Saturday, September 27, 2014



It seemed a straight-forward deal until the Bell accountants started fiddling.
BCE, the Bell Telephone conglomerate, told the Toronto stock market world it would buy the stock it didn't already own of Bell Aliant at $31 a share.
And if too many people wanted that, they would give us some money and the rest in BCE stock.
So I waited to the penultimate day and said through the TD discount brokers I wanted the cash deal, that I wasn't interested in the alternatives.
When the deal was announced, the stock actually traded higher than $31 but then towards the day the deal closed, its price fell below, first by cents, then by dimes.
Finally BCE notified the TD discount brokerag it would pay $14.60 for each of my 500 shares and give me the rest in BCE stock.
Then the obese outfit got cute. The $31 figure was no longer used, but $30.70 since the cheaters said the stock had fallen towards the end. Then BCE argued I had to pay more for the 168 shares I was being given in its stock than if I bought in the open market just days before. Funny how the price managed to go up when the deal closed, not that I would suggest a giant company would actually arrange such an event when it would only save millions of dollars. (Just kidding, of course.)
All you have to do is check BCE's records for Sept. 22 and see that when I was charged $47.90 for my stock, it actually opened at $47.46 and had a low of  $47.38. BCE charged the high for the day.
So the $31 deal for each of my shares really wasn't. The fast-money boys saved around $250 just on me.  Imagine the total savings once BCE finishes slashing at the public like a fox in the henhouse at midnight.
.I would hope that BNN and the Globe and other august observers of the market would not use the $31 figure in recognition of the fact that BCE officials would have to admit under oath that that figure is between a fib or a felony. That may be a vain hope since BCE owns BNN and has 15% of the Globe.
I am reminded of the maxim about figures lie and liars figue. I should have known something like that would happen after all my years being angry at my phone bills.
In fact, I have puzzled inarticulate members in India of the Bell call centre, and an Amex clerk, when I have complained about small amounts creeping into the charges. I grew up with grandparents still wounded by the Great Depression who often used the saying about if you look after the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.
Hardly a fashionable expression these days, not with the penny in disgrace. Yet I know of many very rich people who still check the restaurant bill and who, when they do a deal, battle for every last  fraction of a percentage point.
That's how BCE got rich.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014



Onward, water soldiers, marching as to war
With no politicians facing them before
No mayor, MPP or MP to lead against the foe
Backward from the battle, see their banners go!

