Saturday, December 27, 2014



The seeds for Canada being the honest broker of the talks that led to the thaw in the Cuban boycott by the U.S.  were sown in a remarkable visit in 1976 to the island. It was sandwiched between state visits to Venezuela and Mexico, like a prison between two meadows.
It starred the Three Mouthketeers of Fidel Castro, Pierre Trudeau, and Margaret with baby Michel on one hip when she hadn't lost him in Mexico.
What a trip! The press corps had a wonderful time. So did the islanders. The Cubans turned out by the tens of thousands  (although many were forced to.)  Canucks were more fun that the dour Soviets and their grim faces and  monolithic architecture. Secret police were obvious everywhere. You had to write down your currency transactions.
It was an Iron Curtain country floating in the Caribbean, which led to a zany touch to the coverage. There are still bizarre bits about that trip floating in myths soaked with Cuba libres.
For example, there was a story that Trudeau once tried as a youth to canoe to Cuba from the Florida keys.
For example, John Harbron, a professor and editor who had studied in Havana and boasted a personal relationship with Trudeau, told me the reason the PM's Spanish was so good is that he had attended university in Cuba too.
For example, a good source told me that one reason for the rapport between Castro and Trudeau, besides the fact that neither gave a damn about what anyone else thought, is that a Jesuit priest who had taught Trudeau and made a great impression was later one of Castro's teachers.
For example, the media left Margaret alone for a wacky week, despite her stunts, because we believed she was mentally ill. For starters, we wondered about postpartum depression because Michel was only four months old.
So we cut her a break, so to speak. It was an uneasy truce because after all Trudeau was thrusting both his wife and his son into our faces when he knew she was having problems. It got so bad that Castro at some points carted Michel around as if he was the babysitter.
Finally I discovered Margaret in the lobby of the Caracas Hilton, very sexy but also shouting curses at her husband's secretary. When I intervened, she unloaded on me. Turned out I knew more swear words. So she fled to the state banquet where she gave a Nazi salute as O Canada was played and turned her back in the receiving line.
Almost matched her giving Michel in Mexico to a young Canadian backpacker to cuddle and then wandering off, forgetting about him, which led to a frantic RCMP search.
On the plane trip home, I got her to sing childish songs that she had composed for the wives of the leaders of Venezuela and Mexico into the media microphones. The next day I was on TV to refute her claim that I had pledged it was off-the-record.
But back to diplomacy. Castro and Trudeau had open admiration for each other. Trudeau generally wouldn't speak to me but when I asked him about SCUBA diving with the Cuban dictator, he was almost giddy in his praise, saying that they had gone deeper than he had ever been before and that Castro and his bodyguards just cut the fish apart in the depths, not caring a whit about sharks.
Ironically, years later, another Canadian that made an impression on Castro also went SCUBA diving with him even though he wasn't experienced.
As James Bartleman, our former lieutenant-governor, says in one of his fascinating four books on his life as our ambassador to countries like Cuba, he went to clear his mask when he was with Castro and one of the bodyguards held him up out of the water so he could do that without difficulty.
Years later, after the able Bartleman had been a key advisor to Jean Chretien as PM, the Liberal government dispatched him back to Cuba for secret talks when Canada was trying to improve the relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Nothing much happened that time, Bartleman told me, even though he had had a relationship with Castro who had routinely dropped in on him unannounced and talked all night when he was stationed there. Bartleman said he was fascinated by the attention until he realized that Fidel was probably just looking for an audience. His feelings for the Cubans cooled a trifle when they poisoned his beloved dog.
Various partnerships between Canada and Cuba, even when the Soviet Union kept the island economy from drowning, have blossomed over the years, along with Canada being the largest source of tourists.
In recent years, the Americans dreamed up strange reasons for charter flights even though it was illegal technically for an ordinary Yank to visit.
 Yet Canada continued to be the major source of  tourism  from the entire world, and Canada continued to be the secret neutral territory when the two wanted to talk, all due to the personal chemistry 38 years ago between two dictators, a giddy dame and a drooling baby.


Sunday, December 21, 2014



The latest crusade by the CARP / Zoomer / Znaimer empire is for the feds and Revenue Canada to reduce the mandatory annual withdrawals from RIFs. Talk about a fat-cat crusade!
There are much more important and significant issues for pensioners. As I wrote recently, the way the CRA cheats us on the value of deductions we are allowed to make for medical bills and charitable donations is nothing more than a dead hand slapping wrinkled faces.
Throw in the health system, the economy, and charity too.
After all, surely more pensioners would continue the health insurance they enjoyed with their former company if they got a better break in deducting those high premiums. And that would help with those huge public health budgets because that would be beneficial in improving the general health of seniors who worry about the costs if they seek help for the latest malady.
As for charity, the deductions allowed are laughable, about as funny as the fact you get more when you donate to obese politicians and their parties.
Saying that we shouldn't be forced to withdraw the current percentage amounts from the RIFs after they are converted from RRSPs may concern those getting rich running the CARP business, because, remember, it is not a non-profit organization.
The forced deductions for many  are irritating but not a major concern. You can always take the withdrawals and deposit them as your annual $5,500 TFSA deduction and reap the benefits later when it is advantageous.
The New Classical 96.3 FM is a station I listen to, alternating with Jazz 91.1. What drives me away is those awful sugary testimonials for Marilyn Lightstone's program at night.
She is a talented woman and creates a delightful ambience despite some of the poetry being incomprehensible. I will try to forget her silly TV commentary that tried to take the Jesus out of Christmas by saying that festivals at this time of the year have been common through the ages. Of course, they were. But this one is based in Christianity despite this Jewish attempt to explain that away.
No doubt, however, we are bombarded with regular promotion for her because she lives with the boss of the Zoomer empire,  Moses Znaimer, the legend in his own mind, who is a great broadcaster but is known to be a controversial control freak.
Obviously he is upset about his compulsory RIF deposits.
I find the Zoomer empire fascinating, but not so fascinating as to take its crummy magazine run by Suzanne Boyd who calls herself elegant. Believe me, you're not elegant if you preen that way.
Then there's Susan Eng, who has settled down from when she wrecked relations with the police while running the police board. She states the obvious in her representations to government which are repeated ad nauseam by the Zoomer empire.
CARP is now just initials but started off as the Canadian Association of Retired People. Then Moses saw you could sell more memberships and insurance etc. if you broadened the reach. I heard hosts on the FM station, which is now the oldest "new" station in the world, talk about CARP issues being of interests to those in their 30s and 40s which is, of course, nonsense because younger people really have different concerns than seniors issues.
 So he went to initials and said it was an organization for those over 50,  although I notice the magazine, which I no longer inflict on my mailman, says it's aimed at 45 plus.
Moses is on to a good thing and keeps expanding. And despite my dislike for the idiosyncratic promotion of CARP and the Znaimer family in all the media he controls, I do wish him well, sort of.
After all, the clever investor, Prem Watsa, known as the Warren Buffet of Canada, owns 28% of the Zoomer empire through Fairfax. And Watsa, a modest man I have met a few times, is noted as being as smart at the legendary Buffet when it comes to buying into good companies. And  I do have a titch of the family fortune invested in the giant Fairfax financial empire.
So I wish you well, Moses. Just don't go wandering too long in the wilderness in your incessant drive to promote you and yours.

