Sunday, March 30, 2014



For the last 50 years, the most remarkable screwed-up reporting in Toronto has come over the various proposals, dreams, schemes, construction schedules, demolitions and renovations for our stadiums.
You don't have to look hard to find the reasons.
First, the media.  They have the attention span of a gnat and are baffled about history that is more than a year old. The papers, which should know better,  don't seem to understand what incredible wastage of taxpayers' bucks happens right under their snotty noses. They are lousy watchdogs!
Second, the politicians. Stadium proposals have involved councillors, MPPs, and MPs, and any stumblebum antics by Metro council and now city council is matched by Queen's Park, which gets more publicity over the loans/grants than the feds, but still manages to do the wrong thing at the wrong price.
Third, the Leafs, Jays and Argos, with the fatcats from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment leading the way down the garden path.  Let's not forget all the Olympic and soccer bureaucrats who really don't give a damn what facilities cost as long as they get all their perqs when they come to visit to the fawning attention of the local journalists.
Stir this triumvirate of ineptitude into a stew and you get a mess of pottage that has cost Toronto taxpayers hundreds of millions.
I was reading a Star column on the latest stadium proposal by Royson James. I generally don't agree with his opinions but didn't expect a veteran observer to give such a sloppy history that there's no reason to believe he can be instructive about the latest proposal.
He thinks taxpayers should stampede towards acceptance of this deal like cattle to the slaughter - no, sorry, scratch that  - he thinks it should be a triumphant parade towards a great deal.
Let me give some Toronto pages from the history of the butchering of the innocents throughout the world. It seems taxpayers have been robbed by sports teams since caveman days.
James explains that the city owns BMO Field which is to get a $120 million refit with more seats and three roofs, which is kind of strange for a stadium that just opened in 2007.
 He says the first stadium at the Ex was called CNE Stadium and used for shows during the Ex. The fair, he says, would so tear up the field it was "near unplayable" for the Argos.
Actually it was used for concerts and events from spring to fall and the Ex, while being hard on the playing surface, built a giant moveable stage to minimize its damage during the fair. The field wasn't that bad. I can testify to that since I covered several Grey Cups there from the sidelines, once from the Tiger Cat bench. Besides, the CNE's Dave Garrick rushed off to buy artificial turf right after it was invented.
James wrote:"Taxpayers paid huge amounts to renovate and expand it to accommodate the Blue Jays." Actually, that's BS. The giant stadium, which could hold 54,145 spectators, which is more than double what BMO Field will be able to do even after expansion, was tweaked for $17.8 million.
This was such a bargain that the clever inexpensive adjustment to get major-leave baseball was famous throughout North America. In addition, Paul Godfrey, then the Metro chairman, and his main officials, John Kruger and Ray Biggart, arranged to get all revenue from parking - they bamboozled the Jays into thinking that was normal, when it wasn't - and also had every ticket holder pay 50 cents, later increased, towards the stadium maintenance.
James says that the Jays moved to SkyDome, leaving behind the stadium in 2006 with such few events that it was "again rebuilt" to accommodate Toronto FC. Again he betrays his ignorance.
It would have been easy to revamp CNE Stadium - after all the renovation tax kitty had more than $5 million - but all the eager sportscrats wanted it gone so that it wouldn't interfere with any proposals they floated for an Olympic Stadium that could later be used by the NFL.
I know something about this. I have been to a few games and events at BMO Field, but went to hundreds of events and games at Exhibition Stadium as a reporter, baseball season-ticket holder, columnist and entertainment editor. I also have been president of the CNE directors who run the fair and vice-chairman of  the Exhibition Place (EP) governors who are the landlords.
 I got motions passed at both boards saying that the CNE Stadium should not be demolished. After all, it was a reasonable facility that wasn't decrepit, and a third of the seats were under a vast roof. These were ignored because the idea of some glamorous creation costing hundreds of millions was more seductiver to the badgers of local and international sports who don't care about taxes.
So it was demolished in 1999, and it took all the money collected to repair it to blow it up because it was built so well.
Let's not forget SkyDome in this grisly tale. Now Ted Rogers may have renamed it the Rogers Centre and bought it for a song, but it cost you and me at least $300 million out of its $628 million cost when it opened in 1989. Since most commentators seem to have failed high school math and have no desire to prove it by doing accounting, this wastage is ignored.
