Thursday, January 22, 2015



I have been baffled by one weird taxation issue since I first covered politics.
And that is a long time since it was in May, 1957, that they tried to throw me out of my first city council meeting that I went to cover as the nervous editor of the Whitehorse Star.
After I appeared as the lone spectator at a meeting of Whitehorse council in the Yukon, the mayor demanded to know what I wanted.
I explained that I had just started working for the only newspaper in the territory and I wanted to cover the city news. He told me not to bother, he would phone me later. I didn't leave, arguing I had a right to be there for the debate. I didn't know if I did but from their faces I knew I had landed a good right.
I stayed, couldn't figure out anything, there was no debate, and I never wrote a word.
But there have been countless meetings at all levels of our governments ever since. A prevailing theme from the municipal level is that they need more money from the province, and the provincial level is always yowelling that they need more money from the feds, and the feds always preach that they need more money from everyone.
I am sure that if you were at those meetings with me, whether they be a council or a legislative or Commons session, you would also look around vainly for all these taxpayers who run around with signs on their chest that they are a municipal or provincial or federal taxpayer.
Of course you will never find those three taxpayers because there is only one.  Yet there is a daily con by all the politicians, a monstrous lie that dwarfs all the others in politics, that the cost of any scheme, whether it be a fare increase or a stadium or a welfare payment, goes down by some miracle if only the fibbers get another government to pay a share.
The poor over-taxed middle class Canuck loses about half of every dollar to taxes. There are these three governments whacking him whether he swims in a pool or buys gas or pays income tax or sales tax or municipal tax.
The sensible people know that. If the spouse suggests a frivolous purchase, you double the price in your mind because that's what you have to earn in order to cover the cost. If you treat yourself because slush is now gushing up through the floor of your car, that wonderful replacement that you say cost only $25,000 in cash really means you have to earn $50,000 because of all the taxes
  I  would avoid thinking of that too often if you don't want to sink into a black hole of despair.
So Mayor John Tory says Queen's Park has to give the city more money for the TTC. What he really means is that you and I must contribute more money out of our provincial taxes in order not to have our municipal taxes go up when the city helps the TTC.
It's a taxation circus with the con artists running a different kind of shell game. This version has the mayor sneaking millions under his shell from the provincial shell and the premier screaming because the PM is hammering her fingers every time she tries to get under the federal shell.
All the while they all pretend that they are the ones keeping taxes low. Sure!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015



Today I want to discuss questions that have always baffled me more than the deadly combination of algebra, geometry and trigonometry.
 What happens to the other sock? Where does the mate go to die? Is this revenge by my wife?
After I finished the last fruitless search for a sock that had disappeared into the great beyond, I decided this was a better topic for a PhD thesis than some of the stuff graduate students tackle.
Research should be sponsored in self-defence by a sock manufacturer because if we ever do solve this, there will be so many more useful pairs of socks around that they will have to close up shop.
You may think this a frivolous topic but I have seen some fascinating accounts of Socks Missing-in-Action.
It even brings back one that tugs at me where I wished I had acted differently.
I wrote a blog/column on April 11 last year about the death of Vince Devitt, one of those solid  reporters and companions in Toronto journalism.
When Vince was winding down after a nice career that had taken him from tough bartender to headline stories to premier's aide, he sent me a delightful column about socks that go missing in the wash.
At the time, the Sun had more regular columnists than we had spaces for them. Then there are all the writers who think that anyone can write a column and prove with what they send that they can't.
But Vince knew how to write. So I skimmed it and put it aside for vacation periods or emergencies where we kill a column for legal reasons or because the writer has become incoherent.
Vince phoned. I said I had no space then but I would save it. In the middle of my explanation, some crisis flared and I had to go. I think Vince took it as an old friend letting him down easy and he never sent me anything again. He moved south. And Socks MIA got lost in the flood of paper on an editor's office even in the computer age.
I think of this every time I rummage around a dryer looking for the other  sock. It was the kind of gentle observation of the passing scene that I long for after wading through newspapers jammed with politics because it cost less to cover politics than to really cover the city., where a State of the Union address is treated like the Second Coming when the president is mired in a Republican tar pit.
What haunts me is that I never got to the end of Vince's humour. Maybe he as veteran investigative  journalist had solved whether there's a black hole in the laundry room or just in space.