Friday, December 19, 2014



Gina and Paul Godfrey are one of the power couples at the centre of many major events in Toronto since 1970, familiar faces in politics, media, charity and society.
Now they are stepping away from one of their best ideas, the Herbie Fund, started in 1979 so that poor sick foreign kids can get a difficult operation in Toronto that would not be possible at home.
Their big annual event is the Mistletone Ball. The Godfreys announced weeks ago at the last one that they were retiring. Sure they are. I'll just bet that at next year's, Gina will be making suggestions in her friendly bulldozer manner.
When Godfrey arrived at the Toronto Sun in 1984 after resigning as Metro chairman, ending a wonderful reign as Canada's most important municipal politician, I worried about just how bad he would be with his "publisher's musts."
Because there are always more stories and pictures than there is space, the only way to ensure most days that the material dear to the heart of the publisher makes the paper is to mark it "publisher's must."
Any smart editor makes sure that everyone knows about these musts because even tolerant publishers, and both Doug Creighton and Godfrey demonstrated regularly that they could be understanding, expect that what they want in the paper gets in the paper or wotinhell is the point of being the boss.
So the Sun made sure that the latest grateful recipient of the Herbie Fund was covered well in the paper, and the ball itself received major treatment.
Around 1990, Mary and I went off to South Africa to a conference on whether the grisly grip of apartheid really was loosening. Such trips were a wonderful escape from publisher's musts and the daily incessant hooting of politicians.
I worked hard in Johannesburg, finishing each day in the best restaurant with whatever major black figure I could attract with a fine meal. One of them, Sam Mabe, was killed mysteriously shortly afterwards and became a national legend. Another was Dr. Nthato Motlana, a charismatic controversial figure who was one of the famous Soweto 10, a leading group in the ANC party fighting the Afrikaners. As a result, he was considered a long-shot to be the first black president if his boyhood friend Nelson Mandela didn't make it.
Motlana entered the restaurant like a conquering hero. I thought the maitre d' was going to prostrate himself. Waiters buzzed around like bees. He ordered the most expensive bottle of wine. I didn't mind because I knew the only reason he was dining with me, since he later became a multimillionaire, was he was getting a great free meal.
On the way home, we flew to Durban to interview some Christians being persecuted for fighting the ANC over its boycott of schools. This was interrupted by a phone call from Publisher Godfrey. On the way to work, he said, he had heard about Siamese twins being born in some place in South Africa called Soweto.
I said that was interesting but why was he calling me? Because Sick Kids had just done a very difficult separation of Siamese twins and he thought I should bring these twins to Toronto as part of the Herbie Fund and use the same expertise.
Could I look into it, Paul asked. I stared out over the Indian Ocean and contemplated lugging two joined babies all the way to Toronto. Then I remembered Dr. Motlana, one of the first GPs to practise in the giant black township of Soweto where he was a hero. I told Paul I had a contact and I would phone him.
Mary asked casually what was the call about, and became quite alarmed when I explained there was a possibility we would be carting two new babies on a very long trip.  She needed no explanation as to the Herbie Fund because she had been drafted as an early committee member.
The next morning, I phoned Dr. Motlana but his wife said he was out jogging, which amazed me. Just imagine! Running in the heat through the crowded streets of a slum of three million.
I explained the offer carefully when he called back. He was almost offended. After all, he reminded me, South Africa is a major country when it comes to health care. The first heart transplant is only one of its many accomplishments. The hospital in Soweto, nicknamed Bara, is the largest in the world  with 429 buildings covering 173 acres. Besides, he said, the government would never allow it.
I said Sick Kids also had a world reputation and had just done a similar complicated separation. I said I would tackle the government. I phoned an aide to the health minister whom I had interviewed at length a few days before ( I had taken that aide for a fine meal) and said it would make the government look good. He phoned back with tentative approval. It helped that I had praised his boss in my column.
I phoned Godfrey and said this was all going to cost a lot because the government insisted that at least one  nurse had to come too. Perhaps we should up the limit on the Sun's credit card. Godfrey agreed, already savouring the stories. No need for them to be a publisher's must.
I phoned Dr. Motlana and said that the Herbie Fund and the Sun would fly the mother, the babies and nurses to Toronto and look after all expenses. I said I would have the head doctor at Sick Kids phone him if he wished and repeat the assurances.
He said he would let me know because the hospital now was trying to assemble a large enough team because this was going to be a far more complicated operation than the normal separation of Siamese twins. I never spoke to him again even though years later I tried to contact him for an update.
We waited, but finally Mary and I flew home. Nearly two weeks later, there was a small story that 40 doctors working in teams over 10 hours had done the separation. The babies survived.
The next year at the Mistletone Ball, some jerk alderman came by the table and observed snidely how nice it was that the Godfreys had brought a few people from the Sun, not that we had much to do with the work of the Herbie Fund. "You'll never know," I said.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


I looked around at a trial run for the Christmas dinner and thought to my amazement that we all were well, especially Mary who was standing and supervising and running to the kitchen rather than eating which is typical behaviour for women who have just cooked a fine meal.
I wouldn't rule out the last few years as being totally the winters of my discontent but let's just say there have been far too many hospitals and ERs and operations and rumours of operations and friends being inflicted similarly.
But things have been going swimmingly, thank you very much, and our luck seems to have improved. We actually have reduced the number of times we have to sit around waiting rooms mentally sticking skewers into the sensitive anatomies of tardy doctors.
When I say my luck has improved, I really mean it. Now if the turkey or ham skids to the kitchen floor without anyone noticing as I carve it, I can plunk it back on the platter without feeling too guilty. Why Brett came over quietly the other night and put up my Christmas lights, and when he and his family came over for the dinner rehearsal, only one string was out. Now that's success.
So I got my grandson Matthew to take a picture of Mary and me actually standing beside the tree which, believe it or not, was not always possible in recent years.  And we may actually send out a few cards, although email, the Internet, Skype, and LD package deals make it a lot easier to actually talk to people instead of trying to decipher the signatures on a Season's Greetings card.
So it's bah humbug to the grinches who would gut Christmas and God bless you to all of us who love everything about Christmas, even to lights that don't work and hams that skid off the table

Friday, December 5, 2014



We are moving to a cashless society, we are told. All we will have to do to pay is wave our credit cards or our keys or our phone or our finger prints at some device and leave.
Oh really! Do we really want this, when our computers and credit cards and phones and even our body parts routinely have glitches. When too many monthly bills have black holes.
People ask me how I fill my days. After all, I'm  a survivor of the 24/7 demands of big city journalism as an editor, columnist and commentator, and appear to content myself now with the occasional blog, with reading, lashing out at the modern media, and volunteer duties.
I find myself rather busy. For starters, there is a wasted hour or so every bloomingday just dealing with the hassles of the big city, and I'm not talking about traffic and the TTC tripling the time of every appointment.
It's doing the household chores and solving the latest bill snafu. (Only older readers will know that started as a profanity before its Sanitized initials became part of our English.)
Consider the last week.
Early call tells me someone is using my credit card number. Good news is that the company knows the $1,200 in charges in the last 12 hours are fraudulent. Bad news is that now I need a new card and have to phone its new number  to all the newspapers, telcos, CAA and various companies that deduct monthly from that card.
Home Bell bill arrives with a $70 charge for a call to China from my home when I'm actually at the cottage.
After 30 minutes in waiting and then arguing with the Bell person, I give up. She insists it was dialled from my house and unless, she says sarcastically, someone shimmied up the pole and tapped my line, it's my responsibility.
I think about it for a couple of days, then try calling the number in China.  Nothing. So I phone Bell again. I point out that no one is ever going to get through to that number in their records because there are not enough digits. Bell refuses to accept this explanation but cancels the charge because records show I have never phoned China from my home.
Cottage Bell bill arrives. It's over $100, which is interesting because I was there and suspended that service for the winter on Oct. 30 (ironically the day I supposedly called China from my home.)  I phone Bell and say that you can't charge the $49 to suspend the service and then keep charging me for supposedly using the service. Pick one, but you can't have both, although you will certainly try
 We chase our tails for a few minutes.  When I called in October, Bell demanded a couple of days extra to suspend service, which it didn't need before. So now it charged me for another week as well before cancelling the rest of the charge. I argued to the rep, saying the company's stock was at a record high and it really didn't have to cheat around the edges, but was ignored.
Rogers bill arrives. It listed a monthly charge for a paper bill and four magazines. I pointed out that I was promised it would waive the paper bill charge as an old customer and didn't want the four magazines since I didn't get two of them and didn't like the other two. Everything seems fine except the confirmation emailed by Rogers two days later cancelled only one magazine.
Costco has severed its relationships in Canada with Amex and has now partnered with a new credit company. So Mary and I had to apply for the new cards and go through the activation process.
Time consumed for all this would be at least four hours. I made eight phone calls and Mary made two just to sustain our credit and eliminate seven errors.  The harvest? I reclaimed $140 and now have two new cards and two new PINs to remember, not that the absence of my PIN prevented the last frauds. And four fewer magazines coming to the house if Rogers stops screwing up a routine request.
Just another chipping at my confidence about the joys of a cashless society. It seemed simpler when I paid cash.
It certainly makes me suspicious about all the companies wanting to eliminate the monthly bill. Just let us tell you what you owe us over the Internet, they say in their whining saving-paper way. I'm with the politicians and consumer agencies who have criticized this.
First of all, it assumes that everyone has and uses a computer regularly. Secondly it assumes that you will be happy with every charge. I find that my Internet billing isn't as complete and easy to check as the paper bill. Then there are their computer glitches. TD now charges me a monthly passbook fee for most of my accounts. It's sheer gravy for the bank, since the cost is probably not even a penny even when one of my passbooks was so scrambled with double entries that I threw it out.
Ah yes, there are those who anticipate the wonderful cash-free days. As for me, I can wait.

