Tuesday, December 22, 2015



We are besieged by wild life. It's an ironic mix of the good with the bad. One man's pet is another man's pest. A few examples!
 I was at a hospital Christmas party the other day - fortunately this time as a guest- when the hospital CEO showed me a picture of a large buck complete with a grand rack that was snoozing in her backyard. Nice!
Earlier I was reminding a friend that there had been a warning of a coyote in her mid-Etobicoke neighbourhood which was "harvesting" the population of cats, squirrels and other critters. Not so nice!
I live near the Mimico Creek which is the haunt of many skunks, fox and raccoons, not that they need a valley for a home when they can live around our houses.  I put out the little can of kitchen waste an hour or two before pickup because if I left it out by the road over night, the remnants would be spread far and wide.  The skunks dig up my gardens and lawns more than I do. Not so nice!
I noticed as I was closing my cottage on the Trent River, most of the time being spent wrapping trees in protective wire, that the beaver had already beaten me to an evergreen that I had planted several years ago near the little oak that it cut down last fall. Not so nice!
I was pleased as I cleaned the home gutters to note that the squirrel that keeps trying to chew its way into my eaves has given up the battle for now, thanks to the metal mesh that I've had to nail in great strips under the eavestroughs. Nice!
I have been busy trapping mice near my tiny wine cellar in the basement. The toll is now 11. No sign of rats, thankfully. I wonder if the Toronto Humane Society still stupidly returns critters to where they were live trapped. including Norway rats, which can gnaw through sewer pipe and just the sight of one can close a restaurant. Not so nice.
A big doe routinely walks calmly to the point at my cottage and then jumps in to swim across the river. Nice! I wonder if it is the deer that nibbles the tops of my shrubs in mid-winter. Not so nice!
But let's go back to the top.
I  won't tell you exactly where because you never know what ideas hunters get but that big deer in the CEO's yard has made its peaceful home in the Humber Valley south of Bloor St.  Now I've done a lot of walking and even canoeing in that area and I'm surprised that a big buck, complete with a harem of four or five does that occasionally gather around in admiration or obeisance, would find enough hidey holes there to escape man.
There are those who argue that there are more deer in southern Ontario now than there were before 1793 brought John Graves Simcoe. I do know that my late brother-in-law, Gord, got so annoyed at deer cutting up his crops with their sharp hooves that he bought a crossbow (the game warden might hear any shots) and dined on venison. Nice!
As for the marauding coyotes. I read in the International New York Times that the experts figure that at least 4,000 coyotes are living in Chicago but calls of complaints and sightings have eased because residents have got used to them. Besides, they're not aggressive, just going after dogs generally when they're not on a leash.
Of course coyotes are rather tame compared to what the Times writer had discovered in other countries. Like the 35 wild leopards living inside Mumbai that leave the people alone but dine on cats and dogs in the dark. Or the wolves living beside Rome's airport. The mountain lion in the Hollywood Hills that has its own Facebook page. The great white sharks frequently cruising Cape Cod beaches. A Florida photographer recently snapped a bobcat grabbing a shark out of the surf at Vero Beach.
We're lectured by the humane movement, which often make a good living from it, that it's because of urban sprawl that more wild animals now live around us. We've moved in on them, and they were here first. So leave them alone, the dizzy minded say.
That's a lot of nonsense. There are exceptions, of course. For example, in Mumbai, one of the world's most crowded cities has engulfed the national park where the leopards roam. But I doubt, for example, that the big buck would have lasted long in the 1800s as muddy York grew into Toronto.
I wonder if that lodge of beaver that have cost me and my cottage neighbours so many mature trees would have lasted long a century or so ago in a  country that was built on the back of beaver.
A woman and two dogs were injured  by a sow bear within a few kilometres of my cottage. I think that when nearby Havelock was still a bustling railway and mining centre just a few decades ago that the bear would not have lasted long that close to farms and a town.
I love to watch wild life, like the muskrat that lives under my dock, the martins that live in the point, the pileated woodpeckers that chisel chunks out of my tree, that deer that comes for a swim. I leave them alone and they almost ignore me. But then they didn't eat the old outhouse like the porcupine which I introduced to a prickly hell.
I listen to the politically correct division of the humane activists - but never to the crazies of PETA - and wonder why they put animals ahead of people, so much so that this city is not quite as pleasant as it could be because craven  politicians refuse to allow tougher measures against animals  in the wrong place munching our woodwork.
I remember one rabies epidemic where I produced a story a day on the latest human and animal patient/victims. The treatment then was a lot more painful. One day on the way to the TTC about 6 a.m., a squirrel kept running at me and snapping at my ankles. I kept jumping in the air assuming it was rabid. After several passes, I ran half a block to the streetcar, pausing only to bring up in the gutter. On my arrival, the Tely editor said that it appeared the rabies epidemic was easing. Oh no, it isn't, I said, but didn't include my attack in the day's collection.
We now have another rabies epidemic and other great blights -  the flying manure spreaders known as Canada geese, the raccoons which overturn our garbage cans as fast as they can rip apart the bird feeders,  the fox that take up light housekeeping in the traps at the better golf courses. the coyote that are now the size of wolves that walk down the street like a young hooker.
Not so nice! If they are really more important than me, let them start paying taxes!

Saturday, December 12, 2015



I still remember my shock reading a Toronto Life article about the "new suburbanites" because "the reasons to abandon the overcrowded, overpriced, not-so-livable city are beginning to outnumber the reasons to stay. More and more of us are tempted by the 905 and beyond. Screw Jane Jacobs. We're out of here."
Readers who dislike this theme would point out that it appeared in September, 2011, and the great rush to buy condos downtown since then shows that many love living close to what is important to them and so put up with the costs and hassles.
What surprised me about the article was not that it made so much sense but that it appeared in Toronto Life, that trendy journal that celebrates a life style as far removed from the mortgaged middle class as Gatsby from a street beggar. It was a good read!
Thanks to Toronto Life and the Toronto Star and urban activists who worship at the shrine of the foot power of pedestrians and cyclists, Jacobs became such a Toronto god that it was ignored that most of us allowed the choice would not live on a street that she ruled was ideal.
I suspect her books were idolized by the intelligentsia but never really read except in urban planning courses where the profs put her on a pedestal because by their standards she was a safe rebel. I once made these points about the Jacobites to a MIT professor writing a book on her who interviewed me when he was here for a conference.
The problem with Jacobs and John Sewell and all the other guerrilla fighters against urban sprawl is that they ignore the middle ground between the Yonge St. condo and the two-storey four-bedroom  attached garage home on a 50 by 120 foot lot on a wide street.
I live near Royal York and Bloor in a 1 1/2 storey home on a smaller lot and a narrow street with no sidewalks. It's a great area, in fact so great that there is pressure to build condos, replace smaller homes and increase density. Like all such areas, in-fill is a fact of life.
I have the Royal York subway station for support when I have to go downtown and don't want to drive because of the congestion created by ineptitude by politicians, officials and police.
And the congestion isn't going away, not with the current thinking of politicians and planners because they still think it's fashionable to hobble vehicles.
Here's a typical paragraph in a Star column. "The Toronto the car built is giving way to another city, one that's dense, high-rise and compact. It is a city where bicycles make as much sense as cars, and in which pedestrians are demanding freedom of the streets."
That was so dumb and offensive and lacking in reality that it prompted another Star columnist, Norris McDonald, to point out that the car's a necessity for many commuters and there is a life for many outside the "tiny piece" of the city from Bloor to the lake and Bathurst to the Don.
Since the Star isn't a great place to work if you don't like their missionary approach to issues, and writers are not encouraged to attack colleagues who are their evangelist columnists, McDonald summarized by saying merely "a gross misunderstanding of current realities" was demonstrated.
I would say it was bullshit!
City Hall and Queen's Park have been terrified that they may be made to be seen as caring about the car. Yet this city continues to have to move four out of every five commuters by car. They have been so defensive about helping the car that it ruined Black Creek Drive, which was supposed to be, heavens, an expressway. They also let the Gardiner deteriorate when it would have been so easy to repair and improve its looks.
I think it is wonderful that a nice and impressive couple are giving $25 million to prettify under the Gardiner. Yet the idea of dressing up the Gardiner is an old one, proposed to me a couple of decades ago by Charles Templeton, a brilliant inventor and communicator, who suggested that if people hated its looks so much, cover it where it crossed major roads with the reflective cladding used on buildings. Nice plantings along major roads have been routine in countries like China for years.
Writers like Christopher Hume denigrate the "ugly scar"of the Gardiner and ignore that many more people get a great view of the city from driving along the workhorse road than are bothered by the view on the ground.
Critics like Hume and planners have never figured out that more people will enjoy the view if  a subway line goes through a valley than ever hiked through the same valley.
I just love this stupidity that bicycles "make as much sense as cars." The space consumed by bike lanes and the interference of the cyclists with the traffic around them is a contributor to traffic congestion and all cyclists should be banned from major streets from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The lame answer is road tolls to the latest burst of stories that Toronto has the worst traffic of any Canadian city, or even Hades for that matter. We've known that for years, as we've burned while our politicians fiddled.
You know those funny plays where women withhold sex in order to achieve some victory. How about if everyone outside the subsidized burghers of downtown not drive downtown for two weeks.
First, the TTC would stagger to a stop because it just wouldn't be able to handle the crowds.
Second, the provincial and federal governments would have a huge increase in their deficits because of the loss of gasoline taxes.
Third, all the stores and offices downtown would be crippled
Fourth, it would prompt many more to work from their homes or encourage the boss not to just think about moving outside the city, like all the other head offices.
When people look back from 50 years in the future to our era, they will be baffled as why we so interfered with the vehicles that deliver all our goods, and the cars that transport four times the daily crowd on the TTC, and think we really were a primitive people.
And we were rather stupid too. Transit riders are hurt by congestion too. The smartest investment in transit is improving the flow of traffic for everyone instead of politicians cutting off their economic nose to spite the angry faces of the driver. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015



