Sunday, November 17, 2013



Take another look at this picture which looks like a trucking depot rather than a side street in Etobicoke ,

Once upon a time, Elsfield was generally quiet and empty after the parents and the kids had finished sloshing back and forth to Sunnylea, a junior school just across from the snout of that giant dump truck.
But what happened the other day is what has been inflicted too often on older Toronto streets where monster houses are being created out of simple bungalows, or giant rigss try to escape traffic jams by taking a shortcut through the leafy peace.
It is not unusual for contractors to set up heavy housekeeping on a street so pickups and trucks of all sizes, skids of material, an outhouse and fences poison the ambience with obstruction, noise and dirt.
What you see above is West York Paving sending a gang around to finish a small short driveway for a swollen rebuilt house that no longer matches the neighbourhood.
Now the big dump truck, the pickup sandwiched behind, and a second giant dump truck towing a long flatbed trailer with several roller machines on it, arrived just before school ended on a street with no sidewalks that still had garbage bins on either side. There are another two trucks separated by a few cars from the first wall of vehicles, so  half the street was filled.
It is a two-way street which you wouldn't know from the picture because all the red monsters are parked illegally, with the left or wrong wheels to the curb side. In addition, as can be seen, the first  truck sticks out past the Stop Sign into Glenroy, which is the first east-west street for some distance north of The Queensway and is used too heavily as a result. A dangerous school zone!
The first  trucks and the dump truck-flatbed combo monstrosity stretched for 200 feet or five houses and four driveways. Good luck to neighbour with tha metal wall.  If the garbage trucks had tried to come down the street for this hour or so, they wouldn't have been able to get through,
What the careless workers of West York Paving created was a dangerous arrogant gauntlet for pedestrians and private vehicles.
All of this expensive machinery was there, with drivers hidden behind tinted glass, so one man working and one man watching could put a new surface on a driveway. All this equipment wasn't producing  work but the drivers did get a  long break.
The provincial transport minister which sets the rules for the weight, width and length of all trucks, especially these monster, has a confusing Internet site which, probably deliberately, doesn't state baldly without obfuscation when our dump trucks, tractor trailers and other industrial equipment are too wide and too long. But it looks like it is 14.65 metres or 48 ' in length for the basic kit, or some times 16.2 metres or 53', but then there is a special license deal for a few combos of almost 75 feet.
I pointed out once to a trucker delivering new Toyotas that his entire rig was longer than 75 feet. He shrugged and said he would be at this same spot every week, sticking out into a major artery, and no one had ever complained.
This just can't continue. It is plain that corporations will push every possible dimension in their vehicles.  After all, even the typical lawn care equipment  now has an extended pickup and a trailer that seems to grow every week. They often have to stretch over two driveways.
Just take a look at the lengthy rigs that deliver shingles which stretch to such an extent, I think you can see the curvature of the earth. They manoeuvre down small streets like drunken beetles. They even hang a machine off the back to move the bundles around, which just adds to the dangerous exoskeleton of jutting metal that can punch in your windows. .
I think it is plain that the police and the provincial authorities have to do a better job in sensible rules and enforcement when we have so many tractor trailers roll over like a sow in a pigpen. Every day or two, some highway is blocked by a collapsed truck. The cost of the resulting traffic jam to private drivers in time and money is enormous.
Outfits like Wal-Mart are now congratulated by supposed environmentalists when they use oversized delivery rigs. You see, it saves on gas (and hiring drivers), even if the goliaths pound the crap out of our roads and intimidate people into avoiding the 400 series of super roads.
Driving around this city is tough enough since we have a Wild West show every rush hour due to the  the abdication of politicians and officials from common sense measures. A good start would be a real study into whether our trucks, even our delivery vehicles, have been allowed to grow too large.
It would also help if a paving company didn't send a couple of hundred feet of rolling scarlet machines just to finish a driveway  that was smaller than the yawning hold of just one of the dump trucks.

Friday, November 15, 2013



It would be a mistake to think that Toronto has been blessed since 1834 with a wonderful array of 63 thoughtful and charismatic mayors who managed adroitly, unlike the 64th, Rob Ford, not to do or say the wrong thing every single time.
But there have been few worst disasters! He is now famous throughout North America as a slur on Canadian politics, but at least the reasonable observers know he is an awful exception.
He's like a bad cartoon. He resembles a stumblebum farmer running through a pasture managing to slosh in every single cow flap while pursued by an irate bull of public opinion. The remarkable thing is that he now has been mayor of Toronto longer than 31 of the mayors who served before him, and tied at three years with another 12,  but hasn't learned a damn thing.
With him, it seems like an eternity, not just the three years from Oct. 25, 2010, when he got 47% of the vote.
 Toronto has often had mayors who stood out in history, or were one of a kind,  or despised by much of the city, or  were quoted around the world, and  not always approvingly.
Start with the first mayor, the firebrand known as William Lyon Mackenzie, appointed by his colleagues back when the mayor also acted as the city's chief magistrate. He never even served a year. A fiery publisher who was known for his evil temper in debate where he was prone to take off a remarkably ugly red wig and jump up and down on it while screaming.
He led the failed rebellion of Upper Canada in 1837 and only survived when John Powell, tried to shoot him at point blank range on the Yonge St. hill south of St. Clair. The pistol wouldn't fire, the only reason the fifth mayor of the city didn't kill the first. (And you thought things were tough now at city hall.)