 I have gone several rounds with my former boss, Paul Godfrey, one of the leaders who stuck us with it, in arguing costs vs. benefits. I have no doubt that you and I as taxpayers lost a third of a billion dollars on it.
Now back to BMO Field which James seems to think is a renovated CNE Stadium which most people know was blown up. The field is built north of where CNE Stadium was eight years before and unfortunately is an obstruction interfering with use of the grounds. Its field runs north-south while the CNE field was roughly north-east by south-west.
James informs us that "Toronto taxpayers' paid $9.8 million for the latest fixup...." Except it was a new stadium a long pass and punt away from the old. He says the city donated land worth $10 million, MLSE gave $18 million, with $27 million from the feds and $8 million from the province.
He describes the rest of the deal, but somehow doesn't mention the scandal was that MLSE, the outfit that can make fortunes but not win hockey games, actually made money on the deal because it sold naming rights to the stadium for more than $20 million.
So MLSE virtually owns a stadium on city land where it invested not a cent while taking every government in sight for millions. It controls the stadium every hour of every day.
The CNE went out of its way during the approval process for BMO Field to demand that it have full use of the stadium during the fair period, unless there's a soccer game, which is the standard deal for all EP buildings during the fair. For example, the Ex has events in Ricoh Coliseum.
The Coliseum is another example of how politicians and officials representing the city and EP have their minds transformed to mush when sports entrepreneurs come calling.
The first Coliseum proposal to EP was for the rink renovation to cost $28 million.  That was made to the governors, when I was a member. Then a different deal for around $38 million was presented to Toronto council and guaranteed loans became grants in a semantic muddle.  It opened in 2003 with the initiating group tied to the Edmonton Oilers quickly going bankrupt. Then surprise, surprise, MLSE swooped in to take it off the hands of OMERS for its Marlies farm club.
The CNE feels betrayed by the last deal over BMO Field because it really can't use the facility as promised.  I asked a MLSE officials about this at a recent presentation to the CNE directors. Would this problem continue? I concluded afterwards that our difficulties in using a stadium built on public land would increase, and EP would be no help to us.
As a director of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame,  I bumped into Mark Grimes, the councillor who heads the EP board, at a sports induction dinner just before the council vote on BMO Field. I told him there were a number of basic errors in the background report he had sent me. He listened, said he would raise them, but didn't as he moved approval at council.
By the way, if you wondered about the reference to the Sports Hall of Fame, it moved to Calgary after its building here was demolished to make way for BMO Field.
So I listen to the blandishments of city and MLSE officials and politicians - and the MLSE guys must be politicians too because they sure don't win much at sport - and think we should question every figure and demand a guarantee for every fact.
Why shouldn't I? Millionaires want to seduce us into improving their playpens and for us to borrow money for them when they can pay it out of petty cash. To hell with it.  Renovate your own damn facilities out of all the extra money you charge for what is laughingly called food and drink.
Stop pretending that all this is in the name of sport.  What a laugh! If you're sportsmen and not really corporate scammers, then Al Capone was a sportsman too. Apparently he wouldn't have needed a tommy gun in Toronto, just a hockey stick or a soccer ball.

Sunday, March 23, 2014



Once upon a time, before it got tiresome and the savings became so obvious if the separatists just got the hell out, I kept standing on the ramparts and fighting to keep this great country intact.
I was inclined to quote the line from King Henry V where Shakespeare wrote the grand battle cry of "once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more..."
It was my first exposure to the Bard when I saw that superb movie by Laurence Olivier made in 1944. I didn't understand much of it but who did not thrill at "cry God for Harry, England and Saint George."
 I may well have said "once more unto the breach" when the Editors of the Suns gathered in Edmonton in 1992 charged by the big boss, Doug Creighton, to write a series of editorials for every front page in the Sun chain on the Charlottetown Accord and referendums on Canada's future.
I chaired the meeting as the Editor of the flagship in Toronto, although it was the kind of meeting where if I paused for breath, and I tried not to for at least the first hour, my colleagues swarmed over me with what they said were better lines.
In the end, to save myself from too many knives in the front - editorialists never just stab in the back because they might hit bone - before we adjourned for, ahem, drinks,  I made sure that each Editor had authored their own special baby for the week-long series.
 I saved my effort for the final Sunday when, since the Toronto paper was the second largest in the country and even our Financial Post joined in the broadside of editorial thunder from the largest media chain, we blasted the separatists as if they were the French enemy at Agincourt.