Thursday, December 4, 2014



Mary asked the other day who our MP was. Didn't remember. Strange! In the day, I knew most of the MPs in Ontario by name and riding.
And I have more than passing acquaintance with Etobicoke politics. Three decades ago, I had the Tory nomination sewn up in Etobicoke Lakeshore. When I decided to stay in newspapers, Patrick Boyer took my place and won.
I fumed under Grit rule there, from Jean Augustine, who never did much but was a politically correct dream, to Michael Ignatief, who was parachuted into the riding while searching a map to find Etobicoke.
Before I phoned friends who have represented the riding, the mailman dropped a letter from Bernard Trottier.  Just a sheet of paper mailed without postage, because of the MPs' deal, that had less info in it than the wrapping on a can of soup.
One side asked whether we thought "hard-working Canadians deserve to keep more of their money where it belongs: in their pocket."
There was a poll, allegedly, asking whether we thought "hard-working Canadians deserve tax breaks?"
Vote yes if you thought Canadians "should be able to keep more of their hard-earned money." Vote no if you are "happy paying more in taxes."
This canned crap written at Grade 4 level by the government's caucus services office for the foot soldiers is so puerile, it's offensive.
I happen to have voted Conservative and thought they got a bum dreal for the criticism when they dropped the HST by 1%. A smart, welcome way to stimulate the economy and help those with a modest income.
I am happy to listen to a message in the next election about how the Harper Tories will continue to be tougher on spending than the Liberals, who believe in spending liberally, and the New Democrats, who are never happier than when they nickel and dime the rich, steal from the middle class, and give the fruits of their doctrinaire labours to whom they say are the poor.
There are many variations of the Biblical expression about "by their fruits you will know them." A famous alternative is "by their deeds you will recognize them."
So I guess if Bernard Trottier ever really does something, I will recognize him.
And mailing some simplistic nonsense which leans so heavily on magic political words like hard-working, tax breaks and tax cuts ensures that I will continue not to be able to pick him out from all the other anonymous backbenchers.
 They do a jig whenever the PM's office calls the tune and mail out propaganda that would rate an F as an elementary school essay.
Better have a lot of lawn signs, Bernard Tro....sorry, forget your last name, if you want to get re-elected and do whatever you are supposed to as an MP without a voice or, come to think of it, a face or vote that means anything.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014



It is 34 steps from this computer key board to the front door.  Yet it seems to be a half marathon for mailmen and delivery services who always ring at least twice, and knock at least once, by the time I walk the 34 steps and open the door.
It bugs me. I just said to a pleasant looking guy who had never stopped knocking why didn't he allow enough time for someone who isn't parked just inside to get there.
"After all," I said, waving at my old storey-and-a-half around me, "it's not exactly a mansion I can get lost in."
(I think I remember Mary making that point several times over the 50 years we have lived in the house. After all, we had bought a starter home and never got around to moving since you can shove three sons into smaller spaces than three daughters.)
But now a time out since FedEx or Amazon or someone is pounding at my door 34 steps away.
This delivery guy pointed out that they were awfully busy and some damn people really did take a long time to answer. He never smiled when I said I had been so fast, he should give me a medal.
Mark is coming home from China for Christmas. As one of the Internet gurus there for Dell, my son  is a fan of Internet shopping. So he has a steady stream of packages arriving here.
He just reminded me over Skype to keep any Staples catalogues because he's a fan of its bargains. I told him that I think Staples, like some other companies that haven't been booming, is
 evolving away from many stores in real buildings to those in the ether because its Internet business is so profitable.
Once upon a time, as we used to say before the expression became "in the day,"  if a caller didn't wait a bit before the second ring or knock, you were considered rude.
Perhaps that's why the title stood out so much from a 1934 novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice. It was turned into a steamy (for the times) movie in 1946 with Lana Turner and John Garfield, and then there was a remake with Jack Nicholson in 1981. There was even an opera based on the novel.
Today the title seems dated because all postmen just keep knocking.
I almost sympathize with them, despite my regular scrambles for the door, because of all those who don't bother to answer at all.
Just ask politicians and the few charities which still knock on doors. I remember doing that years ago for the Salvation Army. When I wrote a column about all the doors that never opened, even for the May campaign of the Sally Ann, I was told by a senior officer that my experience was mirrored by other canvassers. It prompted a review of fundraising.
I'm a big fan of dealing with charities and politicians by mail. Don't call me, don't knock on my door, don't bug me at all if you want my money or my vote.  Just leave the letters and the boxes on the porch.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014



Let me tell you two stories, one more a horror than a tale, before my argument that Canada would be a fairer tax regime if the feds, abetted in its errors by the provinces, actually compensated us fully for our health costs and charity contributions.
Several years ago, returning happily from a Florida vacation, I descended on April Fool's Day into three months of hell in two American and two Toronto hospitals. I described it in a Toronto Sun series and some blogs.
What I never detailed was that TIC Travel Insurance refused to pay $85,000 in charges from West Virginia hospitals, air ambulance, paramedics and specialists, including a $55 x-ray charge from some jerk who was the first to send collection agencies after me.
TIC never told me about the refusal, just the health ministry who told me five months later. When the case by TIC finally shredded (like the tissues I was billed for in the U.S. hospitals) due to the support of my doctors and an assault of my letters, I had been out of  hospital for six months and had learned to walk again.
As I consulted my doctors and lawyers, they warned me about writing too much about it in case I gave ammunition to TIC and indeed the entire industry which is notorious for welshing and bluffing.
 The only thing that comforted me during the ordeal was my assumption that I would have a hell of an income tax deduction. I must have been more delirious than I thought because as most of us know when we're not impriosned in hospital beds, I would have been lucky to recover $22,000 of the $85,000. Thanks to the dunderheads of the CRA and their federal masters.
It was several years before that when for a number of reasons, including a generous mood that uncharacteristically lasted,  I had one of those years where you end up donating far more to the United Way, cancer, heart, Salvation Army, churches, hospitals, marathons etc. than you realize.
 I have a freelance income, so for years I have gone to accountants for filing our income tax after I spend long evenings sifting and sorting and adding and hunting odd pieces of paper. Besides, the gobbledygook laughingly provided by the Canada Revenue Agency as a "helpful guide" becomes as obscure as my high school Latin whenever I leave the beaten track of calculations.
So that April I showed up at the accountant's and waited with pleased anticipation as he fingered his computer and calculator and even an adding machine to tell me how much more Mary and I would be  getting back.
 How dumb can you be in a country where politicians seize half of every dollar you earn.!
The gloomy result was that both of us owed thousands. I had forgotten, of course, that just like the percentage games with health care receipts, you only get a slice back of charity contributions.
 Of course the pols treat political donations more kindly and give a better break if  you're dumb enough to contribute, say, to the bloody socialists. But not to the Sally Ann which does more for the poor of Canada than the NDP.
Let me propose what you and I can do about this.
 For starters, no political contributions.
Second, we demand that for the self-employed and pensioners who pay their own health insurance premiums, we are allowed to deduct the full amount without any weasel percentages.
And while the feds are at it, complete reimbursement of dental charges. They are too high, a disgrace throughout the country. As a result,  insurance companies wiggle out of paying in full for every procedure or just don't pay at all.
Why should these changes be made?
Because it is in the interest of the country that as many people as possible have health insurance. For pensioners like me who continued the company plan, it is a large cost, in my case around $5,400 annually. That causes people to cancel the plans, which is not helpful or healthy for the country or for them.
Then there are all those dental bills that aren't covered, yet OHIP saves money whenever people avoid having a ruined mouth that pump poison into the system.
As for charitable giving, the present limits are a farce. The federal rules should be tough enough so that every charity must prove its public benefit beyond doubt. And when it does, surely then it is to the advantage of us all that it can get all the private donations possible to continue its beneficial work.
It doesn't happen now because the CRA is Scrooge 365 days a year. and not just on Christmas Eve.
I laugh whenever accountants,  CRA and business magazines remind us of the "wonderful" way we can avoid capital gains tax by donating the stock directly to the charity. So we don't have to pay the capital gains on half of the increase in the value of the stock. And we get a charity deduction for the full amount, what we paid to buy the stock plus the amount the stock increased.
Now if only that charity deduction was treated differently than all the others you get from the church or the United Way. But it isn't. So in the process of avoiding the capital gains, you also donate all the money you spent acquiring the stock. Good for the charity, and the CRA looks benevolent, but since charity donations are gutted by those percentage limits, you aren't as well off as you should be for your charity.
The lord helps those who help themselves is an expression that has reverberated through the ages. But in Canada, the CRA and its political masters are dumb enough - as the financial overlords of taxation - to interfere with those who want to help themselves, and others at the same time, when it comes to health and charity.
It is obvious that if we weren't cheated on the value of our contributions, premiums and payments, solid middle class Canucks would spend more in these areas.
That would be good for the people, good for the country, but not, apparently for the politicians and their collection agency.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014



