Sunday, December 9, 2018



I was called back from what would have been my first plane trip. Ten minutes later, the pilots died.
Years later, after I had flown four times,  I was in two forced landings within two hours in a Yukon blizzard.
I have been in a plane that caught fire, one that fell thousands of feet in the middle of the night, and one where another plane tried to land on top of us.
As I tell anyone worried about air travel, come fly with me because Fate or Satan have already swung their deadly fists at my planes...and missed.
Yet for some cocky reason, maybe just the insouciance of youth, I actually joined the RCAF Reserve. Now, I try not to dwell on flaming plane wreckage because then the bottle of Mount Gay rum empties.
What just triggered such uncomfortable memories was a full page in the National Post on the death this month of Helen Klaben who with her bush plane pilot survived 49 days after a crash in the Yukon wilderness in February, 1963.
It was an icy story that fascinated Canada as they survived on hot water and toothpaste after a bit of food ran out - the sardines, tuna and fruit that you take on a flight when you don't expect to spend a frozen eternity contemplating white nothingness.
Yet that public infatuation back in 1963 was tempered with the reality that air crashes then, particularly in the North, were a lot more common than they are now, thank heavens.
My log book of escapes began when I got a summer job as a glorified office boy at a famous Malton firm called Sanderson Aircraft which serviced and repaired planes and built wings and tails for the iconic planes of de Havilland.
I had never flown, so our two pilots were determined to introduce me to their passion. They were going to test a Cessna Crane that had just been overhauled and I scrambled in. The office manager ran into the hangar and yelled that I was paid to do the books (I did a terrible job) not to go joyriding.  I slunk back to my desk.
They ran into trouble on takeoff and radioed the tower they would land on the road in front of the giant A.V. Roe plant, the fabled home of the Arrow and the CF-100. High tension lines flipped them over and they burned to death, with only one wedding ring to help with identities.
So there I was at my desk fielding newspaper calls, telling a Tely reporter who only a few years later would be my colleague that I didn't know anything. (Ironically, the plane was owned indirectly by the New York Times.)
Before my last year at Ryerson, determined to be different, I got a summer job as Editor of the Whitehorse Star, which was rather a stupid thing to do when I had limited resources. But I survived with a CN rail pass to Edmonton and CP Air to Whitehorse to live with the publisher, Harry Boyle.
Whitehorse was then a frontier town that didn't have much time for tenderfoots like me. But within days Harry threw me into the middle of the tempestuous federal election of 1957 which, along with a rerun in 1958, ditched the Liberal dynasty and brought a prairie evangelist named John Diefenbaker to spluttering Tory power.
The Yukon MP was a Liberal, Aubrey Simmons, shadowed by the most famous lawyer in the territory, George Van Roggen (such a Grit power he was appointed senator.) The Tory candidate was his law partner (they actually shared a giant "partner's desk.'') Erik Nielsen went on to fame as deputy prime minister and a Conservative covered with thorns and controversies.
The Liberals were hunting for gimmicks to stave off defeat. The brass came up with the idea of having James Sinclair, the fisheries minister, become the first cabinet minister ever to campaign in the territories where all travel was difficult.
Yes, that Sinclair. One of the Liberal stars, past and present, because he was the able charismatic  Rhodes scholar and major cabinet power before the fourth of his five daughters, Margaret, married Pierre Trudeau. If you want to know what he looked like, look at his grandson, Justin.
We loaded ourselves aboard a Beaver, ironically the famous workhorse of the north made by de Havilland, and flew off, first to a silver mine and then to Dawson City. One of the most picturesque election rallies I ever covered. Then the next day back to Whitehorse for an evening meeting.
The future senator turned out to have booze in that legal briefcase and there was plenty of amiable talk, including kidding of Sinclair about having to pay for all those weddings.
Then came the snow. And the biggest peaks on the continent disappeared. I was writing a story to telegraph to the Canadian Press in Edmonton and kept scribbling new words for storm as the blizzard became a whiteout.
The pilot, Ron Connelley, said he was under visual flight rules but that didn't matter anyway because he couldn't continue with his instruments, which didn't include radar, without eventually running into a mountain.
We tried calling Whitehorse. Nothing. Connelley got a glimpse of a famous landmark, Lake Laberge, and said that in late May he wasn't sure how good the ice would be.