The joke among snowbirds at the first flocking in Florida, or with friends gathering for the first eggnogging, is that you are only allowed to talk about your health for the first 15 minutes.
During a lifetime of reasonable health, if you don't count gout and some screwy wiring in my heart, I used to look on such accounting of operations with rum-and-coke indulgence.
Then on a trip home from God's waiting room in Florida, I drove into what I called in a lengthy Sun series, hospital hell.
Three months in four hospitals, punctuated with trips in ambulances, including an air ambulance home from West Virginia. I lost the ability to stand or walk or joke about health. Then a year later, two operations a day apart in two more hospitals.
After a career which included medical reporting, important jobs and lengthy service on a hospital board, I ended up as just another file number stuck on me on a gurney lost somewhere in a hospital corridor.
And this bothered more than just me and the family. Some insiders too!
As Todd Penner, a noted surgeon at Western and prof at U of T,  said a year later when he wandered around in my innards ruined by peritonitis for more than two hours, much longer than expected, if a connected guy like me is gamed by the system, what hope is there for Joe Canuck who doesn't even have a family doctor.
 He will get screwed routinely by the system even if he manages to hitch a ride.
After decades of journalism, you do acquire certain access. I didn't infuriate everyone I wrote about. So after my hospital hell, I could vent. I talked to the health minister twice about painful glitches. I suggested changes in the Sun. I could howl at the moon.
It had helped over the years that my family doctor and friend, Bernie Gosevitz, has clout. The proof of that came when 12 hours after he diagnosed atrial fibrillation, a wonderful and famous cardiologist was checking me out.
It almost made up for the endless delays and months when specialists were too busy to see me.
I won't let anyone forget those horrible two month in St. Joseph's, where the staff were too few and too tiny to handle anyone over six feet and 200 pounds. And some were lazy, hiding from patients.
So the three bed sore ulcers around my tail bone became so enormous and deep that afterwards community care access nurses (CCAC) came 128 times to the house for treatment and I spent almost a year tethered to an air  pump machine which was a helluva less fun to sleep with than my wife.
I survived, even when the travel insurance company tried to renege on $85,000 in American health costs and I had to use every gambit in journalism, including flaunting my doctors and their titles in health organizations and at U of T, to scare the hell out of the insurance goons..
Now I've just used up my 15 minutes to talk about my health.
I just took Mary to three medical appointments in one week where she always waited at least two hours past the appointed time.
I finally got an eye appointment with a specialist six months after it was requested. I showed up early because I had another medical appointment in 2 1/2 hours. Didn't work. Three hours later, after I bugged technicians, I made it in. He was nice enough to sort of apologize. I replied that I was now too late for the next specialist and added sarcastically "you take out cataracts but she takes out hearts."
Hope he forgets that before he operates, but then that won't be for months.
I have defended OHIP and Canadian medicare in some heavy-duty confrontations with some major Americans - once with one of the original seven astronauts - and I will continue to do so. It is incredibly satisfying that you can no longer be ruined by hospital bills, that everyone, eventually, gets cared for.
Yet there are so many things that could be fixed to make it all run better, including penalizing financially any doctor or  clinic who keeps a patient waiting more than two hours without a good excuse that they would have to document to the ministry.
There can be a competent and pleasant doctor at the end of the wait but the system in which they are the stars cares most about their time and to hell with the rest of the human race.These long waits are agonizing and exhausting for many patients and seniors. It can ruin their week if not the month.
Eric Hoskins, the current health minister, seems to be an able doctor with good ideas. He says a major restructuring of community health is underway, which may kill the current CCAC system,  Good! I found the CCAC system on weekends to be unhelpful and on wonky auto pilot. The evidence was obvious that it was a cumbersome, expensive system speckled with careless waste.
I tried for months to find out what each visit cost so I could write about the large cost just because a careless hospital gave me bed ulcers.
A flood of figures poured over me. I was confused, which I suspect was the idea.  I finally concluded that it was $70 for 30 minutes, which was ten minutes for me and the rest for the forms, but it could have been more.
It all adds up to the current $2.5 billion annually, for around 713,500 ''clients." Perhaps if they called them patients, they would be more patient with better care.
The Auditor General's latest report dealing with the inept stewardship of the province said patients are still waiting too long, some for up to a year, just to be assessed by the CCAC.  I remember my assessor. He showed up in the evening, five hours late, and interviewed me while I was sitting on the hospital toilet.
The AG, Bonnie Lysyk, pointed out that her watchdogs criticized this wait five years ago.
Dipika Dameria, the associate minister for long-term care, reacted typically recently when the Star showed her pictures of gaping infected bedsores in nursing home "inmates." You know, she was saddened and troubled. It has to change, she said. The ministry will strengthen compliance, she said.
Sorry but I'm not impressed. I've heard that from countless ministers.  I remember stories like this when I was a kid reporter half-a-century ago. The name of the game for operators is to keep costs down as much as possible to make more money.
There always will be a few who will want to cheat and cut corners by reusing dubious sheets and not having enough staff etc. There has to be regular inspection to catch them and an easy way for families to blow the whistle on incompetent care.
Hey, I know what I'm talking about. If a modern downtown Toronto hospital can give me bedsores that were so deep that doctors marvelled at the depth, what hope is there for no ugly holes in patients in a cheating nursing home.
There have been horror stories abounding about this for years. I can testify as a long-time board member of the modern Runnymede Health Centre, which grew from a rehab/chronic care operation in an old school while health officials kept trying to shut us down.
The relatives of our patients were ecstatic about our stewardship in long-term care, despite the humble surroundings, because they knew how grim and costly many alternatives were.
The auditor's report critized a host of issues in elderly care, including lengthy delays in investigation and inadequate follow up after complaints of violence or abuse.
 Let's not forget, Dr. Hoskins, that any review of Ontario health care must included the parking costs at Ontario hospitals. Even the Canadian Medical Association says medicare is being harmed by the high parking charges because patients cut short their visits to clinics and some families just can't afford to visit their incarcerated loved ones.
It isn't as important as hospitals not having enough nurses or other staff but to me the costs of parking on hospital grounds is almost as galling as the municipal parking enforcers who infest streets around hospitals and prey on the vulnerable - the patients and their families who never have a quick visit because doctors treat everyone's else time with contempt.
I know of a lawyer who after the doctor kept him waiting for three hours past the appointment time, billed him for three hours. We should raise a monument to him. It will be needed quite soon, I imagine, because the medicrats are not going to rush to save him from passing. His bitching could grow into reforms if it was allowed to spread.