So my stout defence of keeping Canada united was read by millions of voters. But no more!
The separatists have been defeated in narrow votes and they seemed even a year or so ago to have become just a pallid shadow of past indignities.  But hope springs eternal in the breast of those who think their salvation lies in kicking the gullible English out of their "share" of the place and escaping with most of the loot.
 And now they trumpet they even have the Sun's main owner as their catch of the day. Just keep him out of the Sun, guys,  so he doesn't stink up the place like a carp on the beach.
There are clouds of smarmy rhetoric concealing the latest gambit by the separatists, and we're told the vote for the PQ doesn't necessarily mean another referendum on francophone separation.
We're told that perhaps two-thirds in Quebec don't want such a vote.
Fine by me. Good. This is aimed at the separatists and their fellow travellers, even that premier who thinks, naively, that if Quebec does go, they would continue to use the beaverbuck and even play some role in its management.
This is an echo of the garbage in the past that somehow Quebec could separate but also keep our stamp and post office, our army, all the wealth of federal buildings built there to keep them happy, and all the special arrangements.
 For example, the Quebec dairy farmers supply most of the industrial milk in Canada for cheese etc. They enjoy a special deal that keeps the price of dairy products high in the rest of Canada. They expect that this deal would continue. Nonsense!
This is not just a time for tough love but for rough talk. This is a time for English Canada to say that any suggestion that Quebec gets to leave with every last square kilometre of what is presently considered to be part of the province is just a non-starter.
Ironically, some natives, including Iroquois and Cree,  are restless about this separation talk, especially the idea that separatists expect to leave with what natives consider their territory. They also don't think they're really part of Canada either.
Obviously, English Canada will have to change its appeasement and explain reality for natives who keep biting the hands of the Canadian taxpayers and treating us like a foreign enemy. The fact is that we may have been the enemy, the way they see it, but we won, both by force and by legislation, and if they don't like it, join the separatists and take a hike with empty hands.
I don't like the deals that Quebec has always got so it doesn't sulk. I don't like the costly translations that have to be done for packaging, legislation, etc. I don't like being told that only bilingual Canadians should be our PM and top ministers, judges and officials. Even if separatism doesn't return as a powerful force and irritant, I think it is time to say official bilingualism isn't warranted in a country where 80% of the people have other languages and only a few stubborn francophones don't know English.
I started filled with goodwill on this, especially in language. It's not the French that bothers me, it's the way it has been used as a weapon.
 My youngest son, Mark, went through the first French immersion course in Etobicoke and liked it. (He works in China and speaks Mandarin in addition to his good French and English.) We discovered, however, that the way bilingualism works in Ottawa, francophones who have some  English get the job, seldom the reverse.
One daughter-in-law, Marie, was born a francophone just a few houses from the Plains of Abraham, a farm owned by her ancestor, and has another another ancestor, Calixa Lavallee, who wrote O Canada.
Another daughter-in-law, Yolanda, was born in Argentina, and speaks Spanish, of course.  So at a family gathering, it is possible to hear five languages, since Mary's family spoke in Slovenia when she was a girl.
I don't care what language you speak, as long as you can get along in English, the most important language in Canada and the world. And I would just as soon that you call yourself a Canadian without bothering with any hyphens. Since we're stating obvious facts, it's apparent to all but the politically correct and pandering politicians that the cultural mosaic hasn't worked and Canada would be better off if we had stressed the melting pot while expecting and helping newcomers to honour their ethnic roots to a lesser degree.
I would hope that all this guff about separatism that has flared since Pierre Karl Peladeau decided to run for the third party he has fooled around with is just a mini-rebellion full of sound and fury signifying nothing. After Peladeau experimented with Communism (that's when he became Karl and not Carl) and fooled around with the Liberals, he jumped into the PQ bed that his father liked to fool around in decades ago.
Peladeau is arrogant, lousy at newspapering and printing, and is considered a fine catch only by those impressed by inherited riches.
 He did fire me once, but that was trivial. On the day it was to be announced he had bought the Sun chain, I was wandering the executive offices handing out Christmas bonuses dressed as Santa Claus.  When Peladeau, Paul Godfrey and the other brass left for the announcement, they bumped into me. COO Trudy Eagan suggested it would be a gimmick in the Sun tradition if I began the ceremony by saying that Peladeau, like Santa, had come to bring the Sun a great Christmas gift. Peladeau agreed, then thought better of it several floors below.  So I stopped the elevator and got off, while Peladeau laughed that he had started at the Sun by firing Santa.