Mackenie fled into exile in New York State but returned when friends bought him that house on Bond St. that my colleague at the Telegram around 1960, Andrew MacFarlane, proved was still haunted.
There is more spiritualism. His youngest daughter was born there, the mother of  William Lyon Mackenzie King who believed in ghosts and long ruled Canada as prime minister through consultations with his mother and a series of Pats. There was a handicap because she and the dogs were dead.
The competition is tough but the 64th mayor seems wackier  compared to the first. The interesting question, however, is whether that first mayor, and that grandson, would have survived any length of time at all under the grinding 24/7 media scrutiny that tore the scabs off Ford.
 One reason our mayors didn't last is elections until recently were every one or two years. Campaigns were short and fierce, where winners often depended on support of one of the big three of the daily newspapers.
For example, Bert Wemp had been a much-decorated World War One flying ace, but when he tried for mayor, the competition was bitter. The Tely ran a huge picture of Major Wemp with a chest of medals on Page One, and said that this was the man whom his opponent had called a coward.
And you thought politicians were mean now.
Wemp served for one year in 1930 and then retired to run a court newsroom shared, in rare co-operation, by the Star and the Tely. Reporters made two copies of every story and sent them through pneumatic tubes for several blocks under Bay St. Few of the cubs knew that the stern quiet boss feeding those tubes had once presided on the dais just across the hall in the council chamber.
The first mayor to serve for seven years was Tommy Church. He did so from 1915 to 1921 because of the affection for the populist who went quietly to Union Station to welcome every returning veteran from the war to end all wars. It may have been a Star reporter named Ernest Hemingway who reported in lean prose about a funeral where Church was the only one there with the widow at the veteran's grave.
Few mayors surpassed a butcher named Thomas Foster, mayor from 1925 to 1927, in leaving colourful and controversial remembrances. There was the Foster will giving money to feed birds, plant trees and have a downtown picnic.There was the Foster baby derby where the will rewarded the Toronto mother having the most babies over 10 years. Many still visit his remarkable $250,000 family mausoleum which has caused many a passing motorist  to wonder in amazement just how a grand creation in Taj Mahal style could end up in quiet Uxbridge.
It wasn't unusual for our mayors to be comfortably rich. (Remember that Ford and his brother are millionaires.) Ralph Day ran an east-end funeral home while he was mayor from 1938 to 1940, and later chairman of an independent TTC. When he won the Irish Sweeps, technically an illegal prize which was the 6/49 of its day, he used it to fix up the funeral parlours.
One of our most famous mayors, Allan Lamport, served only 2 1/2 years, which many find hard to believe. He quit in June, 1954, to run the TTC. A great man at a party, where he drank only champagne. He and some cronies had a hospitality suite, 1735, reserved for more than two years at the Royal York Hotel. The city was said at an inquiry that achieved nothing to have spent $40,000, then a fortune, and the hotel chain was alleged by reporters to have given a lot of freebies.
Afterwards, it was common for groups to rent the suite to discover, to their sorrow, that there was nothing special about it with the city's free booze gone. Nevertheless, rumours about riotous spending, and parties with ambidextrous blondes, swirled around Lampy and his crew for years.
They were a Toronto form of the Rat Pack and would often be seen together in restaurants like the old Lichee Gardens which then had the best steaks in town.
He didn't quite survive a judicial inquiry in the 1960s into his expenses as mayor and TTC chairman which featured, among other things, $5 sundaes in the days when dairies had all you could eat ice cream for a buck.
Two reporters and me spent a night inside the old city hall vault ploughing through mayoral receipts in an era, believe it or not, when municipal politics was just as rowdy as today's.
A few years later, Don Summerville was mayor for 10 months. He  had been a goalie when his Kirkland Lake team won the Allan Cup in 1940.  Mayors are supposed to be Maple Leaf fans but no mayor ever surpassed him because he went to every home game and played in a few Leaf practises.  He played and worked hard despite his bad heart,  He went to a party one night held regularly at the Prince George Hotel (he also had a posse) in a private room right under the noses of the Globe and Star. Even though he took some nitro, he left to play in a charity hockey game, and died from a heart attack in the first period.
He was so popular, he laid in state in the council chamber and thousands lined up to pay their respects. Something his colleagues are trying to do for Ford, without the state honours.
Summerville's term was completed by Phil Givens who was defeated later as mayor because voters thought he stuck them with a bill for $125,000 for the Archer statue by Henry Moore that sits in the square.
 Givens was a bouncy shoot-from-the-lip alderman who was known to get into wrestling matches with Lampy and other colleagues when council broke for dinner every second Monday and some aldermen had more than the one drink paid for by the taxpayers. It didn't hurt Phil who went on to become an MP, MPP, police commission chairman and judge.
There was a return to fundamentalism after Lampy quit when Leslie Saunders was appointed by council to take over. He would never have survived the controversies over gay issues that have dogged Ford because as the world's top Orangeman, then still a powerful lodge in the city, the province and indeed the world, he disliked anyone who wasn't a devout Protestant.
After I wrote about this in a Sun column, he rose on a point of privilege at Metro council to attack me sitting up above in the press gallery. He pointed out indignantly that my father had been the family doctor and knew he was fair. He didn't say he was bothered that I had married a Catholic, but he was.  He didn't much like Jews either, a fact known to Paul Godfrey, the Jewish Metro chairman, who managed to rule him out of order while not holding his nose.