Thursday, November 19, 2015



The first time I heard this radio ad against illegal tobacco, I was driving through a suitable setting.
It was Alderville First Nation, where Highway 45 is lined with signs, often crudely lettered, about the cheap native cigarettes and tobacco products to be bought in all the outlets that form a deadly gauntlet.
The ad warned of an incredible fact, that is if you believe this province is law-abiding. One out of every three cigarettes sold in Ontario is illegal. And that is the foundation of the evil treasury that provides up to $75 million each year to fund, the ad says,  "the guns and drugs and gang violence we see on our streets every day."
Apparently only Panama has more illegal smokes than this province on this side of the Atlantic.
Drive from 401 into the Kawarthas and about 30 km. north of Coburg you find this Hades of cheap smokes. Just to the north is Roseneath, which features an antique carousel that I once enquired about buying for the Ex. But the main feature for everyone is bargains in smokes and gasoline.
 Only about one-third of the Mississauguas, around 325, live on the reserve at the east end of Rice Lake with the rest clustered along the highway. The strip attracts a lot of traffic because there are two service stations selling gas that is always at least a dime cheaper than in Toronto.  There used to be just one, which is cash only, but then the Esso outlet dropped its prices so it's one cent above its competitor.
 Unfortunately, the natives get it much cheaper than even that. They don't have to pay those government taxes, just like all the other tax breaks they get although there is a growing feeling that there should be a statute of limitation on making the victors pay eternally since that doesn't happen in most of the world.
The ads in the media, one featuring some acting about a gun death, are placed by something called the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco.  I really haven't dug into the outfits behind the coalition because I really don't care if it's cops, giant tobacco companies, governments and do-gooders because the cause is just.
Please don't get your knickers in a twist because I have had the temerity to mention native Canadians in connection with any crooked schemes to avoid taxes on tobacco.
I haven't sampled the tobacco wares of Alderville as to the prices, what taxes are charged or fiddled,  and the quality. But my friends who smoke certainly boast of the bargains there. And I assume there are a lot of people who keep mum about the real bargains to be had that slip under the government's tax radar because they don't want to screw up a good thing..
Unfortunately for the huge majority of natives who not only are not involved in this lucrative trade but hate those who are because the bad PR fallout hurts their causes, the evidence is overwhelming, from what Christie Blatchford unearthed in her great book about Caledon, and from what senior cops have told me, that much of the ugly civil disobedience by masked native activists  is supported financially by the underground factories that produce cartons for up to $20 when the legal cartons sell for nearly $90.
At those prices, I thank heaven that I was a non-driven smoker, so it wasn't that difficult to quit.  (Although I do miss my Brigham pipe and Cuban cigars  - but not Cohibas at the later prices) After all, apart from the cost, the evidence is iron-clad that smoking kills. And so, the ad says, do all the guns that gangs can buy because like the terrorists in Syria from oil, they have all the money they need from their black-market product.
I have no idea what proportion of the illegal cigarettes being sold around me come from native sources. One problem is that the Mounties and OPP are careful when talking about any of this because they just don't need the hassles from chiefs, politicians and the PC patrols.
 I have the wish, which I suspect will always be an illusion, that when I continue to drive Highway 45, which I do about 40 times a year, that those '"cheap smoke" signs will disappear in a year or two. (I also have another vain hope that those two service stations will no longer be pumping all that cheap gas for anyone who shows a native card. )
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimated a few years ago that up to a billion dollars annually is lost by federal and provincial jurisdictions by this avoidance of tobacco taxes.
Just imagine what our governments could do with that money. That also would be a billion that you and I wouldn't have to fork over in extra taxes. Of course in a Utopia, we wouldn't have to spend all those billions in health care looking after smokers.
This may be the only ad campaign I will support this year. In fact, I would welcome more of these ads, which really would be a first for me. And I suspect many Canadians agree, but not, of course, brazen smokers, and those quick to take offence who will say that this has nothing to do with any ethnic group.

Friday, November 13, 2015



There is nothing I treasure more than a great line from a show or a book or a speech. And for years I've been wanting to ask where this one came from.
It was in 2009 that The Rick Mercer Report telecast a wonderful stomach-churning segment that had Mercer push Rick Hansen and his wheelchair into a gorge at Whistler.
As the Man in Motion bounced up and down at the end of the bungee chord, he shouted from far below: "I can't feel my legs."
Surely all of Canada guffawed because all of Canada knows that Hansen can't feel his legs because he's been a paraplegic since that pickup truck accident nearly 50 years ago.
Hansen has been a member of the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame since it began in 1993. As a member of the selection committee, I recall there was no debate about his induction because of his stalwart work as an activist and example.
Just as there was only approval when Mercer was proposed for the Hall this year because he has done many stories about people with disabilities. "I just stumbled on this amazing group of people who happen to make great television."
I asked Mercer whether he suggested that gag line after the launch. Or did a CBC producer or writer for the show? Was it a standard Hansen gag to put people at ease. Turns out that
Newfoundlanders never push and tell.
Mercer claims not to be a social advocate, that he has no altruistic reasons as he searches for what he says must be entertaining for his "comedy" show. But his love and respect for Paralympic sport has been a gold mine of useful publicity to educate the public and to encourage those locked in that wheelchair that there can be life after the accident.
Obviously he has fashioned a close relationship with Hansen, demonstrated by a program late in 2015 when he went sturgeon fishing with him for another Mercer Report.
The Internet was alive after that televised bungee stunt with disabled youth who had renewed hope they could make their lives better.
There's nothing like creation of a risky real adventure to make the point better than any lecture that medical setbacks can be conquered. Mercer does it routinely and deserves the honour.
(I think too of my cardiologist, Dr. Heather Ross, who demonstrates that her heart transplant patients can have a great life afterwards when she and the retired Thunder Bay firefighter in whom she installed a new heart travelled in the hostile environment of the Poles.)
The other inductees couldn't have been more different. Lauren Barwick is a determined paraplegic equestrian who has won more medal at major games than any other Canadian athlete. Bernard Glickstein is a passionate personal injury lawyer whose work for his clients extends far beyond the law.
What buoyed the three recipients at the 22nd induction luncheon, and the largest crowd ever for the annual event, was the realization that, in the words of a patron, Governor General David Johnston,  the stigmas associated  with physical disabilities "are slowly being erased thanks to the dedication of those in the hall of fame."
The good new days!

Thursday, November 12, 2015



There are a shrinking number of TV shows that I love to watch. The ingredients that attract me are the elevation of the overlooked, the challenging of myths, and the running of a sword of words through the pompous and politically correct.
Programs that feed new facts and approaches into my thinking are important too. I'm not looking for chewing gum for the mind, just time wasters with an obvious plot, but more substantial stuff.
So of course I'm a fan of 60 Minutes. And Bill Maher. Although the endless Republican debates have splashed my boredom with the tedious and endless American election on them too.
I like peering into the past with Downton Abbey, the fiction based on real issues of the West Wing, and the deadly leadership brawls of House of Cards and the British series that prompted it.
I have read every word of the Sherlock Holmes canon and find the modern variations fascinating when the writers don't get too clever.  Murdoch Mysteries is a gentler Canadian delight when I'm seeking escape, although the latest episode, with space suits and rockets and the PM trying to save New York, was cartoonish and slap dash, not one that we can be proud of when we taunt the Americans that they don't have an equivalent.
Towards his farewell on 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney, with his outlandish eyebrows, was seen as a crank commentator who let  little things bug him too much. The young dismissed him as an old fart.
 He may have overdosed on trivial beefs, like counting the raisins in a box of raisin bran and announcing  the cereal company was ripping us off. Yet I loved that stuff which he made a commentary of the times.
 I confess that as a columnist, I would save up my pet peeves and the cheating of companies, say banks with their gouging charges, and unleash them in one column of indignation.
I really didn't give a damn whether readers loved that stuff or didn't keep reading. It was a safety valve on my sanity.
 Not that companies like Bell or Rogers like you challenging them when they cut corners. To them you're a nitpicker when you complain about dollar charges.
To me we're just keeping them honest because if we didn't fight them on the smaller stuff, like that service fee that TD charges at the end of the month, they would hose us even more on the big stuff, like the interest they grudgingly hand out after they use our money to make a fortune.
I was lamenting the disappearance of curmudgeons like Rooney the other day when I took several magazines to my TV chair in case that television that night would be just a vast wasteland that makes you wonder why you pay for cable.
 Like dandruff, subscription cards fluttered to the carpet. You know, the 6" by 4" cards that publishers stuff in their magazine so you can reply instantly to their blandishments. Damn it, I said to myself, I've been picking up these damn things  for decades. They're not a pain in my ass but my back. Why can't they limit themselves to one piece of garbage per magazine?
I'm sure all readers have their list of the little things that bug them. Like the delivery of my newspapers to the most awkward spot on the porch, if I'm lucky that they made the porch.
Or the repetition of the same ads on TV, some times back to back, so that if you regularly watch baseball or the stock picking on BNN, you may see the same ad dozens of times a week.
Or the fact that it really doesn't matter how often you keep filing your phone number with the "do not call" agency, the duct cleaners will call in the middle of the meal twice a week.
All media need a good crank commentator who never lets triviality stand in the way of anger. What we need is more grumbling about the dumb intrusions on our wallets and our time because silence just encourages the jerks!