Unfortunately, he fired a lot at the Sun but not me because I had jumped first and was semi-retired.
Just how large separatism will really figure in the Quebec election remains to be seen. Perhaps it's just an over-reaction in English Canada.
But we in this country just can't continue to allow this illusion to continue, whether it's by separatists, natives or ethnic activists, that you can live in Canada and enjoy all the right and privileges of being a citizen, but also, if you want, you can leave and have your own country but still keep the benefits.
It's time to put up or shut up. Want to make part of Quebec a separate country? Well then, try, but  you will leave behind everything to do with Canada. Want to have your own native government and your own laws?  Either they are subordinate to Canada or you must go and find some territory that your ancestors didn't lose. Want to have dual citizenship but live in your homeland and have your benefits shipped there? No, you cannot serve two masters.
There has been a growing militancy in Canada against those who feel they're entitled to special deals even when they wish to disown the national government.
It is time for us to give a speech like Lady Macbeth did about her King in that dour "Scottish play"  by the Bard.
"I pray you, speak not. He grows worse and worse. Questions enrage him. At once, good night. Stand not upon the order of your going. But go at once."
I hope the door hits you on the bum!

Sunday, March 16, 2014



You have to hand it to the Toronto school board. The province really doesn't allow it to do much but trustees and educrats can be dumb, dumber and dumbest when they fumble to a decision.
The routine task was to build a room at the end of an old elementary school building that had a fame because of its simple but classic lines.
Not only did the contractors start before school ended with noisy equipment beside Grade One and kindergarten classes, which are notorious for being easily disrupted, they kept working all summer and produced a shack of a room that a chicken farmer might consider as an office.
For the time, money and equipment consumed, you would have thought it was a start on City Hall, which is, indeed, what the first architect built.
The dunderheads involved in this would think a pimple on Mona Lisa's face was a beauty spot.
For five decades, I have lived across from Sunnylea Junior School in the Royal York and Bloor area. My sons and grandsons have gone to school there, I have played basketball and volleyball against the neighbours in the little gym, and I've watched as generations of teenagers gobble beer and trade drugs  in the strip parking lot where the stern signs say for staff only.
So much for watching your taxes at work.
Once upon a time, when the original school was replaced in 1947, the creation was hailed as "modernist" and cited as a model for school construction in Canada. Lots of light from all the glass brick. Each classroom with an outside door. Pleasant halls. I have read a critique that called the lean post-war construction the best example of its kind in the province. It resembles an internationally famous school that Eeron Saarinen built at Crow Island in Illinois.
The legendary Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus design school that left it mark on the world,  probably talked about it at Harvard where one of his students was John C. Parkin, who returned to Toronto as an influential architect and planner and formed a prominent firm with John B. Parkin. (Believe it or not, they weren't related.)
Their famous creations dot Toronto, led by famous City Hall. Viljo Revell may have the justified fame as the architect but Canadian regs required him to have Canadian associates. The Parkins really took over when he died before his creation was finished.
John B. went off and founded a California office, leaving John C. to move easily like a tailored baron among Toronto society, particularly the ladies.
 The Sun hired him to design its headquarters, which has now been drawn and quartered like a butchered beef by other companies, and he became a familiar face at the wonderful parties that Doug Creighton gave as the blithe spirit who made the Sun a success.
It was the era of developer paranoia. Creighton boasted to me that the Sun building was going to be only 44' 6" high to get around Mayor David Crombie's 45-foot-bylaw. Except what people kept missing was that council would approve taller buildings if they weren't extreme. I made that argument to Creighton and Parkin but they didn't trust politicians. We added another three stories later.
I had plenty of opportunity to tell John C. about how well Sunnylea worked.. You see, it wasn't that remarkable, a showboat of design. Most have probably never given it a second glance. However, it just made sense in its function, the way teachers and kids used it. It's the highest praise you can give a building!
Ironically, enrolment shrank in the 1980s to such an extent that the school was going to be closed. Quite a fate when it had had fame as an elite "advancement" school. Then it was rented to an Ukrainian group which included some of the worst parkers in the western world.
