Friday, April 8, 2016



It was a neighbour driving me to a heart test in early morning who raised the subject of Bloor bike lanes, an issue so stupid I had shoved it to the back of my anger file.
We were zipping along Bloor from Royal York and Bloor to Toronto General, a trip that took only 20 minutes even though there were already a few cyclists screwing up a quarter of a block of traffic around each of them.
I said that Bloor was such a valuable traffic artery that I had written that at a minimum cyclists be banned during the morning and evening rusher.
But now we have Toronto council, that clutch and grab of politicians with  an anti-car majority, looking with approval on a Bloor bike lane from Shaw to Avenue.
That, of course, would be just the start. Bike zealots will be after Bloor and Danforth to have bike lanes from Mississauga to West Hill.
The Star ran a strange opinion piece on this because it confuses an ideal of useful comment by settling for just the pro and anti side of issues. This falls into the Equal Time For Hitler trap since such media practitioners are giving equal time and space to the good solution and then to the stupid or even the evil side.
There are several arguments that can be made in most issues, particularly in urban affairs. I hate to be logical in this case because there is nothing logical or particularly democratic about bike lanes when drivers and vehicles which pay considerable taxes to use roads are forced to share them with a mouthy minority - that is very mouthy and very small group - who freeload on the great majority with green arguments about healthy exercise and reducing congestion.
Ironically, the best way to reduce congestion is to reduce bike lanes or eliminate them.
The Star allowed the customary activists, one of them the executive director of Cycle Toronto, to write about the joys of turning this "main street" into a major accomplishment.
Wow, I thought. Nirvana is coming to Bloor.
Their main argument? "By making biking safer, the lane would encourage folks to leave the car at home and cycle more frequently to work or school. It would encourage exercise,  reduce congestion and improve the air...."
Well you get the idea. The usual argument from the usual suspects!
Let's break down who constitutes these "folks." To start with, their median age is 40.  If you wish to dive a little deeper into demographics, there are over five million Canadians over 65 and over six million Canadians under 14. That means almost a third of Canadians are definitely not into daily cycling along Bloor because of age or safety reasons. And just how many of the 67% in the 15 to 65 age group, such as the older women, would commute regularly by bike even if it was easier.
Now let's include Canadian weather which has been described as 10 months of winter and two months of bad skating.  Just a joke but let's settle for half the year when cycling isn't that great.
Now let's include the number of hours when the dark doesn't make many of us comfortable when we bike.
That shrinks the number of people who would use a Bloor bike lane to a tiny fraction of the vast numbers who will be inconvenienced by them.
No wonder that StatsCan found in the last survey of commuting in 2011 that a minuscule 1.3% biked to work. Yet the zealots would argue that if there were more bike lanes, that figure would rise, maybe even to the 5.7% who walked to work.
 Remember that these figures are based on urban living in cities and towns where it is 99.9 %  easier to bike or walk to work.
Obviously the reality because of the traffic hell that is downtown Toronto is that the city should be concentrating instead on improving traffic for the TTC and other vehicles.
 Any move to take more of the expensive asphalt and give it only to a few fitter cyclists who don't have to cart goods or children or the aged is so silly, in the future they will look back at us and laugh.

Thursday, April 7, 2016



Got a delayed Christmas "gift" the other day from Hydro One, the fast-buck sellers of electricity in a captive province.
The latest bills arrive for my cottage on a lovely point in the Trent River south of Havelock,  and for my very modest "bunkie" which is on the small neighbouring lot which used to be owned by an old drinker until it was bought in self-defence by the previous owners.
The bills announced that my meters had been "read"  on Dec. 25, 2015, and covered the period until March 25 this year. I relaxed when I glanced at that because I haven't stepped on the properties since last November.
Except the bills were $111.41 for each property.  Wow. Hydro One has increased even its gouging.
Hydro One was in the news the same day because the province has sold another 15% of it into the stock market, five months after the first bit was sold for $20.50.
The current price is just over $23.50, meaning it has been doing better than a lot of stocks on the TSE. My broker recommended I buy it, and he hasn't been recommending stocks, but I said no because Hydro One is a notorious opaque outfit which uses cheating meters and has been criticized harshly by everyone from the former premier to the former ombudsman.
Gather the last stock offering hasn't been snapped up which is understandable since buying Hydro One is a little like buying a ticket to a lunch with skunks at the local dump.
I was taught long ago that you didn't buy stocks in  companies that you and many people didn't like which have been criticized for inappropriate treatment of their customers.
There has been a distrust of Hydro since the 1940s, particularly by farmers enraged by the cost of poles down their lanes. As a political reporter, I quickly learned that the various elements of Hydro were considered fat and wasteful and difficult.
I have written many columns and blogs about Hydro One's glaring contempt for its customers - and I throw in the Toronto municipal power outfit which screws up most of the outages.
At least last year I got value for my $1,428.24 that I paid in the city for my power.  The comparison with my cottage bills is laughable since they totalled $1,152.73 for me being there several days most weeks for six months. The bill for the bunkie was $340.42 even though it was used only 10 nights at most.
In a  blog titled Blowing Ontario's Fuse on March 18, 2014, I complained about a standby fee in winter for each cottage which was then $75.28. Now it has gone up $36.14.
As a columnist and editor for many years, I am familiar with the squabbling over meters since deadbeats are notorious for cheating on utility bills if they bother to pay them at all.
But their inaccuracy has become legendary.
I have kept every Hydro bill for the cottages because they are always suspect. There was the year when my bill for the bunkie was three times the bill for the main cottage when the bunkie hadn't been used except for one weekend.
There have always been talk about provincial probing of the faulty meters and dishonourable conduct of Hydro  One but in the end nothing ever seems to happen.
No wonder there is frustration out on the concession roads and in Cottage Country which produces bitter lawn signs about cheating meters. I have written about the two women whose sign grumbled about not even getting dinner before they were screwed by Hydro One.
It is bizarre that some employees at Hydro One are so dumb that they pretend they have read my meters on the holiest holiday in the year. I suppose that it's some computer doing it, or trying to do it, but I didn't bother to try to find  out because dealing with electric utilities in this country is like extracting potable water out of a swamp.
Since it seems rather obvious judging from past behaviour that neither the Liberal government nor Hydro One are about to soften these charges when Hydro isn't even being used for months, I will have to stop this wastage of hundreds of dollars.
The simplest move is to take the power out of the bunkie. Since 90% of the activity from people staying there revolves around the main cottage, why give Hydro $340.42 a year for some night use? As someone who lived on a farm where there was no power, lamps and candles are not exotic to me.
Some readers will wonder why I don't just run all the power through one meter. Except the red tape and expense when you want to do that is quite high. When I did a major improvement to the main cottage, the very competent contractor ended up doing the wiring himself because the electrician just didn't show up after quoting a figure that shocked everyone but the contractor's brother who had just paid a ransom for wiring his new home.
And they were local, not city folk who are "taken" too often in Cottage Country.
 Guess that electrician was trained by Hydro One!
Too bad the inept Grits at Queen's Park haven't installed a circuit breaker in their dealings with the pygmies that now look after the electricity in this province which was built on the back of efficient and inexpensive generation from water dams that was famous throughout the rest of North America.

