Monday, August 25, 2014



The Toronto Star goofed uniquely the other day. Now there's nothing unusual about the Star goofing but printing a complete page of sports stats that were nine months old is not something I have seen or heard about in half a century of journalism.
I might sympathize if the Star wasn't so uppity holier than thou, like the Liberals on a bad day.
After all, I have been in the trenches, in charge of getting a huge edition onto the presses and out in the street when the rewrite desk was manic, the editors helping me all seemed to be drunk and the press crew was smarting over imagined slights.
I don't devour sports stats like so many fans do but I did turn in my Sunday paper to check how far the Jays had fallen from their nest of superiority high above the division.
And what I found was NHL, NBA, NFL, skiing and curling results, in face so much from last winter that I looked out the window to see if this cold summer had ended and we were already launched into another frozen hell.
Oh yes, there were no baseball stats, and for some zealots, a day without arcane On Base Percentages or even ordinary averages is a day without sunshine.
The Star had a little correction the next day. I would have preferred a full story on what actually happened. It can be mysterious. I still remember the Grey Cup where the publisher asked me the next day in a roar why the special game edition came out with the stats story as the headline story and the main story on Page 3. But at least we were covering a game that had been  played hours before.
I was once killing time at a formal dinner with Ted Rogers, the communications czar, and we were yarning about how difficult it was to run a new media outlet. In my case, it was the Sun, where the 62 of us were expected to do several job each in the early 1970s, in his case it was CHFI when FM was still so rare he practically had to give away FM radios in the early 1960s.
Rogers had no reporting resources at all, which he tried to deal with by hiring Larry Henderson, who had been the first national newsreader for CBC TV. Henderson cobbled together a summary of the news and delivered it on tape at 11 p.m.
It had been a long day. Rogers said he was short staffed and the guy in the control room was reeling with fatigue . So he took mercy on him, sent him home early, and said he would run Henderson's tape and then take the station off the air.
Except he ran the wrong tape. It was from the day before. No one noticed, including Rogers until the next day. No one phoned in.
That was when, Ted told me, he figured he desperately needed more listeners. Of course now the station says most days it is the largest in the country.
Ironically, the guy who would have been most upset would have been Larry Henderson. He was legendary for his temper, actually swearing or mumbling on camera if he was told to speed up. He had stalked off a set on live TV when a stagehand messed up. But apparently he was already sleeping, like too many of the potential audience, and missed his commentary twice.
At least the Star can content itself that it didn't goof on Saturday, when it is the largest edition in Canada, and perhaps in Hades too. Maybe they need to use some of the resources wasted on the dead mayor walking on actually checking that they are printing yesterday's news.