Someone recited a line from The Cremation of Sam McGee and I ventured that I had just found out that I laid out the Star on an accountant's desk that the poem's creator, Robert Service, had used in the Dawson bank.
Then we landed, our wheels skidding through drifts and bouncing on patches of broken ice. It was morbidly peaceful when we got out into the gloom, and someone laughed that we all better not pee in the same place. Then a celebratory drink from that briefcase.
After an hour or two of trying to see the shore, or anything, Connelley said it seemed to be clearing. We all climbed in and made a terrible takeoff. It was a bad call. It was worse now over the lake. Connelley said we should vote to see if we should risk another landing, my first clue as to how dangerous he thought the first one was.
We got one burst through the static on the radio to tell Whitehorse airport where we thought we were. Connelley cut short the discussion and vote on whether we should land again by doing exactly that before he said "we run into something."No wonder he became a legend in northern aviation!
We hiked through the driving snow to the nearest shore with me carrying Sinclair's bag because he had been badly injured on a speaking tour in Russia the year before. So I was the only one to fall through, which was a source of great merriment to the shivering party when I only sank to my chest. More proof that the ice was rotten came six days later when the ice went out just after the plane was retrieved.
We hiked five kilometres or so through the snow and mud to the gravel of the Alaska Highway where a car driven by a Whitehorse merchant found us and then took us at dangerous speeds to the election rally while I went to the telegraph office to file a story which made the front page of every newspaper in the country.  (The wire service paid me the grand sum of $15 for my national "scoop.")
That Yukon election campaign continued to make news all the way to Time magazine which managed to screw up six facts in my account. After all, the territorial supreme court controverted, or cancelled, the Yukon result by throwing out 10% of the ballots, including mine. It hasn't happened since in this country which has seen its share of election fraud.
The five of us in the Beaver never got visibly excited about our adventure. Of course it helped that Connelley was experienced and Sinclair was a RCAF veteran. It was just another plane incident as far as Yukoners were concerned. But our forced landings were a major story elsewhere because Canadians love to read about people trapped by snow particularly when they are having a warm spring. The election fraud was just icing on a snow cake.
My other aerial dances with death didn't last as long as that experience which had the added zing of happening on the stage of one of the most famous of all Canadian poems, the one that so many drunks recite when they're feeling good.
Pan Am, once one of the most famous of all airlines, inaugurated a press excursion to publicize the first jet service to South and Central America. I was the only Canadian with an exuberant bunch of high-ranking Americans, including the legendary Bill Mauldin who won two Pulitzers for his World War Two cartoons.
Mauldin turned to me on what turned out to be our last hop between capitals and said he didn't want to alarm me but he was a pilot and he was pretty sure the plane was on fire and he hoped we made it beyond the terrorists underneath us in Guatemala.  I said I had been in the air force but I already had suspected that because the pilot kept cranking the undercarriage up and down trying to blow out the flames because he had emptied the extinguishers.
So we skidded through the foam of an emergency landing at Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula. Then the undercarriage collapsed. Then we all ran up an enormous bar bill.
I remember a flight from the Caribbean to New York where everyone was so overly refreshed that there was no hysteria after the plane fell like we were on a midway ride. Most of us were pinned against the ceiling and some ended up with blood flowing from scalp abrasions. Maybe I don't remember more because I didn't even get bruised....and I made my connection home.
Mary and I joined two couples to fly in a medium-sized twin-engined plane from a private airport in Johannesburg to a safari camp in Botswana. I was in the right-hand co-pilot seat to help balance the load as we taxied out. Then we were cleared for takeoff by the tower at the public airport 15 kilometres away from us across Jo-burg.
As we lifted off, the shadow of a bush plane fell on the cockpit and our pilot banked hard left to pull out of the path of a plane landing right on top of us, its pilot oblivious to the fact we were underneath.
The tower tried to chastise our pilot as he cursed into the radio, then tried to talk him out of filing an incident report. After all, the air traffic controller said, we hadn't touched. Our pilot insisted, saying that the trouble with the "bloody Boer farmers is they feel they can fly anywhere without filing flight plans or paying attention to anyone else."