Wish Don Hunt, the inscrutable but genial giant, had told me about playing catch with Fidel Castro. I would have told him about getting drunk with Fidel while smoking Cohibas as we stood and teetered  on a couch at the Canadian Embassy.
But Don's gone now, along with 85 years of living, including all those decades of newspapering at the Telegram and Sun and a couple of American papers when it was a lot more fun.
And his stories are gone too. which is a pity, because it was a grand life when he was the solid but quieter foundation for the grand schemes of Doug and Peter.
At the celebration - which is what we call a wake these days - at St. George's Golf Club the other night, midst the crying and reminiscences about dad and grandpa and the squirming kids who didn't  understand how the family order had been shaken to its Etobicoke roots, I caught hints of anecdotes that will never be fleshed out.
Like the mistress of George the 41st.  And what Reagan said to him upstairs at the White House confessing to Iran-Contra. Like all journalists with a life as rich as a good Christmas cake,  Hunt had many stories, which he didn't always share.
As a collector and spinner of yarns, I was envious. Much to the alarm of one editor, my son Mark once wrote in the Sun that the family didn't mind me continually telling stories about the business because they wanted to see how they turned out this time.
 Hunt's Castro story came in the old pre-Jays days when the Toronto Maple Leafs, a good Triple-A club, were in spring training and went calling on Cuba in the  pre-Batista days. Hunt, then a sports reporter, fancied himself a basketball player and golfer so he was not bashful about fooling around with some Cubans hanging around the national team and tossed a few balls with some bearded chap.
Before his revolution, Fidel was the son of a wealthy plantation owner and had failed at his first revolt but was known in his country, a great nursery for good ballplayers, as a pitcher who was considered a good prospect by major league scouts if he only learned how to throw a curve.
He never did, except in communist propaganda, so he turned to other pursuits and threw out Fulgencia Batista and his Mob supporters, claiming as a murderous dictator that he was more moral than the murderous despot he replaced.
In several encounters with Fidel, I only played catch with him in a verbal sense. As we teetered on that couch, for example, I was grilling him on his country's military adventures in Africa while he pretended his soldiers had never crossed the ocean.
Hunt had many stories which he shared occasionally with the family. I wish he had written a book, his version of his founding of the Sun with Doug Creighton and Peter Worthington. There has never been a stranger mix of personalities in journalism.
I tried to describe the birth to the wake but it's a futile task unless the audience really understands what a wacky business newspapering really is especially when it involved our 62 Day Oners on Nov. 1, 1971.
We had sold out the initial press run of 60,000. The city was amazed and we pretended not to be surprised and grateful.
The first edition included our first of countless promotions. Come to the Sun with a balloon with a coupon inside and you won a trip. I have no idea as to where, and since most of us had a hard time finding our new home on the battered fourth floor of the Eclipse building, I couldn't figure out how a prize winner would even find our office that was a day old.
I was at City Hall trying to persuade Harry Rogers, the city property commissioner, to give us an office or desk or something there since the Globe reporters had stolen the Telegram office and refused to give me the key to theirs.
Rogers stonewalled me, even though we both laughed at the fact that the Globe reporters were so dumb they didn't know the ceiling in the old Tely office had leaked for six years.
So I talked myself by the receptionist and told Mayor William Dennison to order Rogers to give us the office. He stalled, but I hung in long enough for him to remember that he had been a trustee on the school board when my father was chairman (that used to be important.)
I phoned the Sun from this first satellite office to have Hunt inform me that instead of just joking about the balloon contest, I had to run it. I looked down into the square and there was Bert Petlock, a demon Tely police reporter now doing PR, blowing up balloons from a  cylinder of helium and sticking them under a tattered net. Obviously Bert had a new client who made balloons.
Hunt said find someone important to launch the balloons so Norm Betts can get a picture for Tuesday.
So I talked myself by that receptionist again and told the major he had to launch some balloons. This time he really resisted but I reminded him that I used to let him curl in the Tely house league.
Down we went to a cold nearly empty square. Just Petlock and me inflatingp balloons, surrounded by a dozen kids on bikes like vultures watching a kill. I pointed out they should be in school.  Dennison stood as a lonely figure to one side.
"What do I say," he asked me? "I'll make up something fine for the paper," I told him, "don't worry about it."
So he grabbed one end of the net, muttered something about launching these balloons for some cause that he didn't quite understand, and pulled it off.
The balloons just sat there. The kids pounced. About half of them grabbed balloons off the stone squares while I screamed they had to let them fly first and started peddling madly south looking for an Eclipse building.
I phoned Hunt, the general manager, promotion director, head accountant and president of our syndicate. (All of us had several jobs.) He took the news rather calmly that I hadn't thought to bellow out rules first. We decided that the trip prize would be given out an hour or so later and not to any urchins on a bike.
Those days were so busy and zany that I never did find out if we gave out the trip because I had a lot more to do. I headed up to Queen's Park to search for an office or a desk there which I only got by pretending that I would enlist the help of the new premier, Bill Davis (whom I had never met.)
And then I wrote my second column.
The Sun became famous for its promotions which flowered under Hunt's early direction  We would take over SkyDome or Woodbine for the day. Mary and I often would go with 50 trip winners to various tropical islands. Great fun! It almost made me forget the disaster for Hunt and me on the first day the Sun shone out of the Eclipse building.

Sunday, November 23, 2014



It's too soon for a full-throated defence of Christ-mass.
Let's hope it's not necessary.
It's to be hoped that all the idiots who think there is something awful about an open glorious celebration of the day and the season will mind their mouths more this year since when they speak they betray their ignorance about the wonderful message of peace and goodwill that permeates Christmas and also ignore its important position in the histories of our families and the country.
What triggers this is a page in the National Post titled "Perils of Perception." It's based on an Ipsos Reid global survey. I'm a fan of that polling outfit since the days when John Wright, a grand Pooh-bah of Ipsos Global Public Affairs, and I used to sum up each year in  long broadcasts on CFRB when it was still the giant and respected radio station.
Thanks to perceptive conversations with Wright, Larry Zolf and Jay Del Mah of the CBC, I was remarkably accurate in predicting elections and public moods.  They knew how to cut through the politically correct BS to what people really were thinking.
Wright sifted these latest polling results and said they meant "Canadians are flying blind in a cloud of misperception."
Misperceptions? By other Canadians, but not you? Bet you get them wrong too.
Canada was one of 14 countries where the publics were asked about their neighbours in such areas as religion and age.
We were almost as bad as those in France and Belgium about estimating the percentage of Muslims in our population. Canadians said it was 20%. It's actually 2%. An over-estimate mistake of 18%.
Only Americans were worse than us when it came to estimating the numbers of Christians. Canadians said the Christian population in Canada was 48.5%  It's actually 69%. An under-estimate mistake of 20.5%.
Only Italy and Poland goofed more in estimating their numbers over 65 years of age. Canadians said 39% of the country was over 65 when it's actually 14% due to all the immigration of younger people. That over-estimate mistake is 25%.
Several messages flow out of these figures that should influence how our politicians should act.
Let's start with Christmas. We have renamed the concerts in our schools, the celebration trees in our squares, our greetings and cards, and banned manger depictions. We have shoved Jewish and Muslim language and customs into our celebrations and accepted Kwanzaa, a "black" celebration dreamed up by a minor American prof several decades ago.
Yet consider the figures. On the side of an unabashed Christmas celebration, we have 69% of the country. The opposition is rooted, perhaps, in the 2% of Canadian Muslims and the 1.1% saying they are Jewish in religion or ethnicity.
The reason I added "perhaps" is because of all my Jewish friends who have adopted some of the customs of Christmas and are a little baffled and even embarrassed about the elevation of Hanukkah which they regarded as a minor celebration.
(Then there was my friend who burned down his mansion when he lit the candle central to the tradition. The joke is that now his friends who think about moving phone to ask if he can come over to celebrate Hanukkah with them.)
By the time we add in all the atheists, agnostics and people who really don't give a damn, and remember that Kwanzaa was supposedly an addition to a centuries-old season and wasn't intended to replace it, it seems we have about 80% for Christmas, perhaps 3% against, and the rest too busy shopping and drinking and partying to care much either way.
Oh shit, I forgot the shrivelled principals and trustees, gutless politicians and the activists who are never happier than when they are making us wear a barbed-wire T-shirt of their principles. There may be only a thousand or so of them at the worst of times but they figure they're more important than the millions.
Let me remind you that I have never believed in religious schools. I think our taxes should support only one secular school system but that Jews, Catholics, Muslims or Baal-worshippers should be given time in public facilities to teach whatever religious views they desire.
I have no desire to force religion on anyone but surely the major religious celebration of most of the country need not be harassed and be allowed to speak its name. It should be made easy for minorities to opt out but the majority, remember, have rights too.
Let's not forget that figure that too many Canadians think that 39% of the country are pensioners. Yikes! No wonder I have read and heard recently of the rather militant philosophy that the elderly in this country are doing just fine, thank you very much, and there is no need to help them in taxation.
What BS! Obviously the fear is that there are now so many old farts around, the country will go bankrupt if they get even a feeble increase in benefits. So help the young and let the oldies wither, you know those who built the country and made it possible for the young to exist.
Wright may have it wrong when he says Canadians are "flying blind in a cloud of misperception." I think such groups as unionists, activists, socialists, and bankers know damn well what the real demographic figures are and ignore or misrepresent them to suit their selfish purposes.
Maybe they should watch Scrooge again.
And the rest of us should stop feeling so smug about how smart and worldly we are - especially compared to the U.S. - when it comes to demographics.
Turns out there is much we don't know about ourselves, even thinking, for example that 39% of us are immigrants when it's actually 21%.
Generous compared to the world, but substantially lower than our mental picture. We really are flying blind. Bring on the guide dogs, the real stats, not the ones made up by the liars who figure and the figures who lie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014