Saturday, August 23, 2014



Once upon a time, before the wasting of taxes became an epidemic, our politicians just didn't know how to screw spending up as badly as they do today.
Not only has the size of government exploded, especially in the care and feeding of the elected reps, so has the money thrown away on dubious projects.
Too many voters have become too blasé. The big question is will this change in the next election when it didn't in the last.
Consider that the outrage was over quickly when it came out that Waterfront Toronto had paid $946,140 for 36 pink metal umbrellas and two chunks of rocks to be placed at Sugar Beach.
 Sounds aptly named considering the monetary sugar lavished on people who sell beach umbrellas and rocks for a living.
Didn't we learn our lesson when we bought 700 tonnes of granite from a Muskoka farmer and plunked it down like a jigsaw puzzle from the Shield in a Yorkville park.
Many were as mad about that as they were decades later when the city kept tearing up any road near Bloor and Bay and kept doing it month after month after month while the stores wilted.
Our alleged transportation planners didn't have a plan because they didn't give a damn.
I can assure you as a veteran political observer, whether as City Hall reporter or daily columnist or  Editor, that this news about the silly beach decoration would have reverberated for months in the day and cost politicians and officials their jobs.
But not it seems in these urban days of waste.
Too many voters have come to accept this as the new norm. As more condemning proof, consider the hundreds of millions wasted by the provincial Liberals before they go re-elected.
There have been a number of references to past controversial urban decoration, such as Henry Moore's sculpture nicknamed the Archer. which is in the civic square near City Hall's doors.
 Just about every detail about it has been mangled, whether in the Star or various dubious Internet sources. Nathan Phillips Square was planned to have one major piece of art. So the city went after a creator of monumental art. The Archer cost $150,000. There was a fuss, and it didn't help that many didn't like its look.  So Mayor Phil Givens raised the money privately. Except the voters, who could still get mad then about such things, continued to believe that taxes paid for it and threw Givens out of office.
Givens was not a flash in the pan. He had been alderman and controller before mayor and later was a MP, MPP, police commission chair and judge.
Ironically, most of the media, especially the Star, have forgotten what came after that defeat, because it is significant in the history of one of the city's most important pieces.
William Campbell, the city treasurer, a wonderful steward of our taxes, got a phone call from Moore who was anxious to do a deal to avoid the English tax hit. Moore asked if the city would pay him over a few years. Campbell jumped at the opportunity. The pound fell against the Canadian dollar during the payment period and the distinctive sculpture that kids can ring like a gong ended up costing only $97,000.
So Campbell then paid to have the Archer put on a platform, then to have lights around it, then he bought a $6,000 Moore bust for the committee floor of the Hall, then...
It was an inside joke between the treasurer and me that he was such a great investor  he kept having to find more purchases for the Archer fund. If only we had officials like that today in government.
Ironically, the treasurer had a grandson named Rob Ford. Fifty years after the glib Givens was defeated by speech therapist William Dennison, indifference to waste had so festered that when Ford made a fuss about the waste at Sugar Beach, it was seen as just another hissy fit to support his pet bugaboo, derailing the gravy train at City Hall.
Yet one reason that even this clown still has some support with the electorate is that there are still people around who care less about his drunken excesses and more about his attempt to cut the drunken waste.
To me, that's the big municipal issue this October, the reason I told John Tory the other day that he should just keep hammering on the need to be much tougher on spending, to vow that council must stop being a patsy for the unions, in fact so weak in negotiation that spending just on police, fire and ambulance is now $1.7 billion, up from the one billion the expensive trio of emergency services cost each year just over a decade ago.
It's the taxes, stupid, voters must tell the candidates. Let the frothy stuff and the endless transit plans  be yammered about by editorial writers and activists.
Obviously there isn't a government department or agency at every level of government that doesn't have to do a better job in dealing with our money.  Just at City Hall you can run the gauntlet from the important mundane stuff to the exotic, from A to Z, and find ulcers.
A is for asphalt, and the terrible shape of our roads. They never have been this bad, not since we got rid of the mud roads of olde York. Yet at least one engineering expert claims one reason that all our potholes deepen and multiply like consultants is that they don't patch them correctly in the first place.
Z is for the zoo, where it seems for years that if the stories didn't concern shipping the three elephants
to another country, it was about the financial plight. Yet the preening zoo bosses took bows (and free trips to China) to get Er Shun and Da Mao, the two giant pandas that cost about $1.8 million annually to care for and rent from China. There's more cost and attention given their supply of bamboo food than the breakfast program in any humble school.
If you really wanted to fix the potholes, you would do it right the first time.
 If you really wanted to attract people to the zoo, you could spend a fraction of that $1.8 million and ship a couple of winners a month to Beijing as a gate prize and see the pandas there. Or buy them stuffed pandas.
 Chinese rulers are quite clever. They have suckered us into raising their cute bears that are endangered species because of their policies.
Unfortunately changes like this to the routine and the gimmicky would just save money, and as too many of our politicians at all levels prove most days, they only know how to spend. Their attitude is as certain as death and taxes.