He didn't take kindly to my bitter joke that if there had been a crash, he and I would have just been mentioned in passing because two of the other four passengers were a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee of Civil War fame and the famous Times reporter who had masterminded the release of the Pentagon papers.
At least it gave us another anecdote to tell that night as we waited for the elephants and lions to gather at the waterhole.
 Or to forget!
 Remembering near misses is best shoved to the back of memory banks and only thought of again for a few moments when there is a newspaper story about someone who once went through 49 days of frozen hell and then lived on for another 45 years to die peacefully in California.

Friday, December 7, 2018



They say you can't go back. And that's true. Yet it also can be an excursion, as if guided by a Dickens' ghost, into a past where you can sift memories and find nuggets of nostalgia.
I have just tried it twice. It was challenging. As I said at the first test, Runnymede Healthcare Centre's Christmas party, the "good old days" there often weren't.
The good "new" days are here for a modern continuing care hospital that grew out of a century-old elementary school that betrayed every year of its age when I arrived on its board 30 years ago.
Now 95 patients have grown to more than 200, and they're no longer jammed into antique classrooms with one floor for the women and the other for the men.
A remarkable flowering from an ugly brick bulb thanks to an understanding spirit among the patients and an indomitable staff with Connie Dejak as the spark plug.
My first Christmas party there was in a humble bare basement but the food was as usual great and the attitude was damn Queen's Park full speed ahead against the uppity medical establishment that was trying to kill chronic care facilities in order to get more grants for themselves and their buddies.
I played Santa there while hoping as chair of the fund drive for a new facility that the provincial grinches would be as nice as some of the ladies of a certain age who mischievously tugged at my beard only to find a real one underneath.
The plans for what comes next, such as a 200-bed long term care facility to be built next door, are as pleasing as anything to be found in Santa's mythical sack.
 If only the bureaucrats say yes. But nothing happens these days with government without turning into a marathon of a gauntlet like the one Runnymede survived just to stay alive.
The second test of what the "good old days" really were came when I returned to Chesley and its vanished furniture factories and railway station. The tracks that used to service them ran right beside my boyhood home. That CNR line had been its vital link to the world, just as railways then linked most of Ontario's cities and towns when a long trip by car was a major expedition in cost and time.
I joined more than 100 aging survivors of the Chesley and area schools from over half a century ago to celebrate the bittersweet joys of school days. There were even four classmates from my Grade One class in 1941. We all walked around each other like the greetings of strange dogs, squinting at names, searching for clues in faces that had once been as familiar as family.
A warm reunion in a town of 1,800 that has been so mangled by time and supposed progress that even the whistles of yesteryear are silent. In the day, the whistles of the passenger train that came twice a day, and the call-to-work whistles of three factories, divided life into six familiar portions.
David McClure, a retired high school teacher who was one of my Grade One classmates, wrote the other day about how much those trains were part of the living fabric of the town.
He and his brothers would meet the morning passenger  train to collect the Globes for delivery, and the afternoon train for the Owen Sound Sun Times, and the money he made was enough for first year at Western.
There was one magic time, he said, when he was hanging around the freight yard, which was really only several tracks, when the steam locomotive stopped and the engineer invited him aboard. Then the fireman actually let him shovel coal into the boiler.
It was an enchanting time for a boy. Hell, it would have been for a man.
My grandfather, much to my embarrassment, would take me with some pails and a broom into that freight yard in the evening to collect dustings of wheat left behind in the empty boxcars to feed the Leghorns we kept in the backyard.
It was what you did when you were "laid off" from the "big factory" and there was no work for an old man looking after three orphaned grandchildren. He mowed grass all day in the town cemetery to be able to buy a pound of butter.
We lived so close to those tracks that I looked down from my tiny bedroom window one morning to find a locomotive seemingly in our yard. The picture of me standing beside the derailment by James Seigrist made the Sun Times front page. (The first of many for me in newspapers, but still the best. )
All of this is just faded history for too many towns where train service still would be a blessing. Why many communities now hunger just for a regular bus. The countryside is dotted with relics of an another era, from Chesley to Havelock, with rusted rail paraphernalia leaning beside level crossings that have no tracks. A few stations have been turned into restaurants with train decor. Snowmobilers and hikers are the only traffic on many stretches of abandoned right-of-ways that snake between the towns.