I hold a battered pair of giant scissors. I suspect that when they were bought seven decades or so ago, they were called paper shears. Etched by acid on one blade, and almost obliterated by wear, is the name "Bob Webber."
I know nothing about Webber except that years before I joined the vanished and beloved Telegram he wrote a column there under the byline Thomas Richard Henry. a formal version of Tom, Dick and Harry.'
That's an expression first used, apparently, in 1657, by writers when they wanted  to talk about a group of ordinary people, if you want to put it cruelly, nobodies.
Politicians now rely on polls to tell them what people think. Ad agencies once said - there's probably a new saying - let's run it up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes. But back in Webber's day, ordinary souls you wanted to talk about were grouped under Tom, Dick and Harry. And if some budding feminist wanted to turn Harry into Harriet, most wouldn't know why.
I don't know how I came to possess the shears at the old Tely building at Bay and Melinda. But I brought them to the new building near Front and Spadina now misused by the Globe, and then to the weird first quarters of the Sun, and then to City Hall and various Sun offices, and now I try to cut out clippings of interesting stories with them at home. They haven't been sharp for years.
I often have visualized  Webber reading the locals, weeklies, exchanges and various magazines armed with the scissors and cutting out grist for his paper mill which would appear in fat paragraphs separated by three dots. He gave credit, of course, since plagiarism is just for the lazy, or for the idiots who want to pretend they're the fount of all interesting observations.
The item or three dot columnists have a higher readership according to newspaper surveys than columns on one topic, something Doug Creighton used to remind me of on a regular basis.
A great, amiable, tough publisher! But when I was tasked with writing a daily column, and a extra one when the brass had one of their brainstorms about special sections, any time I could stretch a paragraph into a full column I did. Even though I knew that Doug, bless 'em, was right. In a busy world, tidbit columns look more appealing than an essay or a full rant.
Often a columnist is just taking one more kick at a familiar can, returning to the prey for just one more comment on something they've harangued readers about for years.
So here, in honour of J. Douglas Creighton, and the Bob Webber who was just a memory when we both arrived at the old Tely, is a three dot column.

                                                     .        .         .

    We al seek relief from bad news. So all the papers reported with glee that the Yukon has miniature drunk tanks to help birds, generally Bohemian waxwings, sober up after gorging so much on fermented berries, they can't fly straight, or crooked either. The Post added that drunkeness is not unusual in the animal world. In Sweden, moose eat fermented apples and charge into towns. A herd of elephants in India drank a village's store of rice wine and killed three and destroyed 60 homes in a rampage. I can vouch for what happens when animals get high on spoiled fruit. I endure deafening belligerent crows at my cottage after they eat the rotting apples under my old tree and clusters of very gamy wild grapes. on a fence. As a boy I fed preserves that had gone bad to our chickens which staggered blindly around while my Baptist grandparents worried about avian disease.

                                       .                    .                 .

        What didn't get enough publicity is the latest report on the hundreds of millions being made in Ontario thanks to us being overcharged on Hydro. It's been going on for decades thanks to Hydro being the gang that couldn't shoot straight when it came to facts, fuses and schemes. The provincially-owned Ontario Power Generation had a net profit of $119 million for the three months ending Sept. 30. Hydro One, which owns the electricity transmission system and delivers power, sort of, to most of rural Ontario, said it grossed $1.556 billion for that period, up from the $1.542 billion it made a year ago. Net profit was "only" $173 million, down from $218 million. Actually the Star said $218 billion, but the reporter there can be excused because with Hydro it's hard to tell millions from billions with a billing system so wrong that it cost more than $40 million to fix. Or maybe it really  was $40 billion. And maybe it's not fixed.

                                                   .                .                   .

   Pedestrian deaths are up, so now TV has noticed all the distracted walkers, particularly teenagers, who wander through intersections and Stop signs with music blasting in their ears while texting or transfixed on a smart phone telling them what their best friend is wearing.  Let's not just blame the young. In my comfortable area of Etobicoke, a young mother or nanny pushing a giant stroller through turning cars at an intersection while dragging a dog and talking on the phone is a common sight.  Driving the side streets around Bloor and Royal York, and I would imagine similar areas in Toronto and other cities, especially at night, has become a gauntlet of danger due to all the people dressed in dark clothes wandering along listening to their music.and aggressively competing with cars for space. Maybe they should select organ music for their funeral at the same time.  One night I came across an unconscious teenager in the middle of the road near my house and called 911 but it turned out she was just drunk and had fallen on her head from her bike and wasn't wearing a helmet. Oh that's all right, I thought, I was worried she was hit by a car or a cyclist because no one obeys the Stop sign there which is only a block from a junior school. Sounds bizarre, I know, but I think a law covering extreme examples of distracted walking is needed as much as the current one against driving while holding a cell phone. Not just to protect the pedestrians, to protect also the rest of us from all the hassles if we run them down.



Friday, November 7, 2014



The wind was cold and the waves rough but I continued to fish. Why? Because there are few opportunities left for me where I can catch or grow what I then can eat with added pleasure.
I had bought lots of minnows for a change. Since no one was around at Burnt Point, there was nothing to stop me from fishing for hours. No interruptions, just peace,  listening to classical music, daydreaming, letting the hassles of big city life from traffic to taxes to inane pols leach out of my system.
Let's not forget, either, the red tape traps, the fogs rising from bureaucratic swamps of print which seldom make it plain just what in hell you can or cannot do.
As a boy, I grew all the vegetables my sisters and grandmother ate, tended the Leghorns in the back pen, fished, and went berry picking. More a necessity than a pleasure. I know there are adults who find all that a restful hobby but I'm grateful to put most of that behind me, especially the weeds and chicken shit.
Yet in a tiny echo from my past, I still stew rhubarb from a huge patch and apple sauce from an ancient dwarf Mac. I still fish for pleasure and for food, and have done so around the world, from the upper Amazon to the Cook Islands.
My Kawarthas reverie is broken by a big plump smallmouth bass chomping my bait and dancing out of the water.   A struggle follows. Best fish of the year if I could land it. And I did. Then another. I already could taste the fillets, and had already tasted the fun.
 Then a big pike ripped at my hook.  It tore a hole in the net but I finally landed it using my dubious skills. I grumbled to myself because there never used to be pike in this stretch of the Trent River.
Since most of us would rather catch muskie than pike, the fewer pike around the better since they eat each other's young. But you don't keep fish you don't eat and I didn't want to deal with all those bones. Yet I thought I would measure before I released it. It was over 36" (90 cm) but it was hard to be sure since it lunged at me every time I brought the tape measure close to its head.
Fish activity slowed and the sun sank like a fiery rock. Then there was another bass, short but fat. Maybe a foot (30 cm). Couldn't remember the minimum bass size but I didn't toss it back immediately because added to the others it would make a grand meal for Mary and me and company.
Left it swimming in a pail and ransacked the cottage for my booklet of fishing rules. Nope. So I did a quick Google hit on an old laptop. Endless government propaganda about the reasons for fishing regs but nothing simple and obvious about real size figures. So I released the bass and Mary and I had a delicious meal by ourselves.
Later, I plunged back into the mysteries of Ontario fishing rules and found they were still as confusing as ever. This has bugged me for years. I blogged about it on Nov. 13, 2008 titled Fishing For Understanding And Bass, and then again on Jan.  29, 2009 titled A Guide To Ontario Fishing, which I intended to be sarcastic because it outlined the defence and justifications for the incomprehensible fishing rules by the natural resources ministry and its minister Donna Cansfield.
After I found that my cousin David Prescott and I had broken regulations involving pickerel - even though he is a banker expert on small print and actually understands all the rules of golf - I complained to ministry officials that there wouldn't be so many breaking the rules on purpose or accidentally around my point if the rules were clear and succinct and not infested with the rationalization and BS.
Ironically, when Cansfield, whom I know as a veteran Etobicoke politician, sent me the official ministry response to my complaint, she added in pen at the end of the letter that she agreed with my complaint. I first raised it with her at a Sun salmon derby opening where I helped her land a chinnook around 10 kg. (23 pounds), by far the largest fish she had ever caught.
The ministry policy wonks have partitioned the province as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. Fish size vary, and so do seasons, between lakes and rivers even if they're just a few kilometres apart. Yet surely, as I've said to the minister and officials, there can be some general rules that you can stick in with your tackle so you don't have to guess.
For example, I think you can keep a bass in some areas if it's 10 inches long but it must be 12" in other areas. Then there are several lengths for muskie. Pickerel lengths and numbers seem to change every few years. It doesn't help either when the ministry adds weasel words that warn regulations keep changing and it's up to us to keep up.  And it doesn't help either that if you haven't found the latest booklet of regulations, you can download it from the Internet if you have the time and paper for the 104 pages.
Surely they can develop basic size and season rules for most species. The current conflicting muddle reads like every ministry expert has different rules about fish in their own fief. The Internet is an ideal place for ministries and agencies to give snapshots of their rules and procedures but too often what you get is a cross between a dog's breakfast and a litter box.
Remember the old GE slogan delivered on TV by someone named Ronald Reagan about "progress is our most important product." Unfortunately, governments made that "process is our most important product." And process, of course, even in the age of the computer, runs on paper, endless pages of endless reports. Making sense of it all, heck just keeping track of it all, is difficult.
The other day I went hunting on the Internet for the current parking fines in Toronto. Never did find one list even though the city claims it really is Internet savvy. As I wrote in another blog, a few years ago I tried to find the rules for parking if you have an Accessible (disabled) permit.  The Internet info was garbled, but then that matched the official answering the phone that day at City Hall.
Of course the Canadian Revenue Agency is the champ of obscurity. And when it really wants to get cute, it leaves such a grey area that it is free to interpret the issue whatever way the official dealing with the matter that day feels like.
The trouble is, our bureaucracies produce signage, instructions and bylaws written and approved by officials who already know the answers and what is legal and desired.  Where are the test panels of ordinary citizens who can survey the Niagara of outflow and say that when red tape is clear as mud and takes far too long to figure out?
It's only in very old movies and books that we have the barefoot boy with bamboo pole and a worm on a hook and string catching the bass and frying it without consulting a 104-page book of rules composed by experts who if we let them would have a different regulation for every river.
I daydream about those days some times when I fish. Some days it's just simpler to throw the fish back than trying to figure out if it is legal.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014