Imagine that in 2013. I don't even know what religion Rob Ford is. But this is a city, despite the veneer of sophistication, where religion wasn't supposed to be important, yet every mayor from 1834 to 1955 was Protestant. When Nathan Phillips was elected in 1955, it made headlines across the country that Toronto had elected a Jew. The Mayor of All the People served for eight years, second only in service to Art Eggleton who was elected for 11 years starting in 1980.
What is noteworthy about this is that Eggs was the first Roman Catholic to be elected mayor, although just before him, Fred Beavis, nicknamed the honest roofer, served a few months to complete David Crombie's term. His name was pulled out of a used stationery box by city clerk Roy Henderson to break a 11-11 tie with Anne Johnston who would have been the first female mayor.
Eggs was perceived as a bland type but he had a romantic side which got him into trouble finally as a federal cabinet minister before he became a senator. But the city longed for peace after John Sewell who fought with just everyone and was such a critic of the police, often with reason, that he even kicked a cruiser one day after he alleged it cut him off while jogging. Sewell did things like chaining himself to fences at demonstrations and being thrown out of the gallery at Queen's Park.
 Ford descended into a dungeon of public horror at his foul behaviour. But for all those saying there has never been anyone close to such a Toronto embarrassment, they should sift history. Remember Mel taking off to visit the Hell's Angels, being worried about ending up in a cannibal's pot, saying he didn't know what the heck the World Health Organizaation was,  calling in the army to tackle a few snow drifts, even mining every crevice of his body to get enough curly hair to end his baldness.
All the good mayors have been stout leaders and word warriors, firm in their beliefs but always ready to consider a workable compromise. To think that it is possible to win such a position in one of the largest cities in North America while being popular with every last voter is an absurdity. You also have to have an incredible ego. But it also takes a monumental ineptitude to destroy the support of  half the voters.
 If you wrote about all this in a proposed novel, it would never make it into print out of the slush pile. The editors would say it could never happen. But it did. Reality politics run amuck in what used to be a staid city.
Unfortunately for Ford, although he managed to make it to a post which only a comparatively small group have held with honour, flash and occasional absurdity, he is destined to be remembered only as the low point in the list of mayors we've had for 179 years.
More proof that too many of us, in the words of the cliche, carry within ourselves the seeds of our destruction.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013



I have to hide food which is past its supposed expiration date or Mary dumps it in the garbage.
By some incredible chemical disaster, the food is said in some bizarre world to change from healthy to dangerous in only 24 hours on the date stamped on the package by food companies.
They are, I charge, deliberately allowing this myth to fester with Mary and hundreds of millions throughout North America. Somehow, food past that doomsday date will make us sick. In reality, all that happens is there may be some decline in taste.
So we toss it and giant corporations sell more product. There are estimates by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in a current study done with the Harvard Law School that up to 25% of the food that Americans buy is not consumed but dumped.
 In fact, I read about a previous study by the NRDC that said up to 40% of the food is not eaten, for an estimated loss just in the United States of $165 billion.
Just Google the subject on the Internet and you will find all sorts of horror stats, but I really don't care because I know from personal experience, and decades of squabbles on the subject, that it seems most women are suspicious of all food that is more than two days old,  and most men will consume anything as long as they can scrape off the mould.
The motto for what we used to call the housewife is simple: When in doubt, throw it out. Except all that's happened is, perhaps, a minor decline in taste which would only be noticed by some gourmands, or so they would cllaim
I don't regard this as a minor or funny topic but as something that deserves  major examination in Canada because the existing system, which mimics what the U.S. has done from the 1970s, is a minefield of misinformation.
There isn't a family that wouldn't benefit far more from university and federal studies into this subject instead of the various federally-funded esoteric topics that are detailed by the auditor general in those annual horror stories into wastage.
Like how many cow farts does it take to create a tonne of methane. Or how many gay couples can dance on the head of a pin.
This is a more important subject than the few paragraphs at the end of a recent column in Canadian Business magazine. The item had a useful quote from William Navarre, a molecular geneticist at University of Toronto: "There is no magic switch that turns food from being healthy to dangerous on its expiry date. Moreover, the vast majority of bacteria and fungi involved in spoilage are not toxic, but spoiled food will turn your stomach with smell and taste."
I knew that back in my single days. Even if food allmost made me gag, it wasn't going to poison me. But then I got married and Mary gets suspicious of just about anything that has sat in the fridge for more than an hour. For example, I have to cook and consume one of my favourite foods, chicken pie from Costco, within an hour of carrying it in from the porch.  Yogurt is suspicious before I get it out of the store, and the really old cheddar, which may already have little green blossoms from the "spoilage" that helped create it in the first place, is viewed as a probable cause for plague.
By the way, Navarre told the magazine that most refrigerators are a tad warm and if you want to keep food fresher, turn the thermostat down.
Time magazine has a columnist, Joel Stein, who is often so different whimsically that you wonder why you're reading him, but he zeroed in on this study from a spousal war perspective under the headline Till Mould Do Us Part.
I really could identify. He also hid food from his wife that he wanted to eat rather than trash.
He gave some history about the "sell-by eat-by" dates that caused the NRDC and law school to recommend elimination because they are so confusing and misleading.
Apparently these tortured semantics of date info, which avoid the killer word  of "expiration," but say instead "use by, enjoy by, sell by, best before," was dreamed up by local and state organizations as a guide to consumers about when the product would be freshest. Yet it has become known as the date that is your last chance to avoid food poisoning.
Stein also quoted a scientist, in this case an NRDC expert, who made a statement that I intend to paint on the kitchen wall. Food poisoning comes from contamination, not spoilage.