Sunday, November 8, 2015



I will believe in and use the driverless computerized car when I don't have to worry about trying to reboot such a car when I am going down 401 in the passing lane.
I look at all the pretty pictures and stories about how we will soon have cars that will drive themselves, park in a twinkling and avoid all accidents.
How nice! But it's not going to happen for years. After all, there are too many problems with the simpler computerized devices we have now.
 I sit at my computer or turn on the giant TV and find that too often I have to turn them off and on, or unplug them, or go around in angry circles punching at a frozen keyboard or a useless remote, because for mysterious reasons they are not "working" at that particular moment.
Spare me the "garbage in garbage out" lecture. There are enough weekly glitches in my computerized  world for me to think I won't be around any more when routine traffic is filled with cars being driven by a master control under the dash while the driver watches TV.
If you think this is the silly burbling of a Luddite, you assume that every elevator and escalator you want to use is always working. And everything else controlled by a computer. You may work for a company that doesn't have a person or two dedicated in an IT department just to keep the computers going, but any company of any size still needs such help.
The early "teething" days of the Toronto Sun with computers, were without warning I could lose a column or editorial or a chapter of a book, are still scars on my memory. There was a new employee in our IT department who got me as his first problem after my column and the editorial disappeared into a horrible black hole. He never rescued them. I told him it wasn't his fault but I got so mad that he returned to his boss and quit.
Of course there have been vast improvements, and the experts promise that computers have never been more reliable. Now I welcome that and generally think progress is grand.
But I have been tricked before by experts and futurists telling me what wonderful things will be a reliable part of our lives within weeks.
I was asked by a magazine when I was a young hotshot editor to write about what Toronto would be like in 25 years. It was fun writing it but not reading it in the same magazine a quarter of a century later when moving sidewalks, air cars, fuel from manure and almost free solar energy were still mainly in the future along with your very own space rocket.
Computers are central to the work life of my three sons. But the one that works for the giant computer company complains about daily problems with his equipment. My four grandsons must think their grandparents are fuddy duddy refugees from the dark ages as they have been surrounded by computers and video games and smart phones for most of their existence, They are almost openly scornful when Mary and I try to figure out whether the latest problem is a real glitch or caused by operator error.
Mark called me the other day by phone from where he lives in Dalian, China.  Mary and I were thinking how nice it was to chat regularly, and for free, with a  son on FaceTime or Skype through the phone or our computers. I told him I had been having trouble contacting him  and wondered whether my password was wrong. He gave it to me again and while I chatted on the phone, used it on my computer to call his computer. It started ringing, but before he answered, I heard the puzzled voice of my cousin in Ottawa.
So I disconnected, then tried again. Got Chris Plewes in Ottawa again. Kept happening. It baffled the three of us since Chris and I have never talked over FaceTime or Skype, and have only traded a few messages on Facebook or by email. But somehow all the modern marvels of computerized communication had conspired so that when I called a son on the other side of the world, I ended up talking to a relative in our capital.
It was a funny incident, not a deadly one. But as long as there are hiccups in my electronic devices on a regular basis, like that one, I will not be trusting a computer to drive me one inch.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015



Politicians and environmentalists are joined at the hip in a mischievous partnership in how they approach their goals which usually are wonderfully beneficial for the public if they can be achieved without dubious accounting and outrageous fibbing.  
Pols and activists see nothing wrong with misleading to the point of outright fabrication in overstating their case. 
And to hell with what it costs the middle class taxpayer. They're just there to be plucked and eaten like a fat but stupid hen.
The latest example has emerged from a costly swamp where it has waded for decades.
CBC just did a TV program about whether those disposable cups in coffee shops are really recycled if they're put in the special receptacle. Turns out that often they're not, for a variety of reasons.
And the Star had a front-page story about a Toronto apartment resident who goes to considerable effort to separate his garbage only to see the collection truck far below throw it all together.
The "facts box" in the Star reveals the underpinning of the issue. It costs $111 a tonne to send the city's waste to landfill, but $343 a tonne if it is diverted to a recycling facility.
So the city and commercial operations, from restaurants and shops to industries and offices, save a lot if they only pretend to recycle.
Since Toronto produces a lot of garbage - 2,256 daily tonnes in 2013 - Toronto's latest landfill will be full in 2026 if the diversion rate does not improve.
Similar warnings have been around for decades. Of course they have because it costs so much to recycle. The dirty secret is everyone in the city would save considerably, especially in taxes or indirectly in rent,if there was a lot less recycling and the politicians and the save-the-earth folks were honest about how they deal with a problem that is never going to go away.
The environment bounces around in public approval polling. Some years it's at the top of our concerns, other years it slides below unemployment and the economy. Ironically, when you consider the costs, the environment might sink more rungs in the polls as Canadians contemplate how much it costs us as we have been turned into a nation of garbage pickers.
Back in my past when I had to produce five or six Sun columns a week, I decided to take a new interdisciplinary course in environmental science at U of T.
 I had motivations besides it would be useful to have another degree.  I thought the professors would give me grist for my mill, the thousands of columns and editorials I had to produce. Then the environmental movement bugged me, from the early mouthy days of Pollution Probe to the holier-than-thou spokesmen who keep giving us guilt trips about just about anything we consume.
I remember a study a group of us made of the city's landfill projects. That came useful as background when activists killed the sensible plans to ship Toronto's garbages by safer rail to huge holes in the middle of nowhere. Instead we had to spend a fortune carting stuff to the States and then buying a landfill closer to the highways down which the huge trucks rumbled as a pollution and safety problem.
 I remember my term report based on a Northwestern University study that organic food is a bit of a fraud because unless doses of herbicides and pesticides soak the plants, they're the same as careful organic products no matter what they were fed.
Much to the disgust of radical classmates, there was not much proof that genetically-modified food were awful menaces. After all, basically scientists were just mimicking what smart farmers had done for generations.
As I wandered from City Hall to Queen's Park to Ottawa, and listened to the ministries and commissioners and activists,  and then read their polluted-sky-is-falling reports, my columns started to reflect some simple truths inside the hysteria.
For example, the regional works commissioner confided in me that he had been renting warehouses to store old newspapers because there was no market for them even if newspapers like the Sun were buying all the recycled newsprint they could get. Some years we were separating old newspapers from garbage at considerable cost only to burn a lot of it because of the glut.
Of course we should recycle but when it costs three times what it does to bury or burn, shouldn't there be a debate about some of that cost? Should we ignore that technology may well help us cope in another 11 years when our dump is full but has been turned by research into a useful mine?
Our politicians have caved on all the major issues. They let the pop industry get away with eliminating returnable bottles. Toronto tap water is just as good, and some times better, than bottled water (which is often tap water run through a filter) so why don't we tax the hell out of the zillions of water containers that never disintegrate?
Look at the international scandal of ethanol. This addition to our gasoline costs more in energy to produce than it saves, and now we have a world flooded with extra oil. Yet agribusiness goliath have conned subsidies out of provincial, state and federal governments to produce a product that all marinas warn against because of the damage to outboards and small engines.
Yet the politically-correct folk of the environmental movement insist that we have to pay for their dubious attempts to save energy no matter what the cost. For example, take the ancient machine called a windmill, rename it a turbine, and ask for its product to be supported from taxes even when there are no net savings.
There is a political reform movement where no government expenditures are taken for granted but traced back to their roots to see if all the costs and steps were still justified.
 Isn't it time for this city staggering under its taxes and needs in transit and transportation to re-evaluate whether we are really getting the best bang for our buck when it costs three times more to fiddle with our garbage than it does to bury it?