Saturday, August 16, 2014



Went to the opening of the Ex the other morning. Speaking as someone who has run a few of those when I was CNE president, it went off well, except there were too many damn politicians who just had to be mentioned from the podium.
Of course the Ex, which is now independent of City Hall which charges us an enormous rent, wants to stay on the good side of just about everyone elected to a post higher than dogcatcher.
So Brian Ashton, the current president who retired as a very good councillor, made sure that every last politician within a kilometre of the place got a name nod. And then deputy mayor Norm Kelly introduced all the city councillors for the second time even though they richly deserve to be anonymous. Mark Grimes got several mentions because he's also head of Exhibition Place, the landlord that overcharges the fair for everything.
In fact, so many politicians had to be mentioned there was no time to introduce by name the group of fair directors like me even though we actually run the Ex and earn the free admission that all the politicians of the GTA expect as their due for doing nothing.
Then Ashton introduced sponsors (by name) and consuls (by name) and I saw Ex-goers who actually had paid to get in start to wander off despite nice bits like a youth choir from Haiti and actor R.H. Thompson with thoughtful words about the Great War.
There was plenty of opportunity as a national fair acted like a village one to think of  municipal election day even if it is still a couple of months away. The end of a tedious marathon. I did wonder what the opening of the Ex had to do with the mayoral election.
After all, on the stage was Rob Ford who boomed out a mediocre speech. At least he was invited this time. In recent years he's gatecrashed the stage.
In the front row was John Tory who I first met when he was a kid radio reporter working his way through Osgoode thanks to the family friendship with Ted Rogers. (He admits he routinely asked me for advice on municipal politics.)  He went on, of course, to greater things, a good political and business career. He's obviously the best candidate for mayor even if he was once president of that flawed cable company, Rogers. Even though I debated with him on his CFRB show as he roasted everything about the Ex.
Olivia Chow was floating around with a couple of campaign ladies buzzing like bees around the queen. Not to be outdone, Karen Stintz  came back to the reception clutching a stuffed animal she won on the midway.
 I surveyed this quartet of candidates and thought that since they were already boring in January, just how much more is going to be inflicted on us. Why have our election campaigns turned into a political version of the ordeal of Job  Why are Chow and Tory even introduced since they hold no elected office.
All their faces and quotes and policies have become so used in this process that they resemble the picked-over merchandise of a second-hand store.
What has the ordeal produced so far? Not much!
All that has happened is that Model T Ford has continued to be an international punch line for crack stupidity.
 So many transit plans have been brandished that it would take an eternity and Google to keep track.
One wonders that if the incumbent was not so flawed and so bumbling whether Chow and Stintz would even be running. After all they could use royal jelly as makeup and the obvious fact remains that they're mundane politicians. It does helps them a tad that they're women from the central city, perceived by activists and gLiberal commentators as the ideal antidote to a tight-fisted moron from the suburbs.
They really are puny candidates when you consider some of the masters in PR, manipulation, malapropism and longevity who have been dominant mayors since the city began. I've been acquainted with or covered every mayor for 50 years and by comparison to Lampy or Supermouth or the Tiny Perfect or Eggs, Stintz and Chow are like failed candidates for the school board.
The shame is that too many of us are tired already of watching them run in circles, dancing to the dictates of the 24-hour news cycle. I have covered, or have supervised the coverage of, dozens of elections at all levels, and I wouldn't cross the street to watch these guys in debate.
Seems a shame if we elect the candidate who bores us least. The way things have gone, there is no stunt that the Fords now could pull that would hurt or help him, and the others have been pouring their policy over our heads for so long, we wouldn't recognize a really good new idea unless it came with a guarantee to help everyone and hurt no one.
I know one really good new idea, that the next council make it illegal for anyone to campaign or raise election funds more than two months before the election day. Starting in January is silly!
With the communications we have today, with the huge growth in media, there is no need for a long campaign. Your message and your platform can be spread in days unless you're incompetent
It is silly to waste a spring and summer listening to politicians. We need a holiday from that mediocre clutch and the special interest groups that boss them around.
This present garbled mess just helps incumbents and insiders and turns the rest of us off. It's the reason the job and campaigning have become so time consuming. It's designed to make really bright lively people think that it's better to stay in the real world where of course many ordinary people can't slip away from a job in order to be introduced from a stage at 10 a.m. on a Friday and be applauded by all the other politicians.
I didn't clap!