For example, this scientist, Dana Gunders, said that eggs are good a month after their date. (Heck, I'm no scientist but I knew that. It used to take a winter to get eggs so rotten that when we used the stinking eggs as added ammunition in a snow ball fight, the loser wasn't allowed in the farmhouse.)
Stein tried to get comment from the industry without much luck, although General Mills said it's "better if used by" dates are based on "sensory evaluation" by "product developers and expert tasters."
In other words, based  on taste, not on whether it will bed you.
Apparently there is at least one country which insists on having two dates on food package, the first related to taste and the second related to danger. Now that compromise makes some sense.
I remember using a remote cabin in the Yukon Territory for a weekend of fishing when the grayling really didn't co-operate in the mountain stream. But there was some food in an  old cupboard. From the newspapers lining the shelf, it seemed they were canned just after the Gold Rush. Not that bad, however.
The Time columnist claimed victory by the end of the column when his wife said she would now keep old eggs but then asked him to smell something later to see if it had gone bad. It was buttermilk. Sneaky, since buttermilk always smells bad.
I think Stein is just another husband losing just another fight in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I know what side Mary would be on.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013



 It was J.P. Morgan who got a stock tip from his cabby when he arrived at Wall St. in 1929.
He went to his office and sold everything, thus not only preserving his fortune but increasing it during the Great Depression.
After all, he said, when even the shoeshine boys are giving tips, along with the barbers and the cleaning ladies, there is a mass hysteria  that means common sense takes the first suicidal plunge out the window.
That is the way I feel about this great depression, all this yammering about Mayor Rob Ford. Now I can understand the Star. It has always been prone to ranting, and Ford, his brother and his athletic supporters, would never be acceptable to the Star even if they found a way to increase the value of the Star stock by 400% back to the levels where suckers bought it.
Everyone had an opinion but too few know very much about what really happened and what the mayoral powers really are.
I have been asked at recent meetings just why I have not written about the debacle, and I mean the incessant coverage of the Star and the whining of councillors who think they would be a better mayor. Actually they wouldn't even be suitable as defeated candidates.
And a number of friends have pointed out that I told them several years ago that members of the Toronto police force (I find the use of the term "service" to be smarmy) thought that Ford was a crack cocaine addict. One source was a senior and retired City Hall official who knew something about the police because he had once worked for me as a clever police reporter.
There is no need to recite all the sordid details of the Ford dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight. The Star and the rest of the media are overdosing us on that because, after all, covering one scandal is a lot easier than reporting all the news that happens daily in the GTA without the baited breath of watching journalist. (And yes that is a pun.)
At  the rotting foundation of all this outrage rests one great gravestone of information that should dominate the debate instead of being largely ignored.
We do not have a "strong mayor" system. The mayor is vested with some special real and perceived powers, both by bylaw and provincial legislation, a few of which have been removed, perhaps illegally, by council, but in the end, he is just one of 45  votes on the council.
Ford could decamp to some Polynesian island and drink fermented coconut juice until he passes out daily on some secluded beach and the business of the City of Toronto would and should continue to be done.
The second gravestone below the controversy is that Ford is not a crook. There is no evidence that he has stolen vast sums like former mayors from too many large American citiesm like Detroit, to Canadian municipalities like Montreal and much of Quebec. Actually Toronto has been remarkably free of corrupt leaders.
His crimes are personal and moral mixed with stupidity, mad dog temper,  and a crude mouth. He associates with crooks and jerks and low lifes (and no I'm not talking about some councillors) and it is disgusting that even a man with maybe normal IQ (and Ford has never dazzled me with his intellect) would not see that so many of the people he has been seen consorting with are like dregs from a bad jail.
Once upon a time, I was president of the CNE and Ford was one of the directors who made inane motions. I would argue publicly and privately with Ford, but I never doubted that his motivation was sincere and driven by a desire to keep public spending to a minimum.
Over the years, I have often been around Ford and argued with him about everything from football to the free passes that councillors got to the city golf courses (he was opposed) and found him agreeable and persistent in ward duties although as stubborn as a mule with a headache.
Lately I have discussed him with his confidants, former mayors and many observers, and we all agreed that despite all the drunk sightings and rumours, we had never seen him with a drink in his hand, redolent with marijuana, fierce with anger or impaired in any way except with his words. However, he has often looked like a sweaty drunk with a three-day hangover.
The worst tailoring of any mayor ever.
Awkward when not bumptious!
But back to this idea that the city is paralyzed by Ford dancing like a clumsy bear while the media shoot   questions like bullets at his innards. I notice this is floated by the usual suspects, the Star reinforced by some pols and profs anxious to get their names in the paper so that their colleagues will think they actually know wotinhell they are talking about in reality politics.
And also back to the idea that this city or province or country is embarrassed by anything its leaders and politicians do. Good heavens, folks, we have had too much practise in trying to keep our composure and not lynch a few senators or MPs or MPPs or councillors when they waste another billion or two on inept administration while screwing up OHIP or even generating plants. Some aren't even convincing liars.
Lock Ford in a room with cases of vodka and tonnes of whatever paraphernalia you need for crack cocaine and give him ten years of absolute power and he wouldn't be able to waste as much money as Queen's Park or Ottawa does in one day. No, make that one hour.
Back in 1971 when we started the Toronto Sun, I was pressed into service by Doug Creighton and Peter Worthing to write daily on Page 4 about politics. They meant largely municipal politics because I had a background in such coverage, even writing the memoirs of Nathan Phillips before he was the name on the square.
