Sunday, May 24, 2015



After decades of editing and writing and thousands of columns,  I am sympathetic and understanding about typos and errors even in well-known facts, geography and judgment.
I ignore mistakes in grammar because too many fingers can be pointed at me.
But some times the Toronto Star, the largest newspaper in the country with hundreds of millions   unused in its wallet, really bugs me.
They can afford to hire more staff to eliminate the stupid stuff. And the Dick-and-Jane explanations and breathless columnizing really look dumb when they're wrong.
Let's start with something minor.
There was this feature about a red oak. I have oaks, some of which I planted at my house and cottage - I 'm fighting beaver big tooth and sharp claws over one - so I read on.
The Star said it was in Northern Etobicoke. So I thought I would drive up through the old suburb to take a look to see if it really was unusual. Then it said it was in Weston. I went to high school there so I was more interested.
Turns out it was not in Etobicoke or Weston but at Sheppard and Weston Rd., which is east of Etobicoke and north of Weston. So it was wrong twice! The area has a comparatively new name of Emery.
The Star explained at length about the swearing in of the new police chief.  So a crime reporter wrote about the sword used in the ceremony. Said similar swords had been used to swear in chiefs since the creation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954.  Except Metro started in 1953.
The amalgamated force didn't start until 1957 and that was a major, not a minor, issue at the time.
 The Star listed the member municipalities which had crests and names engraved on the sword. Only 12 municipalities were listed. Somehow the City of Toronto, the largest, didn't make it.
Some female celebrity/peaceniks are invading the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea to get publicity for their cause.
All this was described excitedly by columnist Catherine Porter who told how she had read up on the DMZ for two whole days to find out how dangerous it was. She quoted others calling it the "scariest place on earth." It was a kindergarten rendering as if the DMZ had just been imposed last year and its initials were not world famous.
I am writing this looking at a strand of barbed wire from the DMZ on my wall. I have been there four times.  Three decades ago, the Sun used pictures of a North Korean officer there playing peek-a-boo with my long lens.
My wife Mary has been there.My three sons have been there. My youngest son Mark won a magazine photo contest for his pictures in North Korea.
Tourist tours to Seoul have been going there by the thousands for decades. I was at an International Press Institute forum in Seoul where 600 male and female delegates loaded into an army of buses to sightsee there. And that was nearly 20 years ago.
Why even our PM has been there, with the North Koreans staring in at him as if they had heard that he is the favourite politician of the Star.
 It's just being used now as a backdrop for some activists just like the latest demonstration at police headquarters. I suppose they can dance semi-clothed in the mine fields or do something really dumb or just wave a peace document they want everyone to sign as if no one has been trying to do that since Canadians died there.
But just like it was at the Berlin Wall for nearly three decades, go and gawk and pontificate and you are as safe as if you're in the bar back at hotel sipping expense account drinks. After all, Niagara Falls is dangerous too but completely safe unless you go wading.  I picked the giant falls deliberately because Porter who doesn't conceal her ignorance about the issue does concede the DMZ is a major tourist attraction.
I caution the peaceniks/activists that if they really want to get dramatic pictures and stick their hand in the maw of the dragon, they're not advancing the cause of peace but perhaps the need for more mental health counselling for celebrities.
C'mon Star, do better and maybe your stock will triple back to what it used to be before the ruling families ran it into the ground chasing such wounded targets as Rob Ford.
Wouldn't it have been nice if the taxpayers had saved a few million from that fruitless and useless police investigation of the sick mayor which was all prompted by the holier-than-thou Starlings?

Friday, May 22, 2015



The stories flowed like the Trent River gushing in spring flood beside the retirement home in Campbellford.  But I could listen forever.
For the man spinning the tales is Clare Westcott, long a king of the back corridors of power.  He's almost blind, and his walking is worse. He's a shrunken 91, but if I was running a government, I would resurrect this oracle of the past as an adviser.
After all, most days the premier demonstrates she needs one.
As the chap at the elbow of Bill Davis when he was one of our best premiers and education ministers, Westcott knows how to sell an idea all the way to reality and make politicians look good in the process.
 And that's a rare art!
I have watched him operate for 50 years. There have been collusions that would have had me drummed out of the columnists' union if revealed. But my how the man could talk. Even when you knew he was turning a load of BS into a rose garden.
Mary was fascinated. Clare was telling her the flipside to countless Downing stories and columns. Here was a civil servant who turned into an unabashed Robin Hood when he was trying to help people. His solutions were never conventional and could be vaguely improper.