Saturday, October 31, 2015



It's rather stupid and misleading for our politicians and traffic engineers to pretend they are trying to improve the city's traffic flow when bike lanes, traffic lights and prohibition signs increase like snow in a January storm.
Once upon a time, to use the nice expression that has now been replaced by "in the day," Toronto was famous for how it handled its traffic. Experts came from around the world to study our roads, and the Metro roads boss, Sam Cass, was noted as the expert who contributed to the major traffic handbook used internationally.
Toronto used to boast that it had the first major computerized system in the world for the smart timing of traffic lights. I notice that some forgettable American city claims that it was the first to time its lights but if it really was, they must have used alarm clocks because they were decades before the invention of the computer.
I thought bitterly of this the other day as for the fourth morning in a row, I drove east on The Queensway from Park Lawn through six sets of lights that were choking two heavy lanes of traffic because of their timing.
It was the kind of traffic jams that results from an accident or road repair. But there was nothing blocking the traffic except for the stupid way the lights were cycling.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, I had no alternative but to use The Queensway. Once I got to Sunnyside, the jams intensified, but then I expected that because the traffic started to congeal there ten years or so ago.
The stupid gLiberals and leftist councillors insist that we use the TTC, and of course we should. But the reason that most people in Toronto don't use transit is because of where they are going, or the time of day, or the fact that they don't walk very well, or because it's difficult to deliver goods by subway or streetcar.
Then there is a problem that has snuck up on us, the fact that the politicians and the bureaucrats have created a monster in parking downtown and around special destinations like hospitals.
There are parts of the central city where all No Parking signs have migrated into No Parking AND No Stopping zones so if you pull over to use your cell phone, or let a person out, you can be ticketed. You can only stop at the curb to collect or discharge a passenger in a No Standing zone or in a white No Parking zone.
Believe me, I have been hassled by parking enforcers outside St. Joseph's Hospital, Jane St. and Royal York subway stations, Toronto General Hospital etc., even though Mary has a handicapped parking sign and doesn't find it easy to walk a block from the nearest oasis of legal parking.
One jerk tried to confiscate the sign and muttered about thousands in fine. I blistered his ears, demanded his name, and said I would love to publicize an incident where a man couldn't stop to collect his wife who doesn't walk that well in an area that was relatively free of traffic.
If the No Parking sign has the black octagon, that means it is also a No Stopping sign. And without us really noticing, there are many major streets in Toronto where you can't stop. The authorities got punch drunk with power on this ticket ploy because I can show you minor side streets where you also can't stop legally at the curb.
And when I say you can't stop, I mean that you can't sit in your car for even a few seconds with the motor running and the flashers going. It doesn't matter if you have a disabled parking sign and you are unloading wheelchairs. That bugs me more than the hospitals like St. Joseph's that charge you for those disabled parking spots and plaster the dictum to pay right on the sign marking the disabled spot,
Signs now infest areas to prevent easy passage. There are parts of Toronto where you can drive for blocks without being able to make a left turn. The measles of Stop signs has infected the city.
Our traffic has become so bad, we should get an achievement medal for speeding.
After my four days of hell on The Queensway, I went downtown on the subway. My trips were away from rush hour but the only seats I found were side seats were I had to jam between fat ladies with the usual accoutrement of purses and other protruding objects.
I sat there, below the traffic jams, pleased I didn't have to do the expensive treasure hunt for parking, but then there was some incomprehensible announcement about a delay.
I had plenty of time to contemplate why most of my relatives and friends have moved out to escape the daily hassles of just going a few blocks.
I am glad that the millennials say they are happy with all the condos downtown where they can walk to their work and their pleasures. No need for a car, they say, just a bike will do.
How nice for them! Let them write or phone and tell me how they're doing because thanks to the dunderheads at City Hall, where they parking is free and overpaid boss officials can afford downtown living and walk to work and forget those of us in the suburbs, I don't intend to visit that much, even if they figure out how to run the traffic lights again.

Friday, October 16, 2015



Went to vote in the advance poll in Etobicoke Lakeshore and gave up because of the tedious and amateurish approach to the identificaton of voters as if the officials for a day feared an influx of terrorists and frauds.
It should take just a few seconds to check proof of identity. There's no need to turn it into an occupation. With only one choice, it just takes a few seconds to mark the ballot. It just takes a few seconds to deposit it.
What gives with all the marathon delays? What's the point of voters' cards if they're not also used for identity?
So I was just one of many who had no intention of wasting an hour or more when I can vote in 10 minutes on election day providing the election officials settle down and demonstrate more sense.
Judging from the stories across the country, the advance polls were screwed up because the people guarding the ballot boxes would have lost a race to a turtle ... and not just the chocolate kind.
Ironically, this will hurt the Conservatives because there will be a perception that it is the government in charge of elections, not an independent arm's-length body which generally is as thick as oak planks in handling the public.
 Nope, you can't blame Harper for this.
 I have had conversations with the chiefs in counting the provincial and federal votes and always regarded them as bureaucrats crippled by the fear of PR failure from doing a quick and simple task.
I think our elections now are the most honest in our history. The fraud that was so prevalent, for starters in Quebec and the Maritimes - the ballot for a bottle days - seems to have been weaned out of the system. Unfortunately the patronage remains!
I  speak from experience. My first federal election was thrown out by the Yukon Supreme Court because it  ruled that 10% of the ballots, including mine, were illegal, improper or outright frauds.
My stories on this were printed in Time magazine and throughout North America.
The United States seems to have improved too from the days when it was alleged that JFK became president only because of the vote corruption in Chicago.
Now the hassles and hurdles over identification in the U.S. are seen, and accurately too, as a Republican gambit to limit the black vote. As the media and Democrats have pointed out, the amount of fraud in recent elections is remarkably low and doesn't justify the red tape barriers being thrown up against the registration of minority voters.
It is to be hoped that voters here don't just throw up their hands and not vote as the charges, muck and  insults fly, and it becomes difficult to remember just what Justin Trudeau is in favour of other than the teaching of his course in drama in hight school.  (I may have been in all the school plays but I never thought a credit in drama was that useful in life, or that teaching drama was good training for a PM.)
In my home riding of Etobicoke Lakeshore, it is particularly important to pay attention because the New Democrats have resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the chicanery business of elections. Their candidate is Phil Trotter who was raised in Montreal. I would assume that any similarity between his name and that of the incumbent, Tory MP Bernard Trottier, is totally intentional.
I would imagine that Ruth and Terry Grier, who represented the riding at all levels for the NDP,  are embarrassed by that, although I can cite other examples from the NDPers and Liberals about picking candidates who just happen to have a similar name to the favourite and would appear before them on the ballot to fool those not watching too carefully.
Another curious sidelight is the emergence of former mayors in the campaign with Rob Ford clutching at Stephen Harper, who went to Richview Collegiate in Ford territory, and Hazel McCallion calling Harper a liar in support of the Liberal dynasty.
Much as I've been critical of Ford over the years, two points should be remembered. He was never convicted or even charged in all this nonsense in Toronto, and his cancer certainly is dramatic proof that his entire system, including his thinking, was under assault by a deadly killer.
Of course Hazel can't say that since she was convicted on a municipal conflict of interest charge raised in the Sun by me, and found guilty again on appeal, and similar charges kept being made against her.
Indeed, I would argue that if the Liberal mouthpiece, the Star, had undertaken the same scrutiny of her activities as it did of his, the Liberals would now be fleeing in horror from any endorsement.
Trust me, many political veterans don't put Hazel on any podium because they know her feet of clay extend to her neck.
As for the Fords reminding everyone that they are Harper supporters, there's not much the prime minister can do about that. You don't insult your friends even if you don't really like the way the Ford brothers operate.
 I was writing the autobiography of Ontario Conservative Kelso Roberts, who was leader in three different races to be premier. I said undercover cops had spotted him giving a big hello to a notorious gambler when he was AG.  His reply was he didn't know who the man was and a true gentleman always responds pleasantly when someone greets him.
Perhaps I shouldn't used that anecdote because Roberts was a courtly gentleman, and there are damn few of those in today's politics. But you sure don't get to be PM by being rude to people who say they support you even if they come with evil baggage.
All three major leaders have demonstrated that regularly since the Liberals and New Democrats have just as many black sheep, motor mouths and flimsy losers as the Tories, and I include the candidates with the supporters. More than a dozen candidates have been forced to quit by their parties since all this began, and then there are those who quietly quit.
But then, as the Bible said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. It may be that the latest thinking is that this incident was not in the original Gospel but was added four centuries later.
But we all understand the compelling moral message as we sort out the cheaters and charlatans and decent people over their head from those whom we think just might do a decent job in representing us.
When someone is trumpeting in TV ads that another politician is lying, check their record before you believe them.