Coming soon to your beach, lake and river, the latest natural menace that you never heard of...before it cuts your feet, chokes your water and becomes a problem in cottage country and just about everywhere else.
You should regard water soldiers as the sharp-leafed aquatic plants that possibly will echo the menace that zebra mussels became in just two decades, transforming great expanses of cottage country for all time.
Water soldier plants resemble giant pineapple tops. So imagine a pineapple field floating just off your cottage, an invasion so thick that it chokes everything and anything, including kids playing in the water and the daily fun of the family swim to that big rock.
The menace is pretty enough to have been used in water gardens in Europe and parts of Asia.
The picture I have used comes from a British gardening site selling the plant on the Internet.
But settling back on cushions in Cairo, puffing on a water pipe and enjoying the sight of water soldiers and water lilies floating in the pond beside the bar is one thing, having to capture and burn 25 plants off my dock when I want to go swimming is much more galling.
How it got here is a mystery. Some idiot in my Kawarthas corner around Burnt Point south of Havelock probably thought it looked pretty in their landscaping and then got bored and discarded it. The last huge menace, zebra mussels, hitchiked from Europe in the ballast water of a foreign freighter that dumped it illegally in Lake St. Clair.
So water soldiers are believed to have first started anchoring here in 2008 in the shallows or being swept along by the vigorous currents of the Trent River, which right now is being whipped into whitecaps around my point as I type. So I haven't yet done my regular dubious harvest.
Several years ago, at what unfortunately was the last annual picnic of the North Seymour Ratepayers Association, there were a commendable presentation and brochures on water soldiers, which as a rookie member of the association executive I dutifully spread to my neighbours.
It seems that the Trent from Highway 30 near the hamlet of Trent River down to the big drop in the river known as Healey Falls is the only place in North America where wild expanses of water soldier sare found.
The distinction of living on a unique stretch of river will not last long, judging from the explosion in growth of water soldiers around me since I first learned about it. It was three years ago when I phoned a hotline about colonies I had found near Hardy Island. Two men showed up and worked away for a couple of days. Now there are many expanses of water soldiers in backwaters. The growth may be exponential.
Despite the obvious fact that anyone who has been paying attention has known about water soldiers for several years, if you sift their reaction, it has come out of the blue of the Trent for politicians.
I phoned a friend and fellow cottager worried about the new threat to kid him about emails and letters he had received when he tried to sound the alarm. He once was in the CBCs upper reaches and all the major figures in news and current affairs cared about his attention. Now he is just another cottager so that when he raises this important issue with local MPP Lou Rinaldi. he is supposed to be content with a canned reply from an assistant.
Trust me, Lou, you're never going to make it from the deserved back bench above parliamentary assistant unless you work harder in the constituency.  As Editor of the Toronto Sun and veteran columnist, I used to tell assistants that unless I heard from the boss immediately, I would feel free to say anything I wanted about the pol or the issue.
Which is the way I feel about this since I have made fruitless calls.
The only good guys so far are the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Why a good private organization has to devote more on a comparative basis to this puzzles me when you consider what the feds and natural resources ministry could do.
 Something called the Invasive Species Centre and Trent University is involved too, which is understandable since the university has to do something to make it stand out from being just another provincial university for those who couldn't get into a major one.
It does have a nice campus, and a river which I predict at the present rate of fighting water soldiers will have students wondering what those strange prickly plants are in just a few years. The most optimistic estimate is it will take a minimum of five years to control the infestation, but then there are gloomy predictions it will take an eternity.
Why, cottagers wonder, didn't someone spray Reward sooner, the herbicide that is supposed to kill or lame the soldiers? (You know, the herbicide that deliberately is made so expensive and wrapped in red tape that you feel you're a criminal if you try to use an ounce.) Why the delays? It appears that the federation has put up the most money, $35,00 plus donations, and $50,000 or so is a trifling sum when you consider the possible consequences, but there seems to be a lack of will as well as funds.
The focus has been to map the menace, not to kill it. The worry from the few bureaucrats who seem to have got off their ass long enough to actually go and inspect is to contain it above the triple locks and the falls at Healey.
You know, protect Campbellford and the little generating station that is downstream. And keep it from the lower reaches of the Crowe. (You have to protect the Crowe, you see, if you are an environmental bureaucrat, because a former environment minister loves her cottage there and you don't want to drag the NDP into this fight considering that so far the Liberals don't give a damn and the Tories are still licking their wounds.)
Of course, they have failed to contain the menace, which is understandable considering the Trent is a major river and the authorities have never kept the water level so high for so long.  Floating islands of tangled vegetation have been a menace all year (I wrote a blog "Dangerous Islands of Trent River" on May 20) and this huge gush of water through the locks and dam of Healey Falls carry battalions of water soldiers.
Since water soldiers are perennial, even if we control them they will continue to be an additional problem because in cottage country, we already have a huge water weed problem due to the curse of zebra mussels which have cleared the water and allowed all that sunlight to stimulate all those weeds. Even the fishing has changed. Then we have the fertilization from the lax policies controlling the pollution from farms even though a female premier has stopped playing at being a farmer and agriculture minister so that voters will forget she's from T.O.
There are parts of the famous Trent-Severn Waterway that have never been so choked with weeds. I can't boat or even canoe in stretches that were still passable 15 years ago.
If it gets much worse because the red tape boys and girls screw up the fight against the latest problem, and it really does spread to block even the huge intake pipes of water filtration plants and stretches of public beach, I can see tax strikes in cottage country.
After all, we are mad already at Hydro overcharging and the residents in the towns and villages getting more than their share of the municipal tax dollar, particularly when you add in education since cottagers can't use the schools.
If most cottagers in affected areas were to withhold or delay their municipal tax installments in unison, I imagine something constructive would happen this afternoon.
Nothing has so far. Just MPs even ignoring meetings, MPPs having some flunky reply with a canned excuse, and me burning the latest crop of water soldiers.


A phone call from Trent Hills Mayor Hec Macmillan assured me that the spraying of herbicide to attack water weed infestations is definitely going to be done this fall and that he is convinced it really is a menace.
He doesn't dispute the argument by me and residents further up the river in Cedar Shores that if nothing major is done now to fight the growing menace, we will have a new environmental blight on our hands.
We discussed the election, of course, and I said we were voting for him, primarily because of his stewardship of my stretch of river (where his family had a cottage.)
 I was there at council that night when all that stood between quick approval in principle of a shoddy scheme to cover Nappan Island with cottages and a golf course fertilized with human waste was Hec's common sense.
The mayor demonstrated that the mysterious developers really hadn't done genuine planning but had just stolen fancy propaganda about other schemes from the Internet and hoped to stampede politicians and officials long enough to get their flimsy proposal approved and then sell the package for a huge profit to a bigger outfit.