This grand occasion has been happening since 1993.  I have always had awe and respect for the wonderful people whose names enter this pantheon of achievement in the daily struggle.
Strides have been made in this battle for access and inclusion. Yet more has to be done. The clues were everywhere at the luncheon. A nice celebration but all there in the Royal York have a wish list of needs that have still not been met.
David Crombie has chaired the selection committee from the start. The founder and inspiration for it all is Vim Kochhar, the retired senator, who was honoured to his surprise by the Hall this year. Together they say that by promoting the accomplishments of the inductees, a broader message is  spread about all those striving to succeed - to work and play and go to school and raise families - just like those of us without physical disabilities.
We must all do more to remove the barriers, and believe me, hurdles are there despite decades of supposed caring.
If you think this is just rhetoric from a creaky editor who has been a committee member since it began, consider what this year's inductees faced, these shining examples of not letting adversity shove you into a corner. And then think of what their next generation still face!
Sudarshan Gautam has no arms but climbed Mt. Everest without prosthetics. Mark Wafer has only 20% hearing and struggled before becoming a success with Tim Hortons outlets and hiring more than 100 people with disabilities. Elisabeth Walker-Young was a paralympic swimming champion and is now a major sports administrator despite being born with partial arms. Chris Williamson is virtually blind but is one of the most decorated in para-alpine skiing. (The audience was not told but what wowed the selection committee was he told his vital guide skier the day of a major event it was  OK to partner with another skier who had just lost his helper.)
They join a richness of names and successes. Edwin Baker who founded the CNIB. Athletes like Whipper Billy Watson, Bob Rumball, Jack Donohue and Vicki Keith who moved beyond wrestling, football, basketball and marathon swimming. Jeff Healey in jazz, Cliff Chadderton with the War Amps, Linc Alexander, Rick Hansen, Chantel Petitclerc...
All this is captured in a colourful book titled Glowing Hearts V  - A Celebration of Excellence, which should be in every Canadian public library. I'm going to check that it is, and if I don't, I'm sure one of the co-authors, Jeff Tiessen, who is also in the Hall, will.
But let's return to my theme that much more has to be done despite politicians paying lip service to this since 1980. (Can you imagine how much more would get done if we had more disabled people in politics? They would concentrate on issues rather than just re-election.)
Joanne Smith was an apt choice as MC of the luncheon because she has been inducted into the Hall and was host and producer for 10 years of a CBC TV program called Moving On.  At 19, her spinal cord was damaged in a car accident and her career in modelling and broadcasting was shadowed. She rode on into the sun sitting tall in her wheelchair and became a popular figure with the CBC and other media.
Smith insists that we have to get to the point where a disability is noticed and accepted as just another "individual difference." She told me about her battles to get ramps even when Toronto refuses to allow one because of the building code. For six years she couldn't get an accessibility ramp at her local coffee shop, not because of the shop but because of red tape.
My experience is trivial compared to hers but three years ago I was hunting for ramps too. My three months in four hospitals left me not even able to stand. The Ex almost ended my first steps. Even though the CNE loaned me a power wheelchair as a past president,  I was continually being trapped by not enough ramps and too many heavy doors. Several times I manoeuvred  into positions on elevators from which I needed help to extricate, much to open anger of mothers with strollers.
So I had a tiny experience for a few months with what Smith and the others in wheelchairs face daily.
She told me about her terrible experiences with her crucial accessible parking permit because her car is racier than the usual vans and sedans with the permits.
She is so fed up with getting parking tickets, despite her displaying the accessible permit that allows her wide latitude in parking, that she no longer fights them. Last time she renewed her licence she had to pay $600 in fines.
She told me of the time she returned to her car and found a tag on the windshield and her permit sign stolen from inside. She drove around and around and found the offending cop who not only admitted he gave her the ticket and that he broke in and stole her permit, he wouldn't cancel the ticket or give the permit back.
I told her that years ago I was having lunch with David Onley  (honoured in the Hall ) and kidded him about the permit that allowed him to park right in front of the restaurant. There was nothing funny about the response of our former lieutenant -governer.   He told me about when his car had been towed because cops didn't check his windshield and about the difficulty for him and others in retrieving cars from the pound when their vital wheelchairs are in the trunk.
I told the then police chief who ordered a second check of the windshield for a permit before a vehicle is towed.  There was also a constable whom disabled people could call to have tickets cancelled. But he died and according to Smith has not been replaced.
You would imagine that police and parking officers would go out of their way not to screw around with cars with accessible permits because the permits are of such a help to disabled people that some wouldn't be able to move around the city for jobs and medical appointments without one.
I know. Because of Mary's difficulty with walking, we have had one for years. I made a great effort to learn exactly where we couldn't park - finding out wasn't easy - but only found out that the permit didn't allow you to park in a "No Stopping" zone when I received a $60 ticket marked 5.59 p.m. when the parking prohibition expired one minute later.
The cops at 22 division said they could no longer do anything about tags but agreed with me that some mean jerk had written the ticket.
I was telling Smith that Mary the other day ventured forth with a walker to go from Yonge and Bloor to Bay and Bloor and found it an exhausting obstacle course. I told her that when I was learning to walk again, I found that many major streets were filled with fiendish obstructions strewn there by a stupid city and stupider merchants.
But then, I now have put the wheelchair and walker aside. There are many of our neighbours who can't. We should do more to help them. And it would be nice if the police service - if it really wants to be called a service and not a force - were of service to the disabled and not target them when they want to complete their quota of tickets for the shift.