Once those tracks were almost as important to a town as a highway. This was captured in a newspaper stunt when the Tely hired a plane to drop yeast for Brown's bakery when a snow storm - huge even by the standards of Ontario's snow belt - isolated the town. We stood in the classrooms and cheered when the big railway plow finally punched its way from civilization through the drifts.
Now the town is cut in two with the main bridge impassable. The flour mill that used the wheat that came by train has been turned improbably into a banquet hall. There are no schools, no factories, no trains, no station ... and the tracks are just ghosts in my memory leading to what might have been.
Yes, in some towns, there really were "good old days!"

Friday, November 23, 2018



I started as the smallest kid in the class so I was bullied.
A few years later, I had grown into one of the largest kids in the class and knocked out the bully who had once cut my cheek open with a sapling whip. We even became friends....but it took time.
Perhaps because of this evolution in my size and strength, I have a contempt for bullies but I also know you just have to stand up for yourself no matter the first bloody noses. Most importantly, you just never let anyone be bullied around you because it can spread like the flu. How can you live with yourself if you don't intervene when human jackals nip at the weak?
It occasionally had me walking a tightrope because it didn't help that I was often the biggest guy in the bar at closing time when pugnacious drunks were looking for victims. Obviously I am really dating myself because I am only 6' 2" and 250, and the newer generations are much larger than we used to be.
As proof, the other 11 on the high school football team, which had been dubbed Weston Ironmen by the sports pages because Coach Mel Thompson made us play 60 minutes without subs, were all smaller than me. And every one of us went on to play in the CFL or the NHL or on university teams.
Today this iron dozen would have to get by on speed rather than brawn, which certainly would have disqualified me.
But back to bullies which only flourish in high school if the teachers and the culture allow their evil flowering.
I went from a peaceful high school of around 250 students in Chesley to a comparative giant of Weston CVS with 1,500 drawn from families of the middle class and factory workers.
Students could be the offspring of doctors and managers and spot welders. They were going on to become dentists and truck drivers and teachers and clerks and Maple Leafs. There was an amiability among the students but I can't say the same for the teachers.
One punched me in the face when I kept insisting it was my cousin Bill Plewes who was talking and not me. Another insisted I had copied every last word in a Latin exam from another students. I then asked why I had got 66 and he had received 75 (which before mark inflation was considered honours.) He threw me out of the class.
(Ironically, I later became good friends with two major education directors who assured me that the two offending teachers were actually good guys and both had become principals.  I assured them on behalf of hundreds of students that we thought they were jerks.)
The tone of a school is set by the dominant teachers whether they be coaches or music directors or principals or advisers to the student council. I'm talking about all the schools I attended right up to Ryerson where I was the student president and the fights I had with the administrators were about  expulsions and drinking and not bullying.
What is said to have happened at St. Mike's would not have been tolerated by the students at any of these schools even if the administration ignored it. But then, back in my school days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the teams from St. Mikes were among the dirtiest teams in high school sports and friends who went there assured me it was a "tough" school. Obviously that culture continued.
I blame the coaches and teachers as well as the parents.
Especially the parents. You have to have a cruel streak running through all your actions if your children think it is O.K. to harass others with fists or broomsticks or soakings. Fortunately, among the many truths in the deserved best seller by Jordan Peterson in his assault on the politically correct ruining universities and democracy, he says that bullying lessens with age.
He writes in his 12 rules that "bullying at the sheer and often terrible intensity of the schoolyard rarely manifests itself in grown-up society."
Perhaps the intensity goes away but there is a pecking order in every family or group or office.  There is always someone who can be picked on. The "pecking" name comes from raising chickens, as I have. In  every flock, every bird knows who it can peck or be pecked by, and the unfortunate hen at the bottom of the order often ends up so bloodied that it dies or is killed first for dinner.
I am not nominating myself for father of the year but revulsion for bullying is among the things I passed on to my three sons along with a love of reading and a suspicion about vegetables.
It can be dangerous. Mark who lives in China has twice come to the aid of hapless men being beaten up and has come out OK, thank heavens, because he is burly and speaks Mandarin which helps with the police.
I was proud to find out years later than my son John Henry had stridently come to the defence of a girl from India - whose father was one of the best eye doctors around - who was being picked on because of her accent. He threatened anyone who didn't leave her alone.