It returned from ethnicity when the birthrate of the neighbourhood soared along with the incomes, bringing the menace of monster homes, meandering nannies and harried female drivers. When the provincial Liberals hit on expanded kindergarten as an election gimmick, Sunnylea had to grow by one room. So we got a prefab tool shed. Probably took an hour to work up the plans. Too bad there wasn't some hot young architect around with enough sense not to bugger up the clean lines from the hotshot of 60 years ago.
But then these days six decades is considered, stupidly, an eternity for a building. They opened BMO Field in 2007 and now they want to make $100 million in alteration for a team that used to play a few feet away in a stadium that was 50 years old when it was demolished using the $5.5 million set aside for repairs.
 With loony politicians planning like that, it's a miracle that structures like the Colosseum are still around after 2,000 years.
When officials can't build a simple room to match an entire school, they should be sent back to kindergarten and given a remedial course in building blocks.



Phoned the Happy Hermit, Gary Dunford, who lives in the piney north, about Billy Ballard's death. We talked about the magic restorative times when Gary was T.O.'s funniest writer and would drop around to say he was having lunch "with the rebels."
And off we would go through the slush to meet the guys who knew just about everything that was going on in sports, politics and entertainment and would gossip enough to make a libel lawyer like Julian Porter blush. And we would return to the Sun much later and wonder just how we could get this delightful and malicious stuff into print.
Ballard had enough feuds going to be a Balkan state and he disliked most dunderheads in the media. But he tolerated a few of us. And since he lived like a idiosyncratic legend who could indulge his passions and ignore convention,  it was fun to be around him as he became fabulously wealthy as a concert promoter for whom the prancing elite of show business were as familiar as house guests.
(Ballard would take grim pleasure that the Star, which he sued for libel at least once, made it seem in the obit headline that his big accomplishment was "ex-Leafs boss," which was almost true when his dad was in jail, not as  a key adviser to the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and David Bowie.)
My introduction came at Etobicoke's Memorial Pool when I was watching my son take swimming lessons and wondered who was the stocky loudmouth lifeguard screaming at him. I was informed he was Harold's son from just down the street, and since the father had bellowed his way into the Leafs so that he was known throughout the land, I figured I would be watching this Ballard for a long time too, even though it turned out that he was as quiet as his father was loud.
The "rebels" at lunch could include Dusty Kohl and his cowboy hat taking a run at everyone, Bill Marshall, the wordsmith who elected David Crombie and created the film festival, perhaps even the mayor if he wanted to escape City Hall, and a surprise guest or two who would also be very rich  and very successful and very in.
The location was key. These guys knew the best food, even if it came from a kitchen behind a variety store counter. And Ballard would grill the waiter as to the parentage of the Coco Cola (I didn't write Coke because these days people might get the wrong impression.)  He would sample it, and then have at least eight if they met his standard.  He would ask about the fat on the meat, and the waiter would assure him, but Ballard wanted the fattest cuts, and for several dinners at least.
If I didn't have at least two dinners while Ballard, Cohl and Marshall explained everything that the Sun and I and every other media outlet had done wrong since we last met, Ballard would complain that I had let him down.
There are restaurants throughout the world, from century-old palaces to insider delis, who still think Ballard was some sort of professional eating champ, not a well-connected guy from Toronto who survived a turbulent relationship with an egocentric father to become a generous entrepreneur, president of companies traded on the stock exchange, and sports promoter who even took the first run at bringing the NBA here.
Somewhere along the way, Ballard adopted the Sun's staff troubadour, John McDermott, and became his manager, although there was a falling out once.
When McDermott had a concert at Roy Thomson Hall, and Mary and I joined all the "rebels" gathered in the better seats, we knew we would see them later at the Kit Kat on King even though it was the size of a broom closet, because you just knew it was expected that you would be there because this was an understood alliance where you were expected to honour the unspoken rules determined by Ballard and Kohl and Marshall.
If I was away for a few weeks, I would follow what they had been doing by veiled references in columns by Dunford, or George Anthony, one of the great entertainment writers. You had to keep up, you see, because if you made the mistake of not having seen the latest great movie, you had to listen to one of them tell you what the director or the star had said when they came to their suite at the Cannes Festival. After they stayed with Mick on his island.
They brought a Jimmy Breslin touch to what appeared a stolid town. There weren't enough lunches. Now Billy - he was never William to his friends - joins Dusty and Marshall is a slumbering volcano.
They were fun because they knew how to enjoy life while being a success.
 If only more did.