Not only did he know everyone, from bank presidents and celebrities to kid Tories in northern hamlets, he put the arm on everyone when he was out to right a wrong. He connected people like he had invented the Six Degrees of Separation theory.
For several decades, he was involved in every scheme, grand or tiny, coming out of the pink palace. Often in the weirdest ways.  And it all started when he dropped out of Grade 10 and tried to join the army but got rejected.
He worked for a decade as a Hydro lineman, but that job ended up a pole one day when a metal splinter flew from his hammer and blinded him in one eye for the first time.
He took a rudimentary night school course in journalism at Ryerson Institute of Technology and talked his way into a job at the Telegram. That stopped 2 1/2 days later when he said he couldn't work the weekend because he had to go home to his beloved Seaforth and see his wife and infant son. So the legendary Doug MacFarlane fired him on the spot (and lived to regret it.)
Nothing much was doing in jobs so he worked the edges of the Tory dynasty and established a network of Young Progressive Conservative organizations in every riding, catching the attention of premiers Leslie Frost and John Robarts and hotshot ministers like Robert Macaulay.
It paid off finally with work establishing trade offices in two Italian cities. He was back there with Macaulay who had spoken at the Rome Press Club and was very refreshed afterwards. A call came from Toronto about a project that would turn into the Ontario Science Centre. The idea was that maybe the centre would also have a railway display. So Westcott was asked if the government wanted to buy 11 steam locomotives. Macaulay didn't want to discuss it, just grunted at Clare to buy them.
 Clare discovered no one was interested in his engines, not the science centre, not the Ontario Northland, which was using diesels. So he sold them to a Hamilton businessman who has a son named Steve Paikin of TVO fame who called the other day because he is writing a book on Davis and wants to interview the man behind the dais of power.
 Clare still talks to Davis most days and says with delight that he thinks the boss is nervous about what he might tell Paikin with his characteristic candour. After all, Clare believed in giving 110% to a job and was known to complain that even the best of the politicians around him were "damn lazy."
After all, Westcott's sharp memories are packed with details about schemes and manipulations that might shock the conventional.
 Once he discovered a provincial warehouse stuffed with old school desks which weren't going to be used in Ontario. So he found an American trucking company that would take them to the docks in Florida where Caribbean countries could collect them. The trucker got fined $10,000 by the  authorities because he hadn't charged for the charity run. So Clare phoned the Royal Bank president for money to pay the fine. The president said he needed a receipt. So Clare persuaded a Catholic mission to give him a receipt to give to the bank.
Clare hoots with delight about Davis putting him on the Ryerson board when he was a high school dropout and various doctors of pedagogy in the education ministry wanted the post.  Ryerson was on its way to a university at the time, thanks to Davis, and was involved in a huge building program, also thanks to Davis.
Clare was involved in the secret negotiations to buy land around Ryerson without causing a real estate stampede. His story from those days is about him reporting back to the board that thanks to recent purchases, "we at Ryerson now own two whore houses." The first woman on the board, Ruth Frankel, laughed the hardest..
Thanks to Westcott's inside knowledge and Davis' clout and innovative mind, the power twins established 22 community colleges based on the Ryerson model.
That caused some difficulties for Ryerson, as did its president, Donald Mordell, so the board went searching for a new leader. I had been hired to write its history and was involved in other ways so I was put on the search committee.
A touchy situation developed when we decided to consider Walter Pitman, then at Trent. After all, he had been both an MPP and MP for the NDP and the official critic of Davis as minister. Since Davis was the most important person in Ryerson's new life as a university, what would happen if they didn't get along?
We decided that no one would believe that a Sun columnist would be involved in such an undertaking. So I phoned Westcott who was no longer on the Ryerson board and asked, and he checked with Davis and reported back there was no problem. Then I told the search committee that through various means I had determined the premier wouldn't mind Pitman being appointed. Since Davis (and Westcott) later gave Pitman two major appointments, obviously our humble  committee had done a good vetting job for them.
Clare was one of the key people persuading Davis to cancel the Spadina expressway to demonstrate he was a modern politician. (Not a good idea!)  Then they hired Buckminster Fuller, who had done revolutionary designs for buildings in the lake as part of a Telegram promotion, to propose development for the unused expressway land. The buildings were huge and thankfully the idea died without a trace,
Then Davis and Westcott became the Bobbsey Twins of transit and the premier was honoured as the American transit-man-of-the year. One reason was an adventure in magnetic levitation, a test of a wheeless train which was supposed to run around the Ex on a test track. The government got out when the train wouldn't go around curves. (In repayment negotiations with Dave Garrick who was running the Ex, because the experimenters had cut 60 trees, Clare offered their trailers. Garrick used one trailer to house Paul Beeston, the first Blue Jays employee and now the team president.)