Friday, April 1, 2016



My best April Fool's stunt was the day I wrote the Sun editorial recommending that all the extra  billions that had just been discovered as surplus should be returned by the provincial government to the taxpayers in surprise bonuses.
The NDP braintrust seized on this as their main chance in Question Period to roast the ministers. A researcher called looking for details because there were none in the rest of the media. Was it a scoop, he wondered?
I pointed out that he should read the final para again, where I had written that it was too bad that the editorial could only deal with billions that could be given back to the voters on April Fool's Day.
Oh, he said, it's a joke. Takes a bit longer with the socialists, apparently, but our readers figured out that it was a gag and no one else called the Editor.
Actually newspapers have a long tradition of elaborate April Fool stunts. Why even the Globe and Star have been known to play. The Sun had just acquired  a generalist from politics as rookie publisher and Paul Godfrey was antsy about allowing me to pull a stunt in the editorial. He was relieved when we sucked in the lefties.
The worst April Fool's for me came in 1961 when I was pried out of an elevator by paramedics and taken unconscious to the first of the four hospitals that I would be incarcerated in for three months.
By the time it was over, there had been no laughs  and I had to learn to walk again. Hell, I had to learn how to stand.
April Fool was big when I was a kid. Can't say my life then was filled with laughs because after my parents died, my two sisters and I lived with dour Dutch grandparents.
My life was ruled by Grandma who was a five-foot block of meanness. Yet for some bizarre reason, she liked April Fool's Day and a Whoopee Cushion.
She had a variety of gag stories but many Aprils she told me the schools had been closed for the day even when there was no snow. We three kids laughed gratefully because we appreciated even lame humour in that house.
Several times a year the Whoopee Cushion would be taken by one of us from its place of honour and slid surreptitiously underneath as someone sat down. A great fart sound that might crack the tiles in the average bathroom would echo around the little kitchen.
And we would all howl, especially Grandma, and then back it would go for another three months or so. It was understood that more constant use would make it, well, unChristian.
According to the Star, which gave the feature a place of honour on Page Two, where all its corrections usually go, the Cushion was invented in Toronto around 1930 and the basic rubber bladder was sold promising noises "that can be better imagined than described."
The writer quoted experts, including a "toy" historian, saying flatulence and fart joke in some ways transcend time, which is a complicated way to say they have come down through the ages as universal humour. You don't have to be an historian, toy or otherwise, or even an expert in rubber goods, to know that. Just survive an elementary school in Ontario and not just the lower grades where trick tooters are idolized.
I have always been intrigued by the broad cross section of people who find fart noises more amusing than embarrassing. This has even been studied in universities. One connoisseur of Whoopee Cushions was Leslie Nielsen, a great actor before his last clownish roles, and so Canadian that his father was a Mountie and his brother was a deputy prime minister.
Neilsen carried a Cushion most days even in his suit pocket, maybe one developed  by the first manufacturer,  JEM Rubber Co.,  which even at a quarter found sales "deflated," so other companies started to sell it, although one giant novelty outfit found it too "indelicate."
Nelsen would slip it under other diners or actors - probably once or twice on stage - and generally thought it the acme of humour.
Readers should remember the Cushion fondly because it's just another reason that Toronto, and indeed Canada, is superior to any American city.
After all, just look at all the Toronto inventions. Most of us knew about the creations from insulin and pablum to paint rollers and five-pin bowling that were born here in Hawgtown. Now add fake farters to the list and it is insurmountable.