Saturday, October 10, 2015



 I phoned a friend the other day who has been elected in numerous city and provincial elections and asked just who this James Maloney was who is running as the Liberal in Etobicoke Lakeshore.
 He's been around the Liberal fringes forever, he said, and was pressed into service when the first candidate quietly quit and the party had to scramble for a new body in May.
But what does he do, I said. Well, I think he's a lawyer and law is the family business, my friend said. Obviously he hasn't made much of an impression on my friend and me after our decades of living in Etobicoke Lakeshore and being active in the community.
 I told him that the only bit of personal info I get from his literature is that he received a Queen's Diamond Jubilee media.
 Didn't everyone, my friend said.
 Not quite! It is an honour. But I got one, and the previous Confederation medal, and so did my friend, and while we appreciate the recognition of our work and volunteer service, it is not exactly at the head of the list when we write out our biographies.
 So I Googled all James Maloneys to see if like some no-name grocery products, there is some value in this one.  Still don't know, and his service filling out the civic term when Peter Milczyn quit as an undistinquished councillor to win as a Liberal MPP didn't seem to impress anyone.
 There is a picture of the no-name guy with Jean Augustine, the former Liberal MP for the riding. That would be impressive except her performance never matched the promise.
 Augustine billed herself as the first African- Canadian to be elected to the House, ignoring the fact that such a term is shunned by most black Canadians who are happy to go the Diefenbaker route and drop hyphens.
Augustine left elected politics when her friends arranged for her to be the first provincial Fairness commissioner. If you don't know what that entails, join the large club who thinks it's just another excuse to give a Liberal a lucrative grand-sounding post.
At least the party really sought Augustine. Maloney, and too many others in the country, are just running because their party wants to have a candidate in every riding.
Unfortunately, as the last election demonstrated, all sorts of new MPs, particularly NDPers from Quebec, even a pub operator who did it as a lark, had no idea what the job really entailed. At least one didn't realize he had to go to some big formal house in Ottawa and be background for the leaders in Question Period.
 I remember a star candidate dropping out at the last minute in 1972 in East York and David Collenette, then just a minor guy working for the party while trying to figure out his future, was told he had to run as a sacrifical lamb.
When he got elected thanks to Trudeau-mania, I wrote a column gleefully pointing out that he hadn't been a real candidate. Collenette wrote an angry letter to the Sun which Peter Worthington ran with a grin because it was such a hatchet job on me. He went on to become a Liberal star as a major minister in several portfolios, and a friend who occasionally still digs at me.
 But generally that surprise doesn't happen, and the sacrifices turned backbenchers rust unnoticed in the nooks and crannies of Ottawa unless they dare to suggest they might vote against the leader and some junior reporters actually talk to them.
 If Maloney did retrieve the riding from the Tories, and the three major parties have all won there, although Michael Ignatieff famously lost there, we can look forward, or so the homogenized literature produced by party central says, to $125 billion being spend on local infrastructure.
That is nonsense, of course. It's just an empty promise. Even the Liberals know they couldn't find the money for all  that if they did get elected. Just another reason I'm voting Conservative.
What a tragedy it is that our elections have taken on a farcical fringe because most local candidates have become so minor in determining the final vote, maybe winning 5% of the ballots, that it matters  little that the average bored voter in Etobicoke Lakeshore knows nothing about the Liberal candidate, except this one got a medal in the name of the Queen.
I must confess that they would know little more about the incumbent Tory MP, Bernard Trottier, who also pumps out literature prepared at party central. At least he's with the right party that would protect  the middle class more than the Liberals pretend they would. As for the NDP, pray for the country if they win to prey on us!
 And so it is across the land, anonymous candidates rather than star candidates. For every confrontation between an Adam Vaughan and a Olivia Chow, there are a dozen who are more like Trottier vs. Maloney. A battle between ghosts pleading with us to notice them.
And it matters little just what they say because it all comes down to three men and what the public thinks of them and their clutch and grab of promises,, not the men and women who emerge from the shadows every four years to tell us how really really really active they are in serving us even if we aren't quite sure who they are.
Why some of them even get a medal!

Sunday, September 20, 2015



When I survey the racist crap, political lies and evil exaggerations in the unsocial media, I yearn for more of the cocky flamethrowers to be burned alive by their own rhetoric.
Whenever some vile commentary from the past takes down another candidate or self-appointed leader, I cheer.
It's just more proof, as if it were needed, that the world will rue the decline of conventional media.
We have descended into a bloggers'  swamp where any chucklehead who has learned to type thinks they can say whatever they want about anything, or photoshop the crudest deception, or lurk in anonymous ambush, and they are safe from criticism or even legal action.
I just don't pay attention to anyone who hides their name (or their face for that matter.)
 Now readers will know there are exceptions to my rule. When I had a police or political source who had to be protected - or an experienced journalist explained the cloaking of identity in the story - I would accept that, especially since people have been fired for what they told me and the bosses  guessed they were my source.
But if some clown down the street, with a flimsy grasp on real life, wants to conceal their name, then I just don't listen.
That sniggering Twitter twits and farcical Facebook flimflammery are considered clever by so many  is just more proof that screaming has replaced cleverness in debate, and many no longer know what to say about anything if separated from their brain now located in their smart phone.
No need to learn the background about anything when you can Google opinions, stir with some dim misconceptions, and produce the mangled result as if you really knew what you were talking about.
I read many blogs with interest. Obviously the writers have something to say, and have the background and brains to make their observations interesting. Not for them the trolls in their sick search for any target who will feed their desire to seem important. They're not the cowboys of comment's  Wild West with no laws and a gunslinger's contempt for decency.
I write the same way as a blogger as I did in newspapers or in appearances on TV and radio. I know the laws of libel and slander and have been sued often but never successfully, mainly because I believe as a commentator and editor that I had a responsibility to be fair no matter how much I dislike my target. Yet there isn't a day that I don't see or hear savage hurtful nonsense that is not fair and dangerously actionable.
I have a friend who has a major government appointment. He often emails me racist crap and political lies. The mildest stuff has Obama as a corrupt Muslim monkey born in Hell.
I have told him several times that he better be careful to whom he sends this malevolent garbage because if someone were to send a copy to the government, he would be asked to resign within minutes.
His defence is that he is just forwarding stuff he received from other people. I then reminded him that he can't hide behind that. Can you imagine me arguing in court when I was the Sun Editor that a columnist was allowed to say that the premier stole some money because he heard it from some source?
When you write an email or a letter that can be read by a third person, then you are responsible legally for the contents, whether you dreamed it up or are just repeating. I can assure you as someone who supervised letters-to-the-editor sections that we used the same legal rules on readers' comments as we did for our columnists or stories.
Why do you think phone-in shows have a five second delay before the caller is really on the air? It is to try to catch the jerks who just want to say that Harper is a crook.
So my friend may be a decent man who has been a community leader but he has this huge blind spot that may well in the end bring him. down.  He just hasn't thought it through. You are responsible for the garbage you spread, as well as the insight.
I hate Muslim terrorists too but the contrived humour against the entire religion that is so common these days on the Internet often doesn't have even the excuse of a giggle.  It is so easy to ridicule what Muslim extremists say that there is no need tor justification to cheat by smearing all of them.
Since I have a lot of friends who winter in Florida, I often receive emails which are produced by the Republican propaganda zealots and the southern nuts and then have been Canadianized. Except some of the language and examples are still stuck in the U.S. And too much of it reeks.
 I am a compassionate conservative who is as mad at those who rip off the system in welfare and unemployment insurance and grants and immigration as any Canadian. Yet what bugs me is that so many of the rants against the frauds that I am sent are filled with inaccuracies and exaggerations when the bull's-eyes of the issues are gigantic. You don't have to hunt to find the flaws. Yet the inaccurate rants circulate for years.
I have phoned StatsCan and government ministries to get what the real figures are and find that often the blogosphere isn't even close.
I worry and wonder about all the inventions in rhetoric because it is so easy to live within the rules of decency and make your points. I realize most people in North American are fedup, if not sickened, by their politicians at all levels, and that the anti-politicians, like Donald Trump and Rob Ford, have prospered no matter what nonsense they utter.
But the way to cleanse the system is not by throwing more bloggers' muck on it. Just because you can type better than a chimp doesn't mean you have to act like one when you inflict your anonymous opinions on us.