We live across from that school, Sunnylea, and I remember a frantic classmate of Brett's running to our house at recess to say Brett and John Henry were fighting back to back against most of the boys from a higher grade.
Later, the smarmy principal tried false equivalency but I blew her amateur diplomacy sky high when I said that when 10 try to beat up two, it is obvious who is in the wrong and when administrators don't see that, the school board should move them along.
I hear stories all the time about schools being hamfisted in dealing with bullying and evil assaults and fighting, as if the teachers just hope it goes away without them having to notice.
Then one day it ends up on Page 1 and the evening news. So I blame the teachers and the administrators and the student body and the parents for not confronting it when it starts in a small way. And it always starts small, with the push and the taunts and then the slap and then the punch if the kids see they can get away with it. As did that bully who hit me with fists and then the whip until one day I knocked him down ... and out. (Winning takes some getting used to. I apologized for hitting him so hard.)
Bullies have to be confronted or they just keep going... and then they raise more bullies unless the teachers, and maybe even the police, say cut it out.

Thursday, November 15, 2018



My wallet starts whimpering every time politicians start throwing blandishments and billions at big business and filthy rich entrepreneurs to come to our town or please, please, please, don't move out.
It generally turns out bad for the taxpayers - whether it's the Olympics or Amazon or car makers or the big leagues....
If fabulously rich Amazon had come to the Greater Toronto Area rather than to two now-victimized cities in the U.S., it would have been wonderful for tech people aching to start making $150,000 a year (at least), the real estate market and the service industry.
It was supposed to be so wonderful that "lucky" American cities pay fortunes for the privilege of housing the commercial behemoth that is threatening to devour most of its competition in North America? And then there were hundreds of communities whose politicians just ached to land the commercial behemoth.
Those who think it would be great are the ones who daydream about the economic benefits for them.
They talk of the great economic ripple effect. FOR THEM! But for those of us who wouldn't benefit directly, the ripple becomes a tsunami of problems.
For example, if you thought it was tough to buy or rent a home in Toronto now at a reasonable cost, it would have become so bad if Amazon had set up shop here that commuters would have hungered for just two hour commutes.
The brutal reality of our urban life is that this city (and the region of the Greater Toronto Area)  is already bursting at the seams and has enormous problems in transit, transportation and infrastructure. We can't even fix potholes,  and weeds grow in our parks.
It sounds like heresy but municipal growth is not high on my agenda of wants. Civic boosterism sounds great during a City Hall debate but I would just as soon live in a city that doesn't have construction on every corner. Improving what we have should be the goal, not bribing growth.
So paying a corporate giant to come to town because of all its benefits -  and minimizing all the extra costs - is not an obvious win for a good urban life, an enormous fact not lost on critics ranging from the New York Times editorial board and insightful editorial cartoonists and TV commentators to anyone trying to live near the Amazon headquarters now.
Why is it that our governments insist on throwing our taxes at fatcat promoters, industrialists and entrepreneurs because they promise seductively it will  stimulate the economy and create jobs?
The immediate impact is to drive up our taxes while the company fattens its bottom line.
Just look at all the horror stories that just keep happening in Canada decade after decade after decade.
They range from the billions that Bombardier has sucked out of English Canada to keep Quebec happy  (and then Bombardier gave away the technology) to the simpler recent boondoggle that even a stupid bureaucrat should know is wrong - buying hundreds of expensive cars just so that the leaders of a few countries can meet here for a few scripted days.
But I have wandered off topic when there are so many easy targets over the years.  Such as:
....Taxpayers paid $628 million for SkyDome before it was sold for a pittance of $25 million to a cable company
.... Consider the waste of billions on Olympics and Expos
...  Why we couldn't even build BMO Field at the Ex without being hosed because the user, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, turned a profit on the deal and taxpayers were on the hook for $63 million.
... Must be something about politicians and the Ex because neighbouring Ontario Place cost $30 million, which was six times the original estimate, and then declined into closure after annual losses of millions.
.... I really don't want to waste our time dealing with all the grants to companies like Chrysler just to keep some plants open.
No wonder there is hatred, stirred well with rebellion, in many voters for most of their politicians, the desire that "none of the above" be printed at the end of every ballot to show the disdain that so many feel for what passes for democracy today.
