increases, but that is contrary to what unions want.  They want to keep the mediocre and the failures and the gifted all in one big clump as long as they all pay their dues. What does it matter if the teacher is awful?  (One of my sons "survived" a teacher that the education director admitted to me later should have been fired.)
Teachers are better educated as a group than many in Ontario, and probably read more, but they certainly have missed all those stories about all the people looking for work and all those who are working but don't expect to ever have the benefits of full-time employment like pensions and health insurance.
The old days of public unions pushing around the representatives of the taxpayers ended about a decade ago, but it hasn't sunk in yet, certainly not with the teachers.

Friday, March 1, 2013



Thanks to too many years of football, I know how to fall. Which isn't much help decades later when the reflexes mellow.
That is me who you see picking his way carefully down the sidewalk or the subway steps. To slow myself down, I repeat as a mantra that 50% of pensioners die within a year of having a bad fall.
I didn't do the math, I just accept that falling isn't a great idea in the age when you visit more hospitals than bars, when the question is whether you're a cranky old fart or just cranky.
Too many times I've risked serious injury because of stupid rushing. Like the time I was galloping across the uneven surface outside SkyDome (I use the best name) to be there for the first pitch when I fell flat. My face escaped, but I broke my right knee cap, the capella, and discovered that they don't do anything for that. I found for six months or so it hurt when I knelt, and it's surprising how often you kneel for other reasons than just...well you know...prayer. (What a dirty mind. You thought I was talking about sex.)
After three months in four hospitals in 2011, I had to learn how to walk again, even to stand, and that certainly added a rolling sailor's gait when I finally got mobile.
After hospital hell, I became very, very, very careful about falling. I've never forgotten my immersion in the disabled world, from that personal experience with careless obstacles to what I've heard as a founding director of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame.
There are so many broken sidewalks, the roads, despite the corrugated surfaces and volcano-cone potholes, often are safer for pedestrians, that is if you don't mind the cars.
Last summer at the cottage, in a stupid incident, I was pulling a paddle boat to the river using an old rope. Yep, the line broke. I fell face down on some rocks with my face in two feet of water. Since I was just a few inches beside the dock edge, I didn't move immediately, first thanking God that I hadn't hit my temple on the side of the dock, which would have drowned me if it didn't kill me first, then wondering what I had broken.
My right leg was a bloody and bruised mess and ached for months almost as much as my hip. But I survived, with an awful memory that I had almost killed myself through carelessness because I didn't do the simple chore of always checking a rope before you pull on it.
The strange snow/ice/rain that has laid waste to Toronto streets for weeks has turned an ordinary walk into a obstacle course. I try to remember to carry a hiking pole but it's often me you see teetering on the mush and mounds alongside Etobicoke streets.
I mailed a letter the other day at the local mailbox that was in a depression filled with water and surrounded by decaying ice. The problem is that after I fell, and hurt only my dignity, I couldn't get up as I skidded around in the basin.
Then there I was picking my way carefully down the new steps into the Queen's Park subway station at the southeast corner of University and College. I looked over each step as carefully as I look at women. At the bottom, I stepped off confidently only to find I was still one step up. I fell to my knees and really bloodied and bruised them. A Good Samaritan asked if he could help. I said no, thanked him, but then spluttered about the steps. He said, oh no, it was you. And he immediately became the Bad Samaritan.
You would have thought that the TTC would have used the very latest techniques in rebuilding stairs after the very long delay and, for  some stupid reason, eliminating the escalator feeding up to one of the largest hospitals in the country.
I have surveyed friends and found that those wearing bifocals or even trifocals - as I do - have a great deal of trouble with TTC stairs although the commission, to its credit, has worked at colour schemes to make the edges to steps stand out and not just be a grey blur..
Yet I find at some stations that the steps blend with the landing or platform. If there was an edge of bright yellow or red at the edge of the steps, particularly the top and last ones, it would help. And the broken tiles are no help. One idea would be to have the same yellow tile on the bottom step as the TTC now use at the edge of subway platforms.
The city is testing different tiled surfaces at the intersection of Victoria and Shuter near St. Michael's Hospital. The idea, they say, is to take the most visible coloured tiles and make curbside edges more recognizable to the blind and visually impaired. Now I am neither, thank heavens, but I can assure you that there are many out there beside me who can be betrayed by their glasses as to the next step.
And when you throw in mashed curbs and rumpled potholes, and wet floors or even puddles in subway stations, only the eye of an eagle can save you as you make your way around the street furniture, Then  in shopping areas there are always merchants who put their awnings so low, they must think this is a city of dwarfs.
The city has worked, as the TTC has, to make it easier for the disabled, old and mothers with those tanks of strollers to use, for example, crosswalks and intersections.  But I have two sore knees to sort of support me when I say more work has to be done.