Clare hated sexism as much as he loved his family and new ideas. So he hired Sally Barnes, the first female press officer for a premier,  despite old farts worrying how it would look at night when the premier was travelling.
 Clare "used" everyone, no matter your politics. He used me to capture a riding. Phil Givens had been a Liberal MP and then got elected provincially to get away from Pierre Trudeau who didn't like him. He wasn't that happy at Queen's Park either. Clare asked me as a close friend of the former Toronto mayor to find out if he was interested in being appointed  chair of the Toronto police commission.
Since it came with a car and driver as well as a good salary, Phil said yes. So I reported back to Clare and Phil got the job and the Tories finally got a chance to win in York South Weston.
Clare thought it was such a good idea that he got himself appointed police commission chairman after Davis retired.
He helped start Crime Watchers (with solid Cal Millar from the early Sun, and with Garrick raising money.) The chief then, Jack Marks, didn't want his female constables riding motorcycles or horses. So Clare waited until Marks was out of town and told a deputy to put the best looking female constable on the best looking horse and get the Sun to take a picture. Marks was mad but his ban was destroyed.
After Clare got fired by Premier David Peterson from the police board, he served on the federal parole board for a few years, worked in the Toronto office for Michael Wilson as federal finance minister, and was a citizenship judge.
He grumbled  on the telephone after I had written about all the jobs that he held because he was fired as a one-eyed lineman by Hydro. An operation had removed the splinter and he had two working eyes to go along with all the different pensions  I was kidding him about.
Now he doesn't. But his memory is 20 20.
What a guy!  I liked him even after I discovered that he slipped secret scoops behind a radiator in a second-floor washroom near the premier's office just to buy peace with a rival columnist.
As many found over the decades, it was best to stay on one of his many good sides. Besides, you wanted to hear the stories.



The annual financial meeting the other day of the Canadian National Exhibition Association was more fun than a good Midway ride because Canada's biggest fair is making money while providing a lot of jobs.
It's great we declared independence from City Hall two years ago - of course it was on April Fool"s Day - because the city bureaucrats acting as landlord for the fair aren't exactly great party people.
And just look at how they screwed up stadiums there for 20 years.
Exhibition Place kept getting in our way. (I'm a former president and still harangue the board. ) So we said the hell with it, give them a lot of money to rent for 18 days each August, and pray that they won't be more of a problem than they are now.
Some Exhibition Place staff work for the fair on a contract basis. And we rent the 192-acre site and a shrinking number of buildings even though they are only there because of the existence of the fair and the money it has made since it started in 1879.
Last year the CNE paid $3,786,522 to the city while still making $1,639,737. Its impact on the community is huge. It spent $28 million last year, 70% of it on jobs.
I am not a fan of stats about economic impact because they seem glorified gobbledygook but the fair is said to have an annual economic impact on the Greater Toronto Area of nearly $70 million while the financial impact on the province is said to be just over $100 million.
Some key CNEA members are off to Queen's Park to sing our praises because when a non-profit volunteer board makes money while giving all that money to city taxpayers, along with 1.2 million free kids' passes, when the association makes money while employing 5,000 young people each fair day, we think we are entitled to more respect than we get from MPPs and councillors.
At least I hope our key board members survive the new overbearing security and actually get in to sing our praises at the reception that we are giving for politicians and all the bureaucrats who come out of the woodwork at freeloads.
After all, the security has tightened at the Legislature and Parliament because of that deadly kook.  As a journalist who has spent decades of his working life inside City Hall, Queen's Park and the Commons, I know how far security guards and police will go when given a loophole.
I carried press identification, and had the highest security clearance granted by the military and Mounties to a journalist, but still used to have routine skirmishes with security who have forgotten that you should not have to identify yourself to enter a public building in a democracy, just as you don't have to do so to cops on the street unless they are investigating a nearby incident where you may match a suspect's description.
According to a background memo from CNEA staff, they have given to provincial security a list of board members. Then we will have to produce government issued identification on arrival.  And there will be a check made to ensure the names match EXACTLY.
I am reminded of the nonsense when I was part of a famous world press institute travelling from Jerusalem into Ammanwhen we were kept broiling in desert no man's land for a couple of hours even though the Jordanians had had our passports for a day. They wondered later why they didn't get a better "press." Our unpopular politicians might think  about that instead of deferring to security and police who would be happiest if no one came at all, like that baseball game in Baltimore.