Before I completed my mail-in Trent Hills ballot, I phoned friends for advice since they live there and I have worked with them covering politics so I trust their opinion
To say they were hostile to Macmillan is putting it kindly. They hate him for his stalling and bully-boy tactics on the new bridge, which is the most controversial decision in the sprawling municipality for decades.
Then they say he's too close to the Nicholson brothers, who aren't exactly the most popular businessmen around. I can understand why after one of them tied up roughly to my trees so he could fish right from my point, then when I objected boasted about how much richer he was than me and then predicted I would die of cancer within the year.
The weirdest encounter I have ever had at my cottage, and when you consider there are many rude fishermen around who will, for example, fish your dock even when you're standing on it, that's really saying something.
To boil down my friends' objections to Hec, they say he's a great man to have on your side but a terrible enemy when he's not. They say the entire council should be turfed, and probably will be.

Monday, September 15, 2014



Too many of us spend too much time in traffic dreaming of a hell where traffic engineers run like hamsters inside giant wheels while carbon monoxide blows in their faces.
Since the engineers, aided and urged on by politicians who want all their activists living in areas protected from through traffic, are impervious to the lesson inherent in the axiom that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and believe the greatest invention in the world is a maze surrounded by construction, anything sensible that I might propose will be lost on them.
If the trafficrats aren't spending our money on a multitude of signs, so much so that you think it is possible for a city to get measles, they are sentenced to remedial courses in driving motorists mad.
The timing of traffic lights is always of great interest to me, particularly when I finally get a green but can see that the next light has just turned red.
Back when I was a kid reporter, I used to write regularly about how Toronto virtually had invented  the idea of feeding signals from traffic lights into a buried computer centre so that you could actually drive along without every second light blocking you.
In fact, traffic experts from all over the world used to come to study what the Toronto metropolitan area was doing.  I once went to Singapore because of radical changes there in handling traffic and all the experts there wanted to do was ask me what was the latest innovation in Toronto.
How the mighty have fallen!
I was reflecting on this the other day when I drove in from my cottage on the Trent south of Havelock to deliver Mary to a bus taking her and some relatives from the Plewes clan to lay waste to the shops of Quebec.
My destination was the Legion in western Peterboro (the way we used to spell it in the old Tely to save  type.)
I hate to be tardy but we arrived a few minutes late for the pickup by the excursion bus. Why? The usual idiots on Highway 7 who get nervous at 80. The usual lumbering dump trucks and tractor trailers that are too big for ordinary highways but are allowed there by stupid politicians and lazy law enforcement..
 And every light was red.
Since Lansdowne is a main drag, you would think that at 8 a.m., it would be possible for any rookie official with more firepower than a smart phone to program a system where many lights could be synchronised.
But oh no, traffic limped from red light to red light, which may cut down on speeding but certainly increases pollution and wear. Presumably, the drivers around me were going to jobs or making early calls or deliveries, but the city wasn't easing the trip one bit.
Ironically, after Mary got on the bus and the driver and I stopped bitching about how traffic had worsened, I drove back to the cottage and stopped only once in 60 km.
See, it is possible. And it is interesting that in Peterboro it is easier to leave town than to work there.
I was trying to calculate the odds of driving all that distance and only having one red out of 20 or so signalized intersections.  Perhaps one in a million.
 Why it's practically a miracle, one that no traffic engineer would believe and every traffic engineer will ensure never happens again.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014