I snuck up University Ave. to the Leg or to budget speeches in Ottawa as much as possible because so many Toronto municipal issues are the same year after year. And when it comes to subways, decade after decade. I fled the country as much as possible, and when I returned to a council meeting, some times the same speaker would be on their feet talking about the same issue.
In an effort to make Toronto urban government more relevant, maybe even dynamic, provincial governments went for amalgamation (a good idea done the wrong way) and longer municipal terms (just plainly dumb.)
I had done some writing for the Board of Trade which once tried to hire me as their communications director, so they pressed me into service on a task force studying urban governance. I was the only media member. Task force members ranged from Michael Wilson, the former federal treasurer and ambassador to the U.S., to Al Leach,  the provincial minister who had imposed amalgamation, to a wonderful group of former key City Hall officials.
I have great respect for Wilson but told him he was wrong when he wanted a "strong mayor" system in Toronto like there was in New York and Chicago where the mayors basically run everything.
And a former City Clerk and retired commissioners agreed with me.
Our argument was you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. What happens if you get stuck with a bad mayor, if he was terrible with his ideas and his appointments and his general approach to "ruling." It's great if they're dynamic and visionary and persuasive, but what happens if we get a real dud...say like Rob Ford.
Wilson in simple but firm speeches managed to win some support for a powerful mayor who would be allowed to implement the platform promised during the election. Later, in 2008, David Miller tried to increase even those powers, but, thank heavens, that trendy flop of a mayor didn't win, or else the city would be flooded with New Democrats. The final compromise, unfortunately also including a four year term, is a system where mayors have more power than they used to - in appointing an executive, committee chairs etc. - but still need 22 other votes to change anything.
I have written about this often, the last time on Jan. 23 in a blog/column titled SCREWED BY STRONG MAYOR ZEALOTS.
 I have also written, with disgust, about all this handwringing about how it is embarrassing to have Ford as a butt of jokes on Letterman, Leno, Stewart. Colbert, etc.
No wonder American TV want to poke fun at us over Ford because they need every diversion they can get. Jay Leno has admitted that. Their crippled government has turned into a stinking mess where the debt has reached such an incredible height that a recession next year is looming and their great great great grandchildren will still be struggling to get out from under the wasted trillions in debt..
They are now deadlocked over a weak form of medicare which Canadians have had, happily, for decades. Deep  down, as Ford has become the most recognized scandal in the world, foreigners know that he is the exception.
Of course we should be unhappy with this whining mess at our City Hall. Of course we should want it to end. But let's not pretend that Ford is a ripe boil and that conservatives/ Conservatives, should be embarrassed to have had such a flawed angry man as their champion.
Downtown councillors, and the lefties and gLiberals from the suburbs, are to blame partially for this.  For decades, the inner city has demanded higher quality of services and obeisance to the downtown issues like affordable housing, street beggars and screwing commuter traffic,
 As a result, the suburbs elected Rob Ford despite all his warts and simplistic talk. At least he was in favour of lower taxes and getting rid of waste. Anyone who had ever spent an hour with this rusty Ford before his mayoral election knew he would be a lousy leader, EXCEPT for those tight-fisted policies on taxes.
Most suburban voter didn't much care what happened at City Hall as long as it wasn't sillier or more expensive that what had been inflicted on us.  Let's have someone, even clownish, to thwart the nuttier ideas from Adam Vaughan, Gord Perks and the councillors who think a bicycle is a heavenly creation to be worshipped while the automobile should be diverted to labyrinths filled with mines and speed traps.
So Ford Nation won. He took the downtown on when better candidates like John Tory chickened out. George Smitherman was vaguely controversial on homosexual issues and flamboyantly a Grit who had wasted hundreds of millions. So Ford overdosed on his chutzpah and charged into the valley of the socialists.
To every action in politics, eventually there is an equal and opposite  reaction, especially when it comes to wasting taxes. So Ford was a victory for the suburban middle class, not the downtown activists who have never seen a program they haven't wanted others to pay for. And now, horrors, the mayor's support took a long time to collapse, despite the Star and these sordid videos and revelations where he is more a drunk than a reasonable man.
 When council's frustrated anti-Ford members wonder why all this has happened, why those blind and bland suburbanites would have united behind such a flawed one-trick inarticulate mayor  of all the wrong people, they should look in the mirror.
 As the legendary Pogo comic strip put it in 1970:  "We have met the enemy and he is us."
We will havc to explain that to the Star while pointing out as gently as we can for drooling commentators that it really is all right in Canada in 2013 to be a conservative, even for some when it turned out he gets as hammered and belligerent and horny as too many of the drunks in the Entertainment District on a Saturday night.
He just didn't know how to conceal the demons that are in too many of the egotists who run in politics.

Monday, November 11, 2013



We have all become so used to the speed limits on our major highways being set too low that no one obeys them except for some idiots in the passing lane.
Periodically, some traffic expert points that out, and everyone agrees - including, to my personal knowledge, the cabinet ministers  in charge of setting those limits - but then nothing happens.
And scofflawism is fertilized by the stupidity.
Experienced drivers never limp along at 100 km/h but do up to 116, because they know from what they see around them, and it has often been confirmed to them by experienced cops, that no one is about  to give you a ticket if you are driving calmly under 120 in good road conditions.