I am reminded of the bitter joke that thank heavens those would-be airplane bombers had their explosives in shoes and underwear because if they had been stuck up their rectums, security at the airport now would  be a messy proctologist's dream. (I took Mary to L.A, on Air Canada last month and they patted her down and inspected every inch for eight minutes.  A small 80-year-old woman using canes and a walker is apparently a likely terrorist to those idiots at Malton.)
The problems at Queen's Park are not the ordinary people wanting to visit the seat of the provincial government or organizations coming to lobby.  It's not the people coming up the front steps of that pile of stone that is the daily threat, it's the billions going out the back doors under the Liberal governments.
Security should not be facing out, they should be facing in. The foxes are already inside the hen house. That's what happens when more attention is paid to security than to voting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015



Lest we forget!
Groesbeek, a place name I'll never forget.
I was skimming a newspaper when the name of the Dutch town and the Canadian War Cemetery there caught at me.
It smelled of spring sun warming the expanses of grass and tulips, kissing the markers and the little flags fluttering scarlet around them. And below the 2,617 Canadians in a peaceful silence now that the brazen throat of war is silenced.
I have been to too many cemeteries. The celebrity ones, like Eva Peron's, and the family ones. The ones because of work and those I stumbled across in a saunter. But Groesbeek is a special place because it was purchased at a terrible cost.
My parents are buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, so famous it has its own history book. I wish I knew as much about them.
The paternal grandparents are buried near where the Donnellys were murdered one February near Lucan. I know more about the lynching of that Black Irish family than them.
My maternal grandparents who took in the three orphans are buried in Chesley. And when my sisters and I visit every decade or so, there is a struggle in our nostalgia between the good times and the bad ones.
 I enter a cemetery with the mixed emotions of the first day of school. From the tombs of the pharaohs to the brutal Soviet memorials to the Mount of Olives with the infamous garden,  there is a war between my emotions, a confusion in my thoughts.
Yet even the little country cemeteries with the tilting stones, beside the churches abandoned in the flight to the city, have their own tough beauty. And then there is Groesbeek where the greatest nation in the world for flowers lavishes its skill to remember the youths who freed them and died too soon.
The place name was on one of the many stories marking another grim anniversary. The visits of the vets in their last winter.  The politicians flock to the celebrations as if they can wash away the stink of public disapproval by collaborating with  the honourable.
My oldest son is telling rapt stories about his visits to the battlefields. Everyone should do it. There is a shiver to your memory when you are driving somewhere in Europe and the sign at the roadside just doesn't mark the town ahead but is the name of a battle that shredded men like Satan's thresher.
The first seed I planted this spring came from poppies from Flander's Fields, a poem of my childhood that I can no longer repeat without a catch in my throat and a swipe to my eyes.
Lest I forget!
There was the afternoon when the sun broiled down on a terraced hill in the centre of Sicily where the 484 Canadians who died in the battle for the island rest at Agira. The wife of the faithful caretaker had fashioned a wreath with "flowers" made from crumpled foil because the real one didn't come. It arrives just as Bill Davis begins. By honourable consensus that I helped arrange, the politicians and press use the homemade memorial instead because it was made with the heart.
The Dutch don't have the problems of tending that sun-baked hill. They have created with volunteers from those who were there to the kids who have only been told a stone garden of memory that surely pleases all Canadians who come to remember when a growing country punched above its weight and earned battle honours in world history.
Mary and I were there as part of the scouting party as Toronto formally twinned with Amsterdam. At the functions, it's hugs and kisses and extra drinks all round when I tell them my mother was born in Rotterdam. So I tell them often.
Then the Torontonians came to Groesbeek as part of the program where the Dutch
demonstrated hourly that our country has a corner in their hearts.
The heavy silence as we wander through the graves is broken when we exclaim, as so many do in our war cemeteries, at how young they were.  There were tears too, as parents think of their sorrow if they had to send their kids to war, or stay silent when they lied about their age.
The speeches end and the wreaths are laid and the crowd grows impatient at the bus. It has been a long and thirsty day.
At every such cemetery, there is a cairn where a book describes the actions that led to most of the casualties. I am plodding my way through the fights for The Rhineland, not wanting to make a mistake in detail. If I did, Peter Worthington, MacKenzie Porter and Fred Cederberg would haunt my dreams with the disapprove that only the survivor of hand-to-hand combat can muster.
I find that General H.D.G. Crerar, the general in charge of the Canadian forces in Europe, decreed that no Canadian soldier would be buried in German soil. So they were brought across the nearby border and buried in Groesbeek in a rare move.