I moderated countless political debates in Toronto for nearly 30 years, from St. Lawrence Hall to church halls to school gyms to Nathan Phillips Square to endless cable shows. They blur together now because even when they were happening, not much real news was being created.
You see, real news most days is about 99% old. And with our political campaigns growing longer to the point of insanity, even candidates for dogcatcher have exhausted all their good ideas after three weeks.
The idea of mayoral campaigns lasting from January into the fall seems a concept hatched in Hades. Since most smart candidates never really stop getting their ideas out, and the GTA is drenched in media hunting for material, the combination means that many of us are bored with the major candidates before they sign their entry papers.
What complicates campaigns is the number of men and women who run for most positions. It is their right in a democracy. Except, as I have argued in plenty of meetings planning debates,  and in newspaper conferences about how we would distribute our resources, just because a 21-year-old student runs for mayor because he thinks it would be a great way to get publicity for a job, it doesn't mean we have to give him the same attention as a candidate considered important  by more than just his mother.
This brings anguish to the politically correct officials who control such public venues as St.Lawrence Hall or Nathan Phillips Square. They fear the heat of a few activists. I said I would take responsibility for pruning the competent from the silly and the futile because, after all, as a columnist and editor who daily made choices as to whom was covered and who was ignored, it is part of life for any journalist worthy of the name.
 It's fundamental to the news business that you not cop out and give equal space or time to everyone just to play it safe.  For those who say you should give both sides of every argument, I remind them there is often more than two sides. The sad result of the chicken shits who won't make obvious choices is, as the classic argument goes, you would have given equal time to Hitler.
One tense crowded night at St. Lawrence, with three major candidates behind me, I began the speeches only to be shouted at by a perennial mayoral candidate who had got his first publicity years before when he was arrested for sunbathing in High Park. (Yes, it was illegal at the time.)
I said to Zolton that hundreds had come to hear the main three. He would be wasting their time. But if the crowd wants to hear you, I told him, they can hold up their hands. No one did. I repeated the offer so there would be no confusion in the media. Still, no support for Zolton.
He marched angrily towards me, except I was bigger and just as determined. (And there were two paid-duty cops at the back.) So he subsided. I knew that would not be the end of it. When question period arrived, so did Zolton, first  to the closest microphone. He spoke for two minutes before I cut him off, pointing out that everyone in the hall knew he was going to pull that trick so he should now quit. And he did.
Things were more untidy when Rogers held two-hour debates each noon hour from Nathan Phillips Square during one provincial election. It was live, of course, for Channel 10. There was one crank who hung out at City Hall speaking at every committee meeting. He was tolerated because that was his right in a democracy but I saw no reason to be polite to the jerk. So he hated me.
There were 22 debates between the Toronto provincial candidates. About half way through the schedule, he started showing up to shout curses at me from the back of the square of chairs which never made it on air but had a disconcerting effect on me as chairman.
After this happened a few times, I said to a constable assigned to patrol the square that it would be nice if I could conduct a public debate without someone cursing me from the back.
He said he didn't think it was that much of a problem. Besides, he sort of agreed with the heckling considering some of the things I had written about the police.
(Ironically, when you consider that most controversy about police is when they over-react, I have had trouble getting them to act at all. I organized a publicity event in the civic square as a founding director of the Outdoor Art Show. I had some politicians compete to see who could produce the most interesting painting in 15 minutes while the media watched. The jerk showed up to yell curses at me and Mayor Art Eggleton. I pointed out to a watching cop that another of the artists was Roy McMurtry, the AG who became Chief Justice. The constable refused to do anything on the grounds that such an experienced group should knows how to deal with kooks.)
One year Rogers decided to do something different. They invited the public to the council chamber for the question period that would be run there by Vic Rauter, the curling guru who was then a young reporter anxious for any on-air experience if only on cable. Few people showed and Rauter looked lonely on the dais.
 I ran the main part of the debate from the mayor's office where the major candidates like John Sewell were seated in front of the mayor's desk that they hoped to occupy.
The show began with me making a grand entrance from near the private washroom. I strode confidently to the centre of the office but as I began, the mike popped off my lapel into the thick carpet.
I shouted in the vicinity of the mike, finally found it in the rug, fished it out and jammed it back on the lapel. Later they said that all my words were quite clear. "That is the advantage," the late Kip Moorcroft said, '"of hiring a guy with a big mouth. I mean loud voice."
I told the Rogers vice-president that he really meant the first version. When it comes to running political debates, it's useful when you don't let the hecklers, or the candidates, shout you down.