Sunday, September 13, 2015



After five decades of playing reporter, editor and columnist covering elections in Toronto, Ontario, Ottawa, United States - and wildcards like Britain, Taiwan, Israel, South Africa, South Korea, Czech Lands etc. - it is a relief to ignore the crap flowing on both sides of the border that we can't defend against BS.
When I was churning out thousands of columns and editorials, it was useful to have the same issues trodden into the mud in front of the microphones because then I could remark on even the tiny changes. Straw fodder for a relentless press!
But these days when I don't write as much, I stick with the Jays and chewing gum TV when the political fiction stays repetititious and everyone craves a new issue.
I look back to Dief the Chief and Mike Pearson and my early elections and tell anyone who actually wants to talk politics that campaigns certainly have slid down hill, along with the politicians.
When you read political histories, and I've written a couple, when campaigns were fiery - and great entertainment too - and then survey the contrived clashes of 2015, I have the feeling that this is a rare case where they really were the Good Old Days.
Look at this poster for Sir John A. and mourn the passing of the passion from our politics.
These days the leaders move around in contrived folk dances for the faithful.
Survey the wreckage of what passes for coverage and you would think that Mike Duffy's cheating and Hillary Clinton's emails daily had huge new developments that revealed new corruption as nasty and hot as the earth's centre.
Take Duffy for instance, or rather his case since no one wants the man.
Now after all the years around politicians, I got to know the players, and those clustered around them like barnacles on a ship's bottom,  so intimately that some times I could tell you how they liked their spaghetti cooked or the steak seared.
 I have stayed away from the  Duffy bog even though I knew him from lunches and bar talk. In fact, he asked my advice on how to get more out of the CBC and then used my accountant to work out a deal with CTV.
(Fans of Six Degrees of Separation would be intrigued to know that the late and lamented Arthur Gelgoot, C. A., was recommended to me by Bill Marshall of film festival fame because his boss, Mayor David Crombie, had got him from CBC giant Peter Gzowski and then gave him to the mayor of Vancouver.  Arthur's fame spread that way through the arts and media worlds. At tax time, you could meet Peggy Atwood or John Honderich in the waiting room, or other famous Canadian fauna.)
Gelgoot was an agile and aggressive fighter against the income tax hordes but schooled me on keeping track of every dollar and never cheating or misrepresenting deductions. I listened but guess who didn't.
The public impression has been left after the Senate revelations, I'm sure, that the media must be filled with expense account cheaters, that living high for free was still being done in the legendary Time-Life fashion.
Not so. As someone who has produced hundreds of expense accounts and approved thousands of the concoctions of others. I found that someone who cheated on their expenses would also routinely cheat on just about everything else - whether holidays, overtime or  facts.
And then there were the bloody newspaper accountants who once challenged my humble expense account that had been approved already by the publisher.
To me it was always obvious that the popular Duffy was only friendly with me because I was useful to him. He used politicians and the media. (And they used him. ) The only surprise was the extent of his cheating. Duffy and his fellow media senators. certainly splattered muck over their former colleagues because of the way they acted when they were gifted into the chamber of unsober second thought.
Of course the Duffy affair became a mess. Yet it seems obvious that the elite Tories were as sickened  as the public and just wanted it to go away as quickly as possible, like a  dog turd on the carpet.
Just like the other parties would have done, and have done, with their messes.
So a clever and rich aide to the PM paid for it to go away. He probably would have found a way to be compensated later from the party.
And that's that. End of story. No evidence has been produced that senior Tories knew what Duffy was up to. They condemned it rather than condoned it. But the story lingers like a bathroom smell.
That's the trouble with political reporting in North America today, particularly with radio and TV. The demands of the 24-7 news cycle is such that political news is a cheap way of filling space and time. Even a raw rookie can fashion together what tries to pass as a bit of a new angle on a very old story.
For a couple of years, I had a job every evening of finding new angles to the political stories had had made the last editions. That was when it was driven home to me that most new(s) is really old,
often just warmed up from the previous day or week or month.
What bothers me in my few snapshots at these elections is that so much of the coverage has to do with process and how things were done, not on what really happened. Even with the main watchdogs, the newspapers. You don't expect much from the rest of the reporters , since radio's political coverage is skimpy and TV often settles for the same talking heads on a few main shows.
Reminds me of when Ronald Reagan was the GE spokesman and would look into the TV camera and say "progress is our most important product." Too often today it seems our legislatures and councils  act as if  their slogan is "process is our most important product." Too often the media, especially the electronic outlets, settle just for that.
I never have been a fan of the disciples of governance. I have been a director on a couple of boards where we started sinking when we talked more about governance than product, about structure more than what was actually done in the guts of the job . Enough of this talking about rules and structure and more about trevealing the essentials.
Those talking endlessly about Clinton's emails have failed to produce an intelligence disaster. Oh, they say, she broke the rule. But her "non secure" emails are actually endless trivia and quirky stuff. No smoking gun! Indeed, all the really good stuff, the statecraft, appears to have been done in the normal secure channels, and no government was toppled or war begun because she didn't lock herself inside a vault when she wanted to send a memo.
Her critics have to content themselves with dire suggestions about what could have happened because they weren't getting that far in attacking what did happen.
The popularity of such clownish charlatans as Rob Ford and Donald Trump prove just how fed up the public is with the careful brand of political puppets. The marathons of campaigns just sandpaper raw our nerves with the boring and repetitive rhetoric of our plastic politicians.
Yet the pols are spending fortune tailoring messages for the public through the media which they misuse as megaphones The reporters each day are fed what they responded to the previous day. The cycle has to be crippled.
You can blame the politicians, of course, but one reason they are acting in such an artificial fashion is that the political coverage  by the electronic media is so gawdawful.
It doesn't help that the campaigns are too damn long. It doesn't help that the leaders hide under their security blankets of aides and party guards and only appear in managed simplistic events.
Maybe the answer is just to print or say that the candidates said the same old stuff yesterday, and the photo opportunities were as phony as ever, so we have decided to reprint some humour columns or show an old classic movie.
We would return to real political news when the politicians get around to producing real political news and not just name-calling drivel.

Thursday, August 20, 2015



It was just an ordinary drive back from the cottage one weekday evening when Mary said I think there was a sign three lanes over saying the two left lanes are closing.
There are only three lanes, I said. That will be chaos. Surely the sign would have been a prominent one, not just a minor one stuck on a shoulder.
A few minutes later, Mary spotted another such sign in between the walls of tractor trailers. And then traffic stopped.
About 45 minutes later, a wasted costly 45 minutes for hundreds of drivers and truckers, we emerged from the Ontario Government's stupid chaos in resurfacing major highways and were headed again to Toronto.
You know, I said, Mark may be right about all this. My youngest son lives and works in China and cringes at how inept Ontario is compared to China when it comes to the length and upset of roadwork.
His theory is that our road repairs last so long and are done in such a poor fashion because of corruption. The contracts are stretched out and supervised ineptly because the various companies make more money this way, and thus have more money to lavish on the politicians they like in an election.
It may sound laughable that we are doing so poorly compared to the China that is certainly having its financial problems lately but I have been to China and know that their major highways make 400, 401 and the QEW look like cowpaths used by sick livestock.
It used to be that we envied the autobahns of Germany and northern Italy and thought the Chinese good only for rickshaw paths and junks. No more, but we're still stuck in 1930.
If Mark had been with us, we would have had the smartphone app which would have warned us of the monstrous jam and allowed us to avoid it. Soon we will all have to carry electronic surveillance just to move down a street.
 I do tune in to 680 all-news radio but I find their traffic reports suspect especially when I am sitting in the jam on the street where they say traffic is moving well. I also find huge gapes in their coverage and if you happen to be on 401 east of the 35/115 interchange you might as well not exist.
There is more traffic roaring to Toronto each night from the east than there is from the north. It used to be said that the heaviest truck traffic in all of Canada was found Tuesday night between Montreal and Toronto. But according to CFTR, it's no man's land. Ted Rogers would not be pleased at how his baby stations have grown.
I was also struck about how the OPP avoided showing themselves. I imagine they were there, hidden in groves, but they sure managed to avoid a lot of work by their absence.
I was reminded of one Friday evening rushhour in Paris when I drove around the Arc de Triompe three times. Believe you me, only the first circuit was intentional. The traffic wardens stood outside the circling chaos and just waded in when the accident was more severe than just a fender bender.
It was anarchy at 10 p.m. on the westbound 401 just before the over-priced highway service station. In fact, truckers and the more irate of the drivers roared into the station and immediately out again, hoping to leapfrog a few hundred metres by going around some of the mess of metal on the station's roads.  Then they butted back in, assuming that most people would avoid a dented fender if they could but they didn't care themselves because they were cowboys who just didn't give a damn.
At the very end of the chaos, when the lanes squirted into two and then just one, there were so many examples of dangerous driving that it's a miracle there weren't fatalities.The jungle still lurks in the DNA of many of our drivers.
I suppose this is another example of what Sam Cass, the legendary traffic guru who was honoured throughout the world (but not in his home Toronto) said was so dangerous it was safe.
There was an intersection north-east of the old city hall where Cass had no traffic signs at all. He said drivers crept through as a result.
But with such huge numbers, it is just madness to take three lanes of a superroad and jam into one lane and do it in the dark for hours. Surely there should be a few OPP officers and a couple of temporary traffic lights supervising the blending to bring some order out of the madness.
The fact that this isn't being done now by our transportation ministry is just another example of how we are lucky to have some of the lowest accident stats in North America.
No thanks to Queen's Park which couldn't even run those special HOV lanes for the PanAm Games without them becoming a confusion. For that matter they can't even supervise driving schools. Just look at all the lousy product on our road. I wonder whether many are still buying their licences under the table as happened for years.
You would think for all the taxes that we still pay on our gasoline that we would get something more resembling reasonable service from the chuckleheads  who supposedly run our roads. As it is, we have road repairs that last for years, probably even longer than the civil servants who approved them and should have been retired years ago because the horse-and-buggy procedures on Ontario roads should have died in the last century.