Saturday, November 1, 2014



All Hallow's Eve is the best time to celebrate the birth of the Toronto Sun. Around us, there are enough legends in their own mind, walking dead, and accountant vampires to populate Park Lawn Cemetery. The flood of nostalgia through the survivors is a powerful life force.
I drive carefully through the rain, watching for chocolate-crazed dads and darting tots. All around me are "ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night." Danger on slick streets. And danger ahead at the restaurant."Good Lord," I think, "deliver me" from whatever Donato is going to do now.
The sequence gets lost in the telling but on Oct. 30, 1971,  I supervised a hung-over skeleton staff and put out the final edition of the Toronto Telegram, an historic, combative and innovative large newspaper that continually beat its rival, the Toronto Star, because it lacked our soul.
Then on the Sunday, 62 of the Tely's 1,200-member staff put together the first edition of the Toronto Sun, which was only possible because of new technology and a lot of hard, even inspired work. It appeared Nov. 1 and was an instant success. Indeed, despite traumatic years where staff was crushed, for example, under Quebecor's jackboot heel, it is now the flagship of the largest newspaper chain in the land.
Which I knew would be one topic at our reunion dinner. After all, at the head of it all now is Paul Godfrey, a man of many parts, liked by some, like me, hated by some, like those who thought that in a devious reincarnation he sold us down the St. Lawrence to the separatists.
But first I would have to find out what Donato was up to. After all, all I knew was the sanctimonious crap in the Star, and a cover-your-ass mealy-mouthed defence in the Sun itself, about the latest fallout from a Donato cartoon. The authors of that explanation/apology must have trained at the Star.
Seems NDP leader Tom Mulcair is upset about a Donato cartoon just before the election where Olivia Chow for good reason got creamed. Of course he does "upset" well. It's the only thing he does well.
Chow is wearing a Mao tunic standing on the coattails of a Jack Layton suit. Nothing unusual there. Donato dislikes the NDP and always draws the socialists in communist garb. And the only reason she was even considered a mayoral candidate is that she had been married to the NDP leader  who became the saint in death that he wasn't in life.
Face it, dear reader, Chow and Layton lost most of their votes and motions and deserved to because most voters and fellow politicians prefer the alternatives.
It all began with the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council complaining about the 'racist' cartoon because Donato depicted Chow with slanted glasses and eyes.
That council is always complaining about something. I tangled with them often, a couple of times over Donato cartoons. They do outrage almost as well as Mulcair because it's about the only time they're noticed. They're not really a major outfit, or that representative.
Of course the Star rode to battle because those goody-goody editors dislike the fun and good reads of the Sun. The usual suspects were called upon. After all, this was an unexpected golden opportunity to attack Godfrey and Postmedia buying Sunmedia, a deal they hope to block at the federal level.
John Honderich, the holier-than-thou head of its board of directors, should concentrate on getting the share price much higher to compensate all the stupid investors silly enough to buy his stock. Instead, he wastes his time to take a jealous swipe at Godfrey, who now runs the larger operation and has defended Donato this time, and in the past.
No need to deal with what Heather Malice wrote. She hates the Sun even though she worked there and it resurrected her career after it crashed at the Financial Post.
The complaints say the cartoon was racist, sexist and offensive. So now cartoonist can't ridicule women? So now cartoonists must produce characters scrubbed of any ethnic characteristic? Since cartoonists routinely exaggerate weight, height, eyes, nose and mannerisms, these critics with their special agendas argue that the artists now have to stop this technique which dates back to cave days and produce only vanilla images?
Is this really what these yahoos want? I suppose Honderich, Malice and the council would have preferred a bland Donato offering that showed a WASP figure of indeterminate sex brushing off a Santa suit while a choir hummed Kumbaya. Donato didn't goof. They did for a candidate who ran a feeble third. Chow's best role in politics is defeated candidate.
Turned out at the restaurant that we discussed the cartoon for about 30 seconds.
After all, Dianne and Andy Donato have been through countless skirmishes over art and cartoons.
 Yvonne Crittenden as a tough reporter and reviewer spent years cheering from the front trench as her husband Peter Worthington waded from law suits to police investigations to controversies.
 As Editor I spent at least 15 years supposedly approving Donato's cartoons and also having to defend him because he pricked the pompous with his pen.  He caused me more grief and more joy than anyone with whom I worked in the news business. Even when I was allegedly his boss. he could be difficult but all great artists are.
 The final member of our group, Mary, my loyal wife, knows the business is wacky and no wimps can  prosper. She knows brawlers are loved only when they're on your side.
Together, we formed an indomitable core against the usual suspects mouthing the usual arguments against the usual imagined slights. We ignored the Star, lefty politicians and councils desperate to keep their funding and titles because we didn't want to ruin our appetites. Besides, it was all rather deja vu because they were mouthing antique arguments.
We concentrated instead on the wine, grumbled about the racket in the Kennedy Public House and indeed most noisy restaurants today, figured Godfrey just had to be better than what had happened at the Sun recently, and heard Yvonne relate new anecdotes about Peter which just added to the legend of the most remarkable newsman I've ever worked with.
I told them that Godfrey had phoned me the night before the announcement of the Post purchase and invited me to the press conference. I was the only Day Oner there. I hope it's the last such occasion. I remember previous ones, like Quebecor's, when Godfrey and others thought it was a good idea if I,  who was there for another reason dressed as Santa, kicked everything off by announcing this Christmas gift for the staff. Pierre-Karl Peladeau balked at the last minute, then joked he started his Sun life firing Santa. Unfortunately, all the other firings that followed weren't as funny.
The annual birth celebration we've had for several decades is never an ordinary affair.  Several years ago, Worthington checked out of hospital with blood still oozing out of a tube in his chest just to be at our dinner. Last year Donato fell on his head and arrived at the dinner directly from the ER exaggerating all his ghastly stitches. He got 17 but suggested a round number like 20 sounded better.
All I know is that the council, the Star and the NDP haven't even inflicted a paper cut on him. Nor should they! You would think that at least those who pretend to be real journalists would not copycat the politically-correct czars and instead defend the rights of cartoonists to be tough and even rough in their message. And that means not making a Canadian of Chinese ancestry look like a safer Barbie-doll-type target.
I love a good cartoon. I wonder if the present careful management at the Star would run some of the cartoons that Dunc Macpherson produced for them when he was one of the best in the world. After all, I can remember his tirades at the press club bar about his dealings with  gutless Star editors, and they actually had more steel in them then than the present crop when facing the PC wimps.
A good newspaper has a good cartoonist, crusading columnists and editors and reporters, a razor-sharp editorial and an attitude, a mystique, that if you're not making at least one national leader mad that day, you're not doing a good job.
Go get 'em, Andy. Just keep falling on your ear, never on your sword. Keep comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, especially the Star.

Friday, October 31, 2014



The latest issue of Canadian Business claims that "more and more companies are turning to organizational psychologists to warn them if they're about to put a time bomb in the C-suite."
I read the article with the same annoyed cynicism with which I once greeted a phone call from the Toronto Sun's human relations department when I hired someone without even thinking to call them.
After all, I had survived decades in Toronto journalism and had hired arrogant columnists, swashbuckling photographers, faithful secretaries, humble copy boys and all the other cogs of a newspaper without ever calling HR.
Since there were 1,200 employees at the old Tely, I suppose someone must have used HR, but no one editing and producing for the paper would confess to such a weakness.
Then, as the legend goes, the Tely was sold out from under us and 62 survivors started the Sun which first appeared Nov. 1, 1971. All of us did several jobs. A second pen was considered a luxury. Heck, Paul Rimstead and I were the first two columnists in the paper and we had to share a desk and typewriter.
There certainly wasn't an HR department. For many years. Then we got a clutch of these twits and managed to limp through various corporate metamorphoses into the country's largest news chain.
So there you have my militant skepticism. When it comes to hiring people for unorthodox jobs like news photography, feature writing and editing, the best people to do the hiring don't reside in any HR department with a psychologist on retainer but are veterans who can do the job themselves.
I'm a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's second book, Blink, which stresses how rapidly we make up our mind on whether we like a person. Of course I would examine the applicant's clippings or photographs, and give a tough scrutiny to the curriculum vitae and recitation of job history, but I know whether I really wanted to hire the person within a minute.
But let's forget about intuition and a sixth sense and gut feeling and return to the November issue of this magazine and the article written by Joanna Pachner. It concerns not the hiring of the foot soldiers who run every company but picking someone to get the limo and the executive secretaries and the big bucks at the top for maybe five years.
I submit, however, that the best people to hire a boss are those who have been bosses. That's the value of a real board of directors that isn't just composed of chums, rich farts and a few directors who look good in the annual report.
I took several years of psychology courses at university and was left with the gut feeling that some stranger mouthing the gobbledegook of psychiatry can be as insightful as the drunk on the next bar stool.
The good angle adopted by Pachner was to see if she herself had what it takes to become a Chief Executive Officer. And so we entered the twilight world of leadership evaluation where CEO candidates are interviewed and take psychometric tests conducted by industrial-organizational psychologists "to gauge candidates' behavioural, cognitive and personality traits."
Let's just say the article read like a promotion for such consultants. Just give us your candidates, the pitch says to the gutless boards, and we will pick just the right person for you. Remember it can take more than a year to get rid of a dud.
The writer introduces us to some assured individuals, such as Pamela Ennis who volunteers that on the "one-on-one stuff,  I'm considered to be hands-down the best in the business."
It helps to be as confident and even brassy as anyone who applies to run a sprawling conglomerate. After reading a few paragraphs about her, I was reminded of a friend who once wrote a column for me who was the most arrogant man I have ever met. Oh yes, he was a psychiatrist who was condescending about psychologist since they hadn't made it to doctor.
I'm sure Ennis is a polished performer who provides a wide range of services for, as she says, "many of Canada's largest private and public organizations." Bits of her biog are given before she ended up in her own practice "because I like to be in control of my outcomes."
Early in her career, she worked at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto where we're told "she helped develop Ontario's Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere" program before she was drawn to the application of psychology in management.
Now that certainly stands out. RIDE affects everyone, even if the figures now show that very few drivers are "caught" considering all the tens of thousands of vehicles that are stopped. Road deaths are down, especially in Ontario which has one of the best such records in North America.
That's why in 1977 I moved the original motion for the Metro Citizens' Safety Council to pay several hundred dollars for special roof signs for two cruisers for a pilot project called Reduce Impaired Driving in Etobicoke.
Obviously the Toronto police with its giant budget could have paid for the signs, but the chief, through the two constables who worked with the volunteer safety council funded mainly by Metro council, wanted support from a citizens' body because stopping cars randomly not only would be controversial, it would be challenged legally.
The cops and council considered the test to be a success, so we did it again just in Etobicoke. And then it spread to all of Toronto and Ontario and became Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere.
When the legal challenge went all the way to our top court, it was decided in 1985 that RIDE didn't violate the Charter providing police didn't use the spot check as an excuse for a fishing expedition. I had made that argument in 1977, arguing the only justification was to catch drunks who could be deadly. It's the reason there was general support in the media although there were a few tough critics.
John Legge, a lawyer from the Legge family, famous in legal, military and safety circles, called me the godfather of RIDE in a speech. I even think one of my dozen writing awards from the police and the Ontario Safety League was for my RIDE sponsorship at a difficult time.
Now I'm told that the addiction centre and a woman I've never heard of did it all. I guess the moral of the story is that no matter how supposedly sophisticated you get in grilling job applicants, it's really not a bad idea to double-check the claims in the CV first.