All bets are off if the weather is as bad as you weaving in and out because of some idiot dozing in the outside lane. (If they tried that on the autobahns of Europe, they would probably be rammed before the police took them in for a sanity test.)
There are many commentators besides me who have been saying that for years. I have made this point to at least three transportation ministers when they met with the Ontario Safety League board when I was a director. One agreed because he had to commute from his Ottawa riding  to Queen's Park and said the trip would become too time consuming if he obeyed the speed signs.
Apparently the idea that speed limits be raised was posted on the Ontario Liberal Party web site looking for new ideas for the stale government and according to the National Post, reached the top three of a possible 1,151 ideas for change before it was pulled for, probably, being too controversial.
I think the speed limits can be set at 120 for the 400 super roads and at 90 for most highways. If politicians worry that drivers would then go another 20 km/h over the new limit - which obviously would be dangerous considering how many poor drivers are on the roads - increase the fines for speeding. And while you're at it, urge police to pull over drivers dawdling in the outside passing lanes because they are causing more problems and ruining more tempers than any speeder.
The problem, as any cop who has investigated many traffic accidents will tell you, is vehicles moving at much different speeds.
On a good day when traffic is rolling along at 115 to 120, it is much safer than when you have some idiot holding up passing and a few more zipping in and out at over 130.
I often think when I drive through such notorious speed trap zones as the OPP enforcement at Cobourg and Port Hope that we all would be safer and traffic would move quicker if the cops concentrated on the lousy driving where you swear that either they got their licence in a Cracker Jack box or they bought it under the table.
And unfortunately, some have.

Sunday, November 10, 2013



Ah yes, ninety nine bottles of beer on the wall....the anthem ditty of cubs and field trips and those long trips home on Sunday night when the 1930 Model A sat mired in the traffic of Highway 400 feeding south from Cottage Country.
Haven't sung it in decades. But one mention does bring back those days of waiting outside beer stores for some older gent who would buy for you, and those trips back from Niagara Falls in high school when you smoked five cent rum crook cigars and drank a warm beer and manoeuvred to sit with some girl who seemed amenable to a little necking....but that's all.
I have spent recent years with far more than ninety nine bottles of beer on my wall. Try 400 or so, each different, each still capped, each carried home in a backpack from some exotic nook by a son who now has his own son out working and keeps fit by running marathons like that bloody one in Boston.
When John Henry finished gallivanting around half the countries of the world, Brett continued the travelling,  then Mark finished, occasionally lugging home so many beers and strange Cokes for his oldest brother that he actually killed a nerve in his back from the load.
The magnificent beer bottle collection, each still intact with the contents turning into some strange liquid with the passage of time (fortunately none ever exploded), stayed with Mary and me as John Henry moved from Ottawa apartment to Toronto condo to Toronto house to Boston house to California house as the babies arrived and the job evolved to  comfortable heights.
The beer bottles stayed behind, filling one crawl space and basement shelves not already occupied by the world's largest collection of used paint cans.
Finally, I grumbled enough. If I said nothing, I assumed there would still be too many beer bottles throughout the house after I moved to the happy newsroom in the sky...or maybe lower.
So John Henry jaunted in from the land of the backyard orange trees and did a little sorting. The really glamorous labels were put to one side with the more prosaic ones stuffed in old beer cartons. I noticed glumly that after this exercise, which I stupidly perceived as progress, I still had the same number of old beer bottles in various crannies of my small home.
Years passed. Nothing happened. And then, John Henry and I tried again, separating about 150 of the most interesting bottles and I displayed them on some book cases. Mary said nothing but she didn't have to because she radiated indignation about her home taking on some aspects of a brewery.
Now I find beer bottles really interesting. My favourite brew, Grolsch, the 400-year-old brewery in Holland, has that wonderful green bottle with the ceramic cap held so firmly in place that you can use it to store wine, vinegar etc. I can't bear to throw a Grolsch bottle away. Maybe this infected John Henry into being such a hoarder.
This summer I commented rather firmly that it was time to make a real stand in eliminating the stored beer, no matter how many of them would be a happy find for collectors. So John Henry went through the cases for those he couldn't bear to lose and moved some cases  to the garage.
I counted them yesterday. There are 144 bottles, all different, everything from Twist to Texas Cowboy to Chambly to Eku. There are varieties that haven't been brewed for a decade or two.
My garage is not one of those spacious affairs with three big doors where you could store an 18-wheeler but a modest box which hasn't been big enough to house even a small car for 40 years.
I'm tired of falling over these cases. But I don't feel like returning bottles just for the deposit (and the clerks refuse to take empties from stranger parts. ) After all, what can be more fascinating in pop culture than a capped beer from Russia or China or some island in the Pacific.
 I expect one day that some new pub looking for instant atmosphere will buy all my bottles to line their walls with suitable decor, and in return give me draft for a year. But then I come from the school of thought that assures daydreamers that if you stop dreaming, life ain't worth living.
One can always hope. At least there is no problem with the authorities over me selling what was once beer. Although, come to think of it, some of it probably tastes better than some of the concoctions that come out of our beer store, that foreign-owned monopoly.
And the price would be lower.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013



The receptionist said my appointment would be Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. No, I said, that is the key silence of Remembrance Day. I certainly wouldn't honour that solemn time in a dentist chair.
She said in confusion that it wasn't a holiday. No, not for many, but it is not just another weekday for me. I was in the air force. There were many around me in the reserve, and in my early years at the Toronto Telegram, who had heard the brazen throat of war and would never forget the roar.