Sunday, January 18, 2015



Don Harron cared about words. He could make me cringe with how he mangled the language in his Charlie Farquharson rube act with some obvious and rude contrivances, but he was the quickest punster I've ever seen.
And I loved adroit puns. Those who don't just haven't the wit to appreciate them.
Harron was a graceful actor, gifted performer, insightful writer and critic, and a familiar face around Ontario. Anyone smart enough to sidle up to him at an intermission got a clever sentence about the strengths and weaknesses.
He may have had an international rep but you would see him at some humble performances.
One evening at the Fourth Line Theatre, held in a barnyard near Cavan, there was Harron watching with appreciation. An actor who had strutted the boards at Stratford and Broadway, who had been a fixture on long-running TV shows like Hee Haw and major radio, watching anonymously with several hundred others a performance that was obese due to the ego of the producer/inspiration behind the summer theatre.
"Needs a good editor like you," Harron said to me quietly at a break, not wanting to bruise local egos. He was being too mice to me but his message wasn't that. Less of the play would have been more.
Then we chatted about current events where he had  cutting insights about our rulers.
I remember a frigid Ottawa evening when Fraser Kelly, the TV anchor and political commentator, and I ended up in the House of Commons watching a boring debate by backbenchers. The only other spectator was Harron.
I said our excuse was that Fraser and I had had a very busy day with MPs and we were unwinding before a Chinese meal.
Harron said he had been writing night and day on an overdue movie script that he had just mailed to New York. He was too tired to sleep, it was too late for a movie, so he had come to the House hoping at least to capture some business for a skit.
Off we all went to an undistinguished meal. At midnight then on a weekday, there wasn't much  choice.
I said I was staying at the Skyline rather than the Chateau because I liked its pool and assortment of saunas, even though one of them, a dry affair redolent with eucalyptus resin, wasn't worth the money.
"Oh," Harron said, "a real you-clip-tus room."
In the early days of the two brigantines in Toronto harbour, I helped in a race to get the sailing program some publicity. The crews were media and regulars on the scene like Harron and Catharine McKinnon, then his wife.
It was the start of a fine summer day. Catharine  perched on the bow spit and as we brought 60 tonnes around into the wind and the jib billowed above, she sang her anthem Farewell to Nova Scotia.
I shivered. For one glorious moment, I could have been on the Bluenose as it again showed its stern to the fastest competition, or with Nelson at Trafalgar, not on a thick old ship used to give teenagers like my son John Henry a real sailing experience.
I remember that moment fondly, along with all the wordplay from a man who over 90 years may have tried to carve a pun out of every word in the  language.
I know some dunderheads say a "pun is the lowest form of humour." As Oscar Levant riposted,
"when you don't think of it first."
 Harron usually did.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015



Of course we should ban tobogganing. I'm all for the municipalities which do that. The politicians aren't being silly chicken-shits in the face of liability problems but protective of our young.
 Let them continue too with the plan to develop an all-purpose cotton batten armour that  must be worn by all children off their property.
Let's not stop there. I have a long list of how we must do more to save our children from scrapes and bruises as they grow up. Let's not continue the savagery that surrounded us when we were kids and vulnerable to all the menaces of life. Let's put J&J out of business because obviously it is part of the underground pushing such activity to hype the sale of Band-Aids.
At the head of my extinction list is the unforgivable slackness in how we have childproofed our playgrounds. That they even still exist is an outrage. A child could fall from a swing, one of those devilish creations of orthopaedic surgeons looking for business.
As for municipal pools, why even wading pools, hat we let kids wade in even inches of water is just asking for trouble. They could slip. The idea that we should teach everyone how to swim is silly. Canada may have more lakes and rivers than useless politicians but there's no reason why people should learn how to save themselves if they're dumb enough to actually want to go out boating. To me, that's just hunting for trouble.
It is rather obvious that the best way to save our children is just keep them inside. Let's not have recess outside because who know what hi jinks might start. Blow fresh air into the gym and let them do calisthenics after, and this is mandatory, a proper period of warming up and stretching.
Have municipal curfews at 7.30 p.m. for anyone under 16.  There are all sorts of vapours in the night air and the idea of letting kids play outside, on the street even, until the streetlights come on, is just asking for trouble.
I can testify under oath about how dangerous it was for me to grow up. In fact, I have written that I'm slightly amazed that I lived to retirement age, because just getting to become a teenager was a miracle.
Tobogganing, I admit, was a helluva lot of  fun. But it must be banned. I skinned cheeks and bruised knees and backsides about every second time I wooshed down a hill, laughing and screaming and having a great time. But the risks are too great. At least one in every 5,000 tobogganers may be hurt, so that's good reason to ruin the fun and exercise for 4,999 people.
The schoolyard for me was a dangerous pit because I was the smallest kid in class, one reason, I guess, that in Grade 2, Dick Klefford, the bully a year ahead, cut me across the face with a whip he made from a pussy willow, one reason I think that we should cut down all the pussy willows in Canada. After I had my growth spurt and became the biggest kid in the class, I knocked him out with one punch. That's the way the school yard used to function but rough justice can be unequal so it's just best that pupils should be only out there in small groups and closely supervised in case someone starts to giggle.
Unfortunately, I heard a parent the other day talk about tag being a lot of fun. It made me shiver nervously. All that running around means someone is bound to fall.
Playing tag can really be dangerous. One day my chums and I were playing tag on top of piles of drying lumber outside the Chesley sawmill.  There were gaps of a couple of metres between the piles, which were about the height of a two-storey house. It was a golden, dangerous time that we all were savouring.
 I jumped from one stack to the next without looking, only to discover that there was no "next." I remember my stunned amazement as I fell and fell and landed on a pile of rocks on the banks of the Rocky Saugeen River  which seems suitable named.
Everything went black. I came to looking up into the faces of my buddies who knew, of course, that I had killed myself. Damn it, I felt awful, my chest acted as if it had been caved in,  but I never even got a decent bruise out of it, nothing to show off in honour of my near-death experience.
So as I say, playing tag can be dangerous and should be banned, although there are probably no longer piles of lumber there because the sawmill has burned down.
What we  need is to get a little organization into the ordeal of protecting our kids. We could do what they do in cities in China and have neighbourhood committees generally headed by a couple of grandmothers who make a Marine drill sergeant look like a softy.
Each parent would take their child before the committee and have a proper program of exercise worked out for them. I know that tobogganing and anything to do with unsupervised play would not be considered and anyone actually doing that would be subject to  family court discipline.
Which is the way it should be. Growing up is just too dangerous to just happen. Look how awful we turned out to be, some of us emotionally scarred forever by following off the toboggan just before it hit a tree..