I sent an email to the CEO of the TTC about this early in the evening and received a reply within two hours. Impressive! And 10 days later, before the scabs on my knees had healed, Andy Byford emailed me with the officials' position on my suggestions and my blog. The memo follows:

TTC’s Design Standard for new construction requires stair treads to have two contrasting colours of granite tile, to demarcate the tread edges and the landing edge. Cumberland Exit at Bay Station has this type of stairway design.
Ontario’s Building Code requires public stairs to have either a colour contrast or a distinctive pattern to demarcate the tread edges and the landing edge. TTC’s Design Standard for stairway handrails has horizontal extensions. For new construction, these extensions incorporate a yellow sleeve with black edges to signal the top and bottom of a stairway . This detail was specifically developed by the TTC and CNIB to allow persons with low vision to identify stairway limits.  
The use of the yellow textured tiles has been reserved for platform edges.  In this way both the tactile message and the yellow colour at floor level are associated with the hazard of the platform edge, in order to aid persons who are blind or who have limited vision.
In order to achieve the most slip resistance possible for stair treads, painted finishes are not recommended.n In summary, my staff, guided by the CNIB, do not recommend incorporating a yellow or red outline on the stairs, or adding platform edge tiles to the bottom of stairways.   By working with the CNIB, the TTC has developed a yellow and black handrail extension that signals the limits of stairways for persons with limited vision.

My response to a speedy and honourable message:

I have never noticed the yellow warning sleeve on handrails because I am too busy peering down. I already know I have reached the bottom or one step up; I just can't distinguish with trifocals which.
I still think using the same yellowed textured tile on the bottom step that is now reserved for platform edges would be used for many.
 I also am still annoyed that an escalator was removed feeding up to one of the largest hospitals in the country, TGH, and the other major hospitals.
 However I am impressed with the speed of the reply to my complaint and the proof that the commission is aware of the concern and doing its best with contrasting elements.



Most Torontonians, I am sure, are bored and irritated by Mayor Ford's football charity soap opera  and his daily imitations of a dinosaur sinking in a swamp  on too many issues.
And his brother is no help. Heaven help the family if he is supposed to be the bright one. Heaven help the Ford Nation if they don't get some common sense advice before they shoot off their mouths.
The mayor may not be listening to his staff at all. Which is stupid, considering their salaries. They're like the crew of a crippled cruise ship just running around and around and wondering wotinhell the captain is going to do next.
The captain should go to his cabin, look in the mirror, and in the words of the grand old comic strip, Pogo, say he has looked in the mirror "and the enemy is us."
I think it is nice that Ford is helping poor high schoolers with football equipment. I suspect that part of that is triggered by his own spotty football career, where his so-called university experience seems to be invented or exaggerated. Yet no doubt he means well in this charity and should be encouraged.
But for heaven's sake, don't deliver yourself up to the fists and scorching tonsils of your opponents by sending out personal letters requesting contributions. Let someone do it in your name. There should be no suggestion of "buying" influence with the city by giving to the mayor's cause.
 Ironically, as a municipal lawyer pointed out to me the other day, if Ford was sending out requests for donations to the United Way, that would be OK with the left, but not for anything that has Ford's name on it, no matter how genuine it is as a charity.
The latest "outrage" is contrived, as usual.
For example, of the latest two football charity solicitation letters that the Star has grabbed on to with the ferocity of a drowning man with a life jacket, one upon a little analysis is feeble when it suggests buying influence.
Brian Ashton, president of the Canadian National Exhibition, talks vaguely about being pressured by the Ford letter that he got. And the media point out that Ashton has to get elected and that the CNE board contains councillors and is intertwined with the city.
Yes but....
Now Ashton is my friend.  and I have written for years that he should have been the head of Toronto, whether as Metro chairman or mayor. I think, and have written, and told him, that he would be a better mayor than Ford. He was a veteran councillor who just retired and the idea that he would be intimidated by anyone (other than his wife and daughter) is just nonsense.
Now Ashton is diplomatic generally about Ford but critical privately, mainly along the lines of why does this guy keep shooting himself in his foot before he shoves it in his mouth.  He had a great quip to me when Ford was caught using his cellphone while he was driving that at least now we know he can read. (Maybe that was off the record but I've already written it at least once.)
Let's eliminate this crap about Ashton, the CNE president, somehow being intimidated, or something, by a letter from the mayor asking for funds.  And I write as someone who has been CNE president and is still on the board.
 First of all, Ashton is in the final year of being president and faces no election. Second, the annual fair is separating officially from city council on April 1. The deal is done. Third, Ford was a director of the CNE when I was president, and as mayor  is automatically a member of the board. He has never come to a meeting as mayor, so he obviously is not very interested in one of the world's largest annual fairs. Ford was invited to open the CNE last year and instead sent a councillor to represent him. (The directors were not amused.)
An ally of Ford's, Deputy Mayor Doug Holday, has long been a CNE vice president and now diligent director and is a stalwart voice on council about CNE maters.
In the past, the fair has had trouble just getting any mayor to notice the Ex. Now it is separating formally and the annual profit will no longer go to city taxpayers, I for one intend to call for the mayor and his staff not to be freeloaders but pay their way and to keep their views about the Ex to themselves.