Thursday, October 30, 2014



Got my flu shot the other day at my friendly Shoppers at Bloor and Royal York. Isn't it marvellous, people say, that you can now get a flu shot at your drug store without going to your doctor (if you're lucky enough to have a doctor you call your own.)
It really is an improvement BUT....
I smell a rat made from red tape. It's not as convenient as it could be.
Now Mary and I have always got flu shots. We  got them the first year they were offered. I have no patience with people who don't, and therefore help spread and goose flu season.
 I also think that medical professionals like nurses and paramedics who object and even take union action against compulsory flu shots each fall should go into another line of work because they have a basic misunderstanding about how a public health system should work in a democracy. They're not supposed to spread germs.
As a director on a Toronto hospital board, I was happy to move the motion that when we had a flu outbreak on a ward, any nurses who had avoided the flu shot should be banned from the hospital and receive no compensation.
When my oldest son, John Henry, and his wife Marie, had two premies more than two decades ago at Women's College - they were born at 28 and 29 weeks and were what we nicknamed our 40-ouncers - we weren't allowed to see those tiny red wrinkled beings in their incubators unless we had flu shots.
Now John Henry IV and Marc Oliver are happy handsome studs enjoying life near the California beaches precisely because that hospital had decided not to screw around with a few people's feelings against being dictated to and ordered everyone to have flu shots or else leave.
After all, the flu may appear to be a humble ailment but it can cut through chronic care hospitals, children's wards and nursing homes like the Devil cutting at your health with a gigantic scythe.
So what makes me suspicious that the health ministry has imposed extra conditions and red tape on flu shots from pharmacists that aren't imposed on  doctors? My experience over two years vs. all the years before when I got the shots from my reliable GP's office.
 The great staff working for Bernie Gosevitz, who I call the world's best doctor (when I can get an appointment) take about 30 seconds tops to give me the shot.
 The total time at my Shoppers, even though the boss Barry Phillips volunteered to arrange the shot when I showed up to collect a prescription, took 20 minutes, and then you were told not to leave for 10 or 15 minutes afterwards in case you felt woozy or something.  I also had to fill out a form, which asked for my OHIP card number along with some basic questions. (Now I always carry that card along with my driver's licence, but Mary for some reason didn't have hers. )
There is little doubt that flu shots at our local pharmacy is the thin edge of what could be a large billions-saving wedge where such minor medical matters are handled outside the costly confines of doctors' offices, hospitals and medical clinics.
There is also little doubt that many members of the medical establishment are not thrilled at the idea of letting mere mortals who may have only gone to university for four years look after the minor stuff when they went for an eternity and then they had all those ordeals as an intern trying to work 30-hour shifts each day.
Since the health spending in Ontario has become a Godzilla threatening to consume half of every tax dollar spent by the province, I'm all for anything to keep spending, and the flu, down.
So let's keep it simple folks. It's not as if people are rushing off the streets eager for the hit of a flu shot.

Sunday, October 19, 2014



I have known John Tory and occasionally been critical since he started as a kid City Hall reporter in the early 1970s.
 I have known Olivia Chow since she drifted into urban politics like a quiet Asian waif, first as a trustee in 1985, then as a Metro councillor in '91. I have always been critical of her.
 I have never liked the Fords, whether the clown or the thug.
So the choice was obvious. Even as Mary struggled through the huge list of mayoral candidates on the ballot, I quickly completed the arrow for Tory.
Then as we left the gym where there were far too many officials in some sort of make-work project by City Hall, Mary complained about all those people running for mayor. She was surprised.
And I complained, as someone who has covered municipal politics since 1957, when Yukon councillors tried to kick me out of my first council meeting, that I had written dozens of times about all the crazies and nut jobs and publicity seekers who run for office,  especially for Toronto mayor, because it's more publicity than most people get between the birth notice and the obit.
 And some of the stranger desperate candidates still get too much attention from the media.
When even my wife, who supposedly reads me, is surprised by all those people running for mayor,  it is obvious that too many people really don't give a damn about politics and don't even bother to do basic homework.
The choice for mayor has never been been easier. Tory is used to being a confident leader. Chow is a minor player in a party that gets delusions of grandeur when it manages to finish second.
You choose Tory to run your company if you are lucky enough to win the lottery and actually buy a business. (Paul Godfrey who knows all about being a major leader told me once that Tory was the best boss he ever reported to when Tory was running giant Rogers cable and Godfrey headed the Jays.)
You choose Chow to be your babysitter IF you leave her lots of emergency phone numbers.
I remember a CBC radio producer who phoned me late one night and pleaded with me to debate Chow the next day at 8.30 a.m. for 10 minutes or so. I can't remember the topic. It may well have been assisted housing (she and Jack Layton knew all about that since they took advantage of the housing for the lower classes) or day care. Whatever! It was an NDP issue, basically one where the party wants to overtax most of us to give services to a few. I did it as a favour to him and hoped at best to make it a tie because it was an issue about which she should have been an expert.
I cleaned her clock. It was so bad that she started giggling nervously. After I hung up, I said to Mary, who as a loyal wife hadn't bothered to listen since I had evicted her from being near the kitchen phone so she wouldn't make her usual dish racket, that I was certainly glad Chow didn't represent us.
She admits herself that she's not charismatic. She admits herself that she is not easy in English (and Tory has been an accomplished radio host and speakers for charities and the CFL.)
 Yet here she is being propped up by the left and mushy middle, plus feminists and anti-Conservative activists, as a credible candidate when her late husband, whose views she still echoes, was a real word warrior armed with a doctorate and a Ryerson tenured nook who was rejected soundly by Toronto voters when he ran for mayor.
Layton had several election defeats, and so does she, not counting this one. And both were used to being defeated at council and the Commons on most motions they had concocted to take more money out of our pockets.
She may have a degree after different studies at several universities. She has been an artist but an election is not a gallery show. And she is the darling of the bike addicts because she rides. (And so did Layton who sued me and the paper after he claimed a Sun box assaulted him.)
 Layton only looked good on the national stage because our PM is a wooden control freak saved mainly by far better policies and sensible actions than the gLiberals and the socialists.
This election is a no-brainer. What I would really like to see is Tory as mayor and 44 rookie councillors.. The present crop of incumbents were almost as bad as their "evil" target, Rob, who confounded them continually because he related more to the taxpayers than they did even when he was careening from disaster to disaster. He was incompetent but they couldn't run a kennel.
Elect Tory and you won't be sorry.
 Elect Chow and you'll howl.