Derwyn's voice was ravaged by pain and medication a few weeks ago as we chatted about events but there was still the flash of wit and insight from my favourite Christian critic.
It was an honourable 77 years before cancer took him down.
He may have had a lovely home high above Grenadier Pond and looked like a comfortable Anglican priest with his beloved cats.
But there had been difficult times.
Like when the landlady gave him some cigarettes and kicked him out to walk the streets of Hamilton on a cold Christmas so the kid didn't interfere with her family's celebration.
Like when he and Julia had company only after 9 pm. when he was a young poor priest in a western railway town because they had to go downstairs into the funeral home to borrow chairs for guests.
Like when church leaders really didn't like him being such a politician. Keep City Hall out of Christ!
I had an intense Baptist boyhood where the Bible was read after every meal. It left me with a lot of complaints about religion mixed with Bible verses branded on my memory.
This led to great debates with Derwyn which I will recall this Christmas.  I will take a card around to Park Lawn Cemetery after I have removed one of the Wise Men or added one because of course our Bible does not give the number of Wise Men who travelled to the manger.
Derwyn had forgotten that in his voluminous knowledge and I never let him forget  the three kings reference isn't in the Bible.  He came for New Year's Eve dinner and I swear in revenge gave such a long blessing that it lasted from one year to the next.
This year I will raise a glass of his port, or one of his rare single malt scotch whiskys, in memory of the politician and priest who was happy to swim against the popular tide and thought the politically correct activists of church and state generally were really in hiding from real thinking about the issue.
He was a voice of common sense on the police commission and planning board and as an alderman, councillor and MPP could be counted on to deliver useful insights mixed with gentle sarcasm and a glint of an Irish smile.
He was a vigorous opponent of the regional Metro council getting involved with a domed stadium and the proof that he and a few others were right came after SkyDome ended up costing $629 million in public funds, a huge wound on the taxpayers' purse.
In the crucial debate, Metro chairman Paul Godfrey accused his usual ally of leaning on figures gathered by me to try to kill this great idea which was then said to cost ONLY $250 million. Ironically, shortly afterwards I became Editor of the Toronto Sun reporting directly to a new publisher called Paul Godfrey. And Derwyn became the CNE president fighting a radical corporate change at the Ex that has never worked after it was forced on us by Bill Davis and Godfrey. (I went to the opening of this Ex as another past president and thought of Derwyn's battles on behalf of the thinking man's fair.)
I quote Derwyn often about how to give a good speech or sermon. Derwyn thought the best length was 18 minutes. You tell them what you're going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them.
Pick only one message or theme, he said, and stick to it. He could be counted to stick to his causes  no matter what. He kept the humble parish of St. Clement's open in his spare time when the Anglican Church wanted to close it. Indeed, I suspect his church often found him as difficult as his Progressive Conservative party did on occasion. Indeed, one bishop told me his early religious  commitment had been doubted. until they were doused by the fire of his faith. No doubt the politician willing to take a stand made other clerics uneasy.
After all, Derwyn could be tough, especially at election time. He gave David Miller one of his three defeats before Miller  went on to become mayor. He defeated Elaine Ziemba, a former cabinet minister, to become an MPP.
I think Mike Harris should have had made him a minister and not just a parliamentary assistant. After all the former premier trusted him enough later to have him perform his second wedding ceremony which was a titch controversial.
At the last, he was a founder of the Association for Former Parliamentarians because he said that some who had retired or been defeated as MPs and MPPs really found life to be difficult and should not be forgotten because they had worked hard for decades in public service.
Of course Derwyn was never forgotten.  After the political wars that swirled around him in the westend ceased, he was the Canon running St. Hilda's and its three buildings for seniors, Hardly retirement stuff!
At the visitation on the day the Ex opened, an irony he would have enjoyed, an illustrious political past - former  MPPs,  MPs, mayors, councillors, cabinet ministers, Speakers, and Metro chairmen - mixed with Derwyn's foot soldiers from past campaigns, like his companion, Christine Schubert, who was an election worker for Derwyn in his first one 33 years ago.
There were baskets of city and provincial crest and flag pins at the door, just like Derwyn handed out for decades. There was even election chatter and some old issues uprooted for the day. I half expected Derwyn to get out of the casket and join in, after taking a few digs at all of us, when Godfrey and I talked again about very expensive stadiums.

Thursday, July 30, 2015



When the last friend disappeared into the evening along with the beer and wine and food, and all the ice had said to hell with it and become water in the heat, I decided Mary Downing's 80th birthday party was the best event ever in our backyard.
I've been working up to it for the 50 years since we bought our starter house and never got around to moving.
Why we even had our three sons there. That is quite an achievement, since Mark lives in China, John Henry in California, and Brett says he has a home two blocks away but seems to spend his time in Thailand, Abu Dhabi and whatever exotic destinations his wife can wangle a pass for.
John Henry did arrive late but Paul Corey was still there to represent the guests who had vanished like the blooming ice that kept drooling and melting like my firiends at the old press club bar.
Of course the prof was still busy sampling the wine. I leaned on him for a recommendation for my white wine (or so I thought.) Mary deserves champagne but some friends consume that bubbly like Diet Coke.
I bought a case of his suggestion, only to find out later that he really didn't know because he only drinks the red and not the 2014 California Chardonnay that is produced by Berringer under the Stone Cellars name.
Went well with the sandwiches from Sanelli's Cookery. All the smart people in our area, whether they're the NOBs from North of Bloor or the SOBs from South Of Bloor,  see Adriana on Dundas St. W. for their festive food.
(I hasten to add as a reputable journalist that these are not paid plugs for the wine and the delicious food, but if the LCBO and Adriana do want to make a deal, I would be happy to be compensated in product.)
Of course, the piece de resistance was the birthday cake. I don't want to ruin Brett's gruff image around the Ex where he is one of the longest-serving employees, or with the players in the hockey leagues where Brett plays goal twice weekly, but Brett makes the family birthday cakes.
And they are great. (And I do expect goodies.)
Four years ago, Mark started egging me into a special party for Mary for our 50th wedding anniversary.
It was along the lines that she had put up with my guff for five decades and the occasion should't be glossed over with just a few friends in for drinks. Of course he was right!
Unfortunately, two things happened to ruin that date. I then went to four hospitals for three months and had to learn how to stand and walk again. That certainly put a crimp in the planning.
 And one favoured locale, the Old Mill, was busy building on its greenery, ruins, parking lot and backyard, thus ruining the pleasant Humber setting that I've enjoyed since high school dances. Turned out that other locations, thanks to the licences and rules 'n' regs of bureaucracy, are no longer simple rentals.
So the special anniversary drifted by. I felt guilty because I remember how special the golden anniversary was to my relatives and in the neighbourhood when I was a boy.
 Having a marriage that lasted that long was considered a miracle. (There have been times in my marriage when I thought the same.)
But enough was enough in procrastination.  I couldn't blow another big occasion or the sons would mutter more darkly than they do now after a few beers.
Yet there are occasions when you feel you need a good computer (and someone who can actually get the damn thing to work without hiccups) to pick a party date after you factor in troop movements, holiday plans and work schedules of friends, relatives, neighbours and the weather man.
I figured being summer and with only two weeks warning, there would be quite a few who just wouldn't be able to make it. Then there were all my Kawartha cousins and cottage friends who wouldn't want to drive 200 km. into the maw of Toronto traffic on a summer Saturday. So we figured a barbecue later for them.
I figured if everyone did show up, and brought all the tads, we could move to the Sunnylea school yard. After all, it seems many of the local kids learn to drink in its parking lot
If it rained, we would just drink quicker and save on the mix.
It went well. I knew it was going well when at least one person who dropped in for a few minutes stayed for a few hours. None of the politicians (most of whom had run for mayor on occasion) had   been attacked recently by the media so they were in such a fine mood they never even debated this fall's election. And I think the prof may actually have tried the excellent white.
Since Mark played hooky from his job in China, John Henry flew across the continent just to do a walk-on, and Brett and family were loyal butlers, I decided that the family could do all this again, and not just talk about it.