We must not either. But too many do.
There was a nice revival in Etobicoke schools a couple of decades ago to honour the day. My son Mark stood on the roof of Richview and played the Last Post while classmates formed a circle belowaround the collegiate, minus the normal joshing. He was on CBC TV news that night and I was tearfully proud.
Years later, my grandsons at Sunnylea just across the road went to Royal York United for a special service and the school didn't screw it up as it has the Christmas concert. Of course Mary and I went.
These days the red poppy blooms from every lapel on TV and with the politicians. For once I am not cynical. Of course they know it's the thing to do from a PR sense, but it is the right thing to do!
But I noticed the other day as I took the subway to the Royal York Hotel that I was the only one wearing a poppy. When I arrived, there were poppies everywhere but this was the induction luncheon of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The five inductees and the hundreds who care about these issues who gathered with a nice sprinkling of dignitaries, are too familiar with the adversity that is imposed  on you by fate or health. They never will forget what so many volunteered to do so long ago.
Our lieutenant-governor, David Onley, nearing the end of his term where he has faithfully performed every task despite that wheelchair, was wearing a lovely red poppy that seemed made from the finest scarlet china. I am going to find out where he got it because I want one. (And for those who say that would deprive the Royal Canadian Legion of a sale, I think the key is the wearing, not the buying. But I will buy one anyway and not take it.)
I was at this luncheon two years ago when I tangled with Senator Nancy Ruth in an ugly scene. She was bellowing into her cell phone and generally ignoring the rest of us when she started attacking the feds for not charging HST on poppy sales.
Then she tore up a napkin and crudely fashioned a white poppy, which is the dumb idea of the anti-war folks like the lefties of the Rideau Institute and some students this year at the University of Ottawa who obviously have failed history. The students intend to distribute white poppies at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National Cenotaph.
Of course we should leave the demonstrators alone but if some veteran wants to punch one in the snout, I will pay the fine and hound any judge dumb enough to impose it.
I do not intend to discuss at length the flawed argument behind the white poppy except to point out that the red poppy is the symbol for the peace that was bought in blood by young men and women who were never lucky enough to go to some university that seems known more for antics than scholarship.
I wrote about my confrontation with Senator Nancy Ruth on Nov. 13. 2010 under the blog headline The Cruel Reach Of The HST. She later told my friend, David Smith, in the Senate that I was a jerk. (What did we say in the schoolyard? It takes one to know one.)
If she wants to shout her views on feminism as a lesbian, or take such issue with her family and its traditions that she won't even use the Jackman name (her father was the Tory MP who was the Canadian war link to Churchill, her brother Hal was a fine lieutenant-governor) she can preen like a mating walrus and do so because she just feeds the majority opinion in polls that we have had too many egotistical blowhards appointed to the Senate who only serve themselves.
Those whom we remember with the red poppy faced bullets and bombs to serve us, and peace, a message lost on some callow students and one senator who should know better.
When you wear a white poppy, you just shout out to everyone around you that you really don't understand the country in which you live which has such a proud record as a world leader in war and in peacekeeping.
I have loved the red poppysymbol since I first heard In Flanders Fields in Grade 1. It is a poem I have refused to recite from platforms because I just can't get through it without it grabbing my throat. And in my memory rises the agonizing neat rows of white headstones in the military cemeteries I have visited from lush Holland to the raw Sicilian soil.
It has to be red because it is the colour of the blood that made the peace and the iconic symbol possible.

Saturday, November 2, 2013



It's getting much harder to celebrate the birth of the Toronto Sun. Pioneers keep dying or falling on their ear. After all, it has been 42 years, and survivors are getting creaky.
Each Halloween, some Day Oners from the birth in the old Eclipse Building have gathered to chase ghosts and grumble about the state of journalism.
It's never been easy. Sort of like herding cats. A year ago, thanks to directions from the well-known golfer and occasional cartoonist and painter Andy Donato, Mary and I spent the first hour in the wrong restaurant. When we finally tracked down Donato and Dianne, who probably gives better directions, Yvonne and Peter Worthington weren't terribly interested in my excuse because Peter was hungry and more concerned with whether he could get sausages.
Peter is gone now, presumably grilling sausages over a camp fire on some front line in the sky, and Yvonne was in Washington, probably watching proudly while son-in-law David Frum seems to appear most hours on CNN.
So Andy brought in reinforcements for the celebration, Mark Bonokoski. Bono even got a hair cut.  He had done just about everything at the Sun and in the Sun chain and in journalism and broadcasting before being cast into outer darkness, literally, by the people trying to pretend they know how to run newspapers and not just make money.
The two are talented buddies. They are passionate voyeurs of life,. They want to capture it all,  one with brush and a puckish sense of the ridiculous, the other with an audacious insight..
Their motto has been on many a journalism shield -  to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, as they prick the windbags with their spears of pens.
Bono has gone to the dark side for journalists, to work in politics for Conservative leader Tim Hudak, and is sure to be a huge success because if the Tories don't win the next provincial election, they should test all Liberal voters for drugs and all NDP voters for common sense.
The question really is whether the Liberals will continue to be so corrupt and inept that by election day will there will be any reasonable people left to run for them? You see, I can say that sort of thing. I'm free. I listened to Donato and Bono grumble during the dinner, about how too many lawyers and dumb editors are balking at Donato's ideas, and how Bono has to be so careful with his verbs and adjectives, it seems no one wants to mention that the premier is a lesbian.