Friday, August 1, 2014



Our major highways would be safer if we could drive faster legally. The experts say so, but too many  politicians keep their foot on the brake when it comes to such change.
There is no doubt that the 400 series of super roads in Ontario and similar roads elsewhere would be safer if the speed limit was 120 km/h (or 75 mph.)
In fact, most of the public have taken the law limiting us to 100 and shaken it by the neck until it was dead. It died years ago. After all, it is common knowledge that such roads were built to handle vehicles at speeds of 120 or 125.
The limits were reduced or not increased because politicians believed that would help the environment and reduce the use of fuel. Turned out they were wrong.
The consensus in the transportation world is that fast is the new goal in road safety. If the rest of Canada follows what has just happened in B.C., and some states,  it would reduce the great differences in the speed of vehicles which is the major cause of accidents because it would reduce the number of slow vehicles holding up the traffic flow.
Accident rates throughout the world have always gone down when motorists are allowed to go faster.
I used to campaign regularly on this subject, irked by the fact that the dubious top legal limit turned me into a scofflaw anytime I drove more than 10 kilometres on a big highway.
In addition to my daily column, I sat on the venerable Ontario Safety League, an advisory board on safety, particularly on roads, and wrote articles and editorials for the motor league magazine before it became a limp travel promotion.
Because of this work, I had plenty of opportunity to question transportation ministers and top cops about what they though of a real speed limit like 120 on major highway. I never had one disagree that was not sensible....but they did so off the record.
In fact, I had top politicians, from premiers to mayors, confess that they just couldn't do their job if they or their drivers didn't drive between cities at 120.
The problem is, green lobbies and some police associations are opposed, although they can point to no major evidence that says the increase would be a terrible thing.
An editorial in Maclean's, which continues to be a better magazine that it was just a few years ago, suggests that it is only sensible to have speed limits set by the opinion of the masses, to study how they drive now on the road under question.
Imagine that! Majority rule actually working in a democracy.
The magazine also suggested a sensible measure that I have advocated, that if 85% of the drivers obey the new higher limit, enforcement could be increased to catching and punishing the 15% who now will drive much fasfer.
Opponents always cite this argument, that if we are allowed to drive 20 k faster, then the speeders will just move up another 20 k higher than their present speed. And the super roads are dangerous at 150.
 There isn't a day on 400 or 401 that many of us aren't annoyed at the very slow vehicle, or a car blocking the passing lane, or the distracted driver, or the motorist cutting back and forth.
They cause the accidents, not the driver doing 116 to 120 (because we know most police will allow this in good conditions) or doing 90 on other roads where the limit is 80.
The very fact that there is this hidden truce allowing us to go up to 120 now just demonstrates that the cops have agreed with the experts, that when it comes to their laudable goal of reducing accidents, there are more things to worry about that some guy driving 120 in a peaceful way.
If you are a politician or a cop who disagrees with that, then you have to allow the installation of a gadget that records the speeds that you drive.
Anyone who insists they always drive only 100 on a big highway is really not the saint they think smugly that they are but more a sinner putting the rest of us into more danger.
The present situation where cops can ding you at 115 if they feel like it, which creates some of those slow drivers, has more to do with cash register law enforcement than serving and protecting. It smacks of the speed trap thats only purpose is to collect a lot of money for the politicians to waste.
Something like 80% of drivers tell pollsters they would like to drive 120 on super highways and not worry about how cops are feeling that day. Queen's Park owes us an explanation of why our wishes of how we use our roads is ignored.