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.

Friday, October 17, 2014



Some friends now start their phone conversations with "I'm not cleaning ducts."
Who would have thought that in 2014, the greatest telephone problem, not counting the bill, would be the annoying 6 p.m. call from duct cleaners. Or at 8 just when a good TV movie starts.
Just how is it possible for them to annoy thousands of people all at the same time, just when supper is to be enjoyed or there is something finally interesting on TV.
It is the bureaucrats in Ottawa who should start cringing at the calls because it is daily proof that the do not call lists that they have concocted are an abject failure.
There are already many faults with those lists as I last wrote on July 14 in a blog titled Disconnecting Telemarketers. To start with, they could get rid of the calls from newspapers, and I think calls from politicians and pollsters should have strict limits.
Here we are in an era when we are being spied on electronically by every government.  Companies make fortunes compiling our personal histories from our credit card and Internet traffic. And yet these duct companies, and indeed all the other companies which grievously bug the hell out of us most days with their incoherent telephone solicitations, can't be trapped and fined mightily, since I'm sure some liberal squeamish types would vote against public executions.
Why I would even vote NDP if that promise-them-anything party would pledge to put the duct cleaner calls out of business.
Ironically, most duct cleaning is about as useless as a Liberal promise at Queen's Park. It doesn't even seem to employ many people, and goodness knows, finding jobs for everyone is a political preoccupation, no matter what the level of government.
I went to vote the other day and the gym was filled with so many poll officials twiddling their thumbs, gossiping and giving unnecessary info that I was afraid they were going to carry me over to the table to mark my X.
 Come to think of it, we no longer mark an X like we did in the old days when City Hall didn't find it necessary to employ armies with nothing better to do. Now it is a broken arrow that has to be mended, which certainly symbolizes our politics.
Petty patronage certainly has sprouted, along with the calls from the duct cleaners. And the results are just as dubious.

Thursday, October 9, 2014



I didn't hurt myself that much when I fell the other day on a subway stair. More embarrassed than wounded when people rushed up to help. After all, it had happened before, in precisely the same spot, and just before I skidded this time, I actually had been thinking about those bruises and scrapes.
I guess I am the kind of Torontonian who urban planners love these days because I may have two cars in the drive but for the last four days, I have taken the subway downtown because years ago you stopped being able to easily move around or even park in the city's core.
On March 1, 2013, I blogged under the headline I FALL FOR YOU, AND YOU, AND YOU about crashing at the foot of the TTC stairs at the south-east corner of University and College. (The new stairs replace an escalator which seems rather stupid in what is really one entrance to a huge hospital complex where many find stairs difficult.)
Since I had walked forward thinking I was at the bottom when I was still one step up,  I thought the TTC could do a better job of  contrasting tile colours so that people could distinguish the last step before the landing/platform. The TTC does not use the same pattern of light and dark strips on steps at every station.
After all, people with poorer vision or using tricky trifocal glasses, which can blur around your feet, could walk forward and fall like I did if the outside edge of the bottom step matches the colour of the landing.
 I emailed my suggestion one evening to the confident new broom sweeping through our transit, Andy Byford, and suggested contrasting colours be used to help in separating levels. (Since most  steps have two colours, it would help most when the outside colour is not a light speckled grey that is the same as the landing.)
I was impressed when he replied within two hours and sent me a report from a committee 10 days later which stressed markings on the railings.  It didn't agree with me but at least a giant transit company had looked into the complaint/suggestion and indicated a concern. I would suggest that all Byford and senior staff have to do is to go down to the subway station under headquarters with different patterns have been used on the stairs. When the darker colour is at the step edge, there is more contrast.
My eye specialist insists I have reasonable vision and good glasses for an old fart, so if I'm having difficulty and falling twice at exactly the same spot when I'm not rushing and being careful, there is a good chance it's just not me.
As someone who covered transit for years in this city, so much so that the TTC once tried to hire me and on another occasion asked Mike Filey and me to write its official history, I have been impressed by the maturation of the system and the efficiencies brought by Byford and his key appointments.
It's not all perfect, but I doubt it can be when you're trying to move hundreds of millions in reasonable time without them having to pay a fortune in fares.
It's remarkable how much is being done now in keeping the rider informed even when the train just has to slow because of maintenance. Unfortunately, in my last 12 subway trips, I just couldn't' understand what was being announced despite the repetitions on at least four occasions.  Since different phrases would make it through with each repetition, it was almost a game to piece together what was happening. A muddled crossword puzzle of sound!
I realize that as a veteran columnist, I am supposed to view with alarm all changes in this modern city, and there certainly is a lot of fodder in the decline of our roads and services, but the TTC is better these days, folks, even if it has turned me into a Humpty Dumpty.


According to the New York Times on Nov. 2, nearly 24,000 Americans over 65 died in 2012 from falls.  That's almost double the number who died a decade before. Indeed, from 2002 to 2012, more than 200,000 in the U.S. died from falls, making such accidents the leading cause of death for the age group.
Since ER records show that more than 2.4 million Americans also were treated for injuries from falls, a figure which has also doubled in a decade, the simple fall on steps, whether in the home or the subway, is a major health problem, and not just south of the border.
I notice the new subway steps at Union Station are different from the normal subway steps. Why the change? Is it because the steps in most stations have been found wanting?
I will continue to research, which I hope does not include falling for the third time exactly in the same spot.