That baffles me. Since we've all been ordered not to discriminate against homosexuals - and only jerks would - why is it wrong to mention that the premier is a lesbian, or a blonde, or from, horrors, the Big Smoke of Toronto.
But let's return to our celebratory survival dinner where Mary and Karen, Bono's lady, had to listen to torrents of warm and acidic memories, and genial insults.
It started badly on Halloween when Dianne phoned from Mount Sinai emergency to say that Andy had tripped as he turned in some editor's office after an animated discussion about a cartoon and had lacerated his ear on the door jamb for between 15 and 17 stitches. (Why don't we say about 20, I suggested, because after all, it looked like he had gone 25 rounds with some editor who didn't like a cartoon. I know, I've been there.)
So we delayed the dinner for a night. And when we gathered at ViBo's, a restaurant near Royal York and Bloor that used to be a Sun gathering place  because the founding publisher/inspiration Doug Creighton liked the place, Andy was wearing a navy watch cap pulled down over his head and the big bloody bandage on his right ear, which made him look like either a hobbit or one of the seven dwarfs.
As Bono and I pointed out....often.
It's not unusual for participants to bleed during dinner, and not just with our words. Several years ago Worthington checked out of hospital for the dinner and was bleeding from a hole in his chest, which he offered to show to us but I was drinking a Bloody Mary at the time and didn't like the comparison.
The discussion arose this time, naturally, about what the Toronto Sun, the first newspaper and still the flagship of the giant Sun chain, had done to mark the anniversary. And we agreed the bosses had screwed it up again because they seem a trifle baffled about real journalism which doesn't treat staff as cannon fodder.
The Sun story had talked about how the Telegram finished one night and the next day the Sun took its place.
Actually it happened over a weekend. I put out the final edition of the Telegram on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 30 (it published during the day) and then on the Sunday, we worked into the night to produce Toronto's first daily tabloid for Monday, Nov. 1.
The strange Sun story featured a picture of publisher Mike Power (I still think of him as the high school) receiving a memento of the final Tely front page from Richard MacFarlane, a son of legendary editor J. D. MacFarlane, a fierce pit bull of a news hound known far and wide by his initials JDM.
I proved that I was an admirer of JDM when I was responsible as a member of the search committee for a new Ryerson University journalism chair for his recruitment and hiring.  (It was a little like hiring Gordie Howe to teach pee wee.) But JDM really doesn't have much to do with the end of the grand old lady of Melinda Street, the Toronto Telegram, or Creighton and Worthington starting a paper in such a indomitable way that we sold out the first day and always made so much money that we didn't have to touch the investors' money until expansion.
JDM had been gone from the Tely for several years before Big John Bassett closed it. I know because Creighton and I got promoted when he was fired. Everyone still admired him,  however, and Creighton brought him to the Sun in a controversial move for five years in 1976.
I hope Richard MacFarlane forgives me (I hope my sons work as hard as he has to keep his father's memory alive) but JDM's brave exploits in defying brass during World War Two when he edited our military newspaper, the Maple Leaf, and in being a truculent general during the Star-Tely newspaper wars, really put him in the pantheon of Canadian journalism, not his comparative few years with the Sun.
Surely the Toronto Sun, considering its flamboyant style and brilliant exhibitionism (I'm talking about the good old days, which really were) could have had someone like Mike Strobel, the resident wit and master of the terse sentence,  interview the originals still around the Sun, like Donato and veteran columnist Chris Blizzard, or those still active in Toronto, like Glen Woodcock, expert in big bands and cars, or Yvonne, John Cosway, Kathy Brooks, Hugh Wesley, Hartley Steward, Joan Sutton, Les Pyette and all the others who know where all the bodies are buried, along with the colourful anecdotes.
Heck, you could rent a hall, it would have to be a really big hall,  and invite everyone that the Sun has fired. It would make a great movie, with Harrison Ford playing Editor Worthington in the search for the honest Grit. Peter could use words like Ford used that bullwhip.
I would suggest that just taping one of our anniversary dinners would be a quick way to get a warm read, once you took out the curses and insults about Quebecor, but I guess Bono, Downing and a few others have become the living dead not even recognized on Halloween..
I know the present staff became understandably irritated with all of our nostalgia stuff about a decade or so ago, but working at the Sun really was the best fun I ever had with my clothes on.
Paul Rimstead getting so hammered on a few nights that the mayor of Toronto dictated the end of his columns from a phone in the pub. (Gee, can I really say that mayors of Toronto drank, or that cabinet ministers chased women until they themselves were caught.)
Remember the picture of Babs Amiel kissing a horse on Page 1 (some wag said the cutline should have said Babs was on the right).
Remember the Mounties searching for secret documents that Worthington had left, unnoticed, on top of his desk.
Just answering the phone could be an adventure.
I remember the department heads' meeting where I shocked everyone by saying that I got so many bomb threats, I never bothered to tell anyone.
The quiet day I was sharing an office with Bono and a guy phoned him to confess to a killing..
The mail could be an adventure too. I got a letter from a prisoner  telling me where he had buried a body. (They dug it up in a landfill.) And a letter from some where in New York State confessing to a murder for which another man had been convicted.  The first poor guy was then freed.
Ah yes, those were the days, my friend...
It's important in our society, ranging from our families even to our corporations, to remember the milestones, the anniversaries, the accomplishments.  This certainly holds true for newspapers. There is a mystique, a swaggering ego, to a good print publication. This inner flame must be respected and fed, not ignored.
Or just what is the point of it all?