Monday, September 8, 2014



You realize about the time you spend more time saving your body than you used to spend at work that a big city and its cottage countries can never be heaven.
But I refuse to stop fighting the little bursts of hell that can ruin a nice time.
So I can be cantankerous and the family get madder at me than at what upset me.
You realize that after the food finally arrives at the restaurant that you probably won't be able to hear your friends because of the music and the yowelling kids at the next table but you learn to put up with it for about five minutes.
But then....
You realize no computer works all the time and the TV which has more electronic firepower inside than used to be on a battleship will hiccup and Rogers will say they can come at 7 a.m. next week but you put up with it, sort of.
Though you may something to the person handling the complaint which is being monitored for quality assurance.  I suspect it is a computer monitoring a semi-computerized technician and nothing ever happens if they just hang up on you.
And so we all confront life, hoping to keep the hassles to a minimum, hoping that the slow driver won't always be in the passing lane on the trip to the cottage and when you get there the only neighbours not cutting their lawn won't have gone to town leaving their dogs to bark and bark and bark.
I was enjoying life at the Ex when a cute tot admired the flowers around the fountain south of the Bandshell at the E. I admired him. It was warm and peaceful, a scene right out of Norman Rockwell.
Then the tot plowed through the middle of the garden trampling lovely blossoms because he wanted to wade in the water. I waited for the parents to admonish him. They didn't. He kept trampling.They said not a word. So I did. Many! Loudly! Profanely!
Back when people knew who Rockwell was, and the Saturday Evening Post for which he did such great nostalgic covers was a huge hit, kids didn't crush gardens when the parents were around, and strangers didn't need to lecture the kid AND mom and dad.
Ironically, it was a famous rose garden. The roses seem fewer but enough have survived the budget cuts that I hoped the kid would get scratched. The garden has also survived the plot to put the turbine there, you know the money-losing windmill that rumour says no longer produces any power at all.  I proudly was the only one to vote against its construction. I lost but I did get it moved.
I was there resting from the air show which now has a strangled home along the waterfront because the city has let the breakwater deteriorate to such an extent that it isn't safe for large numbers at the water's edge.
That was the scene of my first encounter of the day, this time with a youth who said he was an air cadet, but from the amount of beer consumed by him and two buddies, they were older than cadets and already insolent.
The air show began with two anthems and the vice-regal salute since David Onley opened the program as our lieutenant governor who will be retiring honourably in just two weeks
The supposed cadets slouched into the anthems at the next table and then the runt, busy chewing his cud of gum, hiked his pants ostentatiously so he could shove his hands deeper into the pockets.
I don't believe I cursed but several hundred people, including Onley and Art Eggleton, the former mayor and defense minister, heard me bellow " take your hands out of your pockets."
They were so shocked at being called out, they didn't bluster a defense. I was prepared to toss them into the lake if they had, since I was reinforced by Mark, my son who has the build and temper of a tank.
Onley and Eggs agreed later that when we were youths, whether or not we had been in the army or cadets or as I had been in the RCAF Reserve, the idea of standing at attention during O Canada was something you knew by Grade One.  If I had pulled such a sad sack stunt at the Avenue Rd. RCAF base, I would still be marching around the drill square.As for chewing gum, that was banned from all schools and most offices.
I was strolling a broad sidewalk when a trio of women wearing the armour of first motherhood came marching toward me each pushing a stroller which had the look and bulk of an armoured personnel carrier.  The first glared at me when I didn't step off the sidewalk, since there was plenty of room to pass single file.
You know kid moms. We have to manouver around them in small restaurants and on the TTC. Why we even have the variation who wander slowly and obliviously across the intersection after the light has changed pushing the baby and pulling the dog while talking on the cell phone while traffic snarls.
Regular readers will recognize an old theme here, that it is not that we get crankier when we get older, we just won't put up with the crap anymore and speak out. No wonder Andy Rooney was such a popular part of 60 Minutes, the best TV show of its kind, and rants from acidic wits like Lewis Black are sought by smart producers.
I used to have this disagreement when I tried to hire older reporters. I was told they were worn out. No, I would say, they just won't put up with the BS and stupidity of young editors.
And so it is these days with life in general, especially in the big city that has too often outgrown its civility. There has been a decline in public politeness just as there has with routine service, whether you're trying to get an answer out of a bureauracy or negotiate your way through these automated telephone gauntlets where you remember fondly the good old days when actual people answered and actually looked after you.
Exasperations abound in this selfish careless city. Texting during meals. Sloppy scofflawism like cycling through crowded sidewalks and speeding through stop signs. Cellphoning through movies.
I couldn't use my TD discount brokerage account for two days and when I finally got a human to deal with it, she said that I talked too much as I explained my complaint. But, I said, it is TD who goofed. Why do you act as if I'm guilty?
The other day I had a credit card question for Costco. I am a big fan of that company and told people later it was dealt with efficiently. Then I realized it had taken me 30 minutes and that I had talked to three people at Costco and two at American Express. But then with some companies today I would still be on hold. So I was pleased it had only taken five calls and two long waits.
My family grumble when I explode. Have more patience, they say. Why be so confrontational! Except, I say, the decline will accelerate if we don't push back and speak out.
We have to tell the idiots to stop their kids from running wild, especially in gardens,
We have to insist openly that it's a fundamental to good manners and citizenship to honour O Canada.
We have to complain every time a company like Rogers has people dealing with complaints who act like they really don't give a damn and they hope that if they make it difficult enough, you will just go away.
If we don't grumble and honk and yell, the slide away from civility will continue and it will need more and more cranky old farts like me to howl at the moon about the good old days when service was more than just talking to a computer.