My notes become a sweaty mess. I know there's a VC winner buried here, and several Canadian spies shot by the Germans. But what are the circumstances? People shout impatiently. Finally, an army captain strides up and says everyone's waiting. I said to him that all I am trying to do is to find out exactly why all these hundreds of young Canadians are buried here and if the bus load doesn't like it, they can drive into the nearest canal.
He saluted and said "very good sir. I'll tell them they have to wait."
Lest we forget!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015



Got one of those garbage letters from my MP.
You know the kind. Flunkies in a dungeon produce a Dick and Jane synopsis of the Tory party line and after it has been approved by the prime ministerial dictatorship, it is shipped to us for free.
Which would be OK if it wasn't just advertising that isn't as interesting as the latest Canadian Tire circular. Yet this is supposedly special communication with the taxpayers.
What's special is how misleading it is!
Now I don't know Bernard Trottier, the Conservative member for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Which is a bit bizarre when you consider I have lived in the riding for the same 50 years when I wrote daily about politics at all level.
It gets really weird when you consider that I have been on a first-name basis with all the other politicians who have represented the area. Indeed, if I had decided not to become Editor of the Toronto Sun, I would have continued with the federal nomination and been elected Tory MP as Patrick Boyer was after I stayed in newspapers.
So I do read Trottier's campaign literature carefully to try to get a sense of who he is and what he stands for, that is if MPs are allowed to stand for anything these days that isn't dictated by the leaders.
Unfortunately, all I get is mass-produced BS that can be read on the kindergarten level.
The latest missive came with the headline "Do Canadians benefit from trade?"
The real answer, of course, is that the country does benefit, but the farmers, business and industry benefit most.
 Let me give you just one example of how the Canadian consumer is at the bottom of the pile when the diplomats, bureaucrats and Prime Minister's Office decide to do a deal with any country or trading bloc.
You and I have always paid more for anything produced by agribusiness, whether it be poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, wheat etc.
Every six months or so, one of the Toronto newspapers will do a story on the latest sellout, when some trade pact with some lucrative region threatens to unravel because the negotiators of the Asia-Pacific Region or the EU say they won't deal with us as long as Ottawa gives such sweetheart deals to dairy, poultry, meat and grain producers that their own exporters are handicapped in competition.
You see the result daily if you travel in the U.S.  If you don't believe me, shuffle off to Buffalo for a few hours in the stores and restaurants where you will find that everything from the wings to the bread to the roast chicken to a dozen eggs to a slab of cheddar to the beer cost less than the similar product in T.O.
I had a friend who won a National Newspaper Award for a series on this in the Toronto Star. Oh yes, it was several decades ago, but it could win the award again because nothing's changed, thanks to chickenshit trade bureaucrats and their bosses bowing to a lobby that is no longer important.
The MPs and MPPs continue to support the farmers of the country over the consumers.  Getting the highest possible price for food is more important than providing food at a reasonable cost to families.  Yet our food production is dominated not by the shrinking number of small farmers but by agribusiness millionaires and international corporations protected by huge subsidies and receiving special breaks on everything from their fuel to their taxes.
The feds continue to protect the food producer against the Canuck consumer. The government's anonymous foot soldier MPs continue to pump out this crap about how "our Conservative government is delivering on the most ambitious trade agenda in Canadian industry."
Great! This must mean the price of our food is about to go down instead of being kept artificially high. After all, a really good trade deal would see Canadians also benefitting from lower prices on everything from lamb to scallops as well as our economy being stimulated. But that's not about to happen!
The agriculture lobby lives in such a financial fairyland that we had the ludicrous argument years ago from the Quebec dairy farmers, who produce most of the industrial milk of the country, that of course they should be allowed to keep their special inflated milk price deals with the rest of Canada even if their province voted to separate. How nutty is that?
Unfortunately, with this federal election coming up on us like a runaway freight, voters like me who call themselves compassionate conservatives are stuck between the authoritarian Tories, the flighty gLiberals and the socialists who have never seen a union that they don't want to prop up.
Makes me yearn for an MP who isn't a tape recorder spewing out the latest PMO line.

Gee, Trottier has just trotted out the party line in another new and curious letter. "How can we better protect our children?" is the theme.
Once again we get so little information that it would overflow from a thimble. It's all designed to get us to provide the Tories with enough personal contact information that their workers can use it to bombard us during the campaign.
Oh there's room for maybe a Twitter snapshot or two of our reaction to how they plan to keep keep our kids safe
Now I would really be interested in several pages on just what those plans are, but the purpose is to pretend to inform us, not to really do so. Actually my junk mail had more real facts than this skimpy appeal.