No wonder what passes for modern populism flourishes in North America because of waste by bureaucrats and politicians who spend billions as if they were nickels.
I am surprised that the revolt against the sports establishment pushing for another winter Olympics in Calgary was not even larger. Is there actually a thinking adult anywhere who truly believes that such sport spectaculars break even?
What we really need is not more political promises but fewer candidates in our election campaigns giving us the latest version of the "bread and circuses" approach that kept the mob from storming the Forum in ancient Rome.
We need a tough approach when the CEO comes cap in hand to beg for just a few hundred million and in exchange says he or she will provide a few hundred jobs for maybe a decade.
Let's just stop the corporate welfare!
Let the billionaires build their own playpens for sport!
Tell the Amazons of the world, with treasuries swollen from our billions, that if they really want to come to our town, they can pay their way fully like we have to do.
And if they want to come on the cheap, then find another sucker city. Thank heavens this time they did!

Saturday, November 10, 2018



Just an easy drive down a street near my home but then a yuppie couple tried to lope through the stop sign and gave me an haughty glare when I didn't brake.
They wore the latest gear, which showed off her slim long legs, of course. She was towing a dog on a leash and he was pushing a baby carriage streamlined for 10 km/h. They were a postcard couple celebrating the idiocy of suburban life when you ignore who has the right-of-way when galloping along by foot or bike.
Earlier, I was driving east of Stephen Dr. on The Queensway where a traffic light delays all the traffic from the important Humber River crossing and the giant Food Terminal just so motorists can access the plaza jammed between the road and the transportation corridors.
(Plaza owners have more clout at City Hall than motorists on major roads, so we have to wait so they can accommodate shoppers.)
A flashing and screeching ambulance was zigzagging through the normal jam when it had to brake so quickly I visualized the patient shooting off the gurney. Why? Because some guy with a parka hood wrapped around his numbskull decided to run across against the red in front of the ambulance.
Unfortunately, all my anecdotes here are just from one week and aren't that unusual.
I was asking a cousin who is a retired Toronto fire captain about all the louts who interfere with the passage of emergency vehicles like fire engines, ignoring the lights and sirens, and he agreed it was far too common. He blamed air conditioning and stereos for all the drivers who just don't hear the sirens. (But then there are some jerks on foot who must ignore the sirens. And those who skulk down side streets at night dressed like robbers as if they want to be hit for the law suit money.)
I had crossed College at University on the way to TGH when a young woman yakking on her cell  walked into me. Her wingman was also on her phone. She kept talking and trying to push through me, ignoring my cane. When I bellowed into the one free ear, she looked up, grunted an apology and walked around me, continuing to talk as she then crossed eight lanes. Of  course the light changed long before she made it.
This column is not triggered by the unfortunate peak of pedestrian accidents on that recent cold and rainy day. Toronto is blessed by not having more such days because I find that a routine car trip around most side streets in this city is like playing dice with the Devil because of pedestrians who just don't seem to give a damn.
It certainly culminated this Halloween when there were so many hunting packs of kids in my neighbours, with parents and flashlights riding herd as if they were on a cattle drive, that I wished I had hibernated. There were a lot of lighted cell phones I threaded down the street.
What's the sense of worrying about proper X-walk use and blatant jaywalking if too many other  pedestrians concentrate only on their cells as they cross the busiest intersections. You can be monitoring  the other traffic when you want to make a simple turn only to find some pedestrian on a phone jumps off the curb without looking and starts striding across as if they were ambling down a beach.
Believe me, when it comes to this topic, the shoe really has been on the other foot. After all my experiences, no wonder I became a godfather of the RIDE program and a director of the Ontario Safety League, Ontario's oldest safety organization.
As a pedestrian, I was hit and thrown up on the hood of a car by a man making a right turn just blocks from my home. He still hasn't seen me.
 I was either the first, or one of the first, X-walk accidents in Toronto. On the first morning they were legal, I braked hard on the Danforth when a woman ran into the X-walk and I was rammed from behind in my beloved collectors' Austin Healey.
I have been hit twice by cyclists when leaving downtown Toronto restaurants and then as a cyclist crashed into a ditch by a dump truck.
There are municipalities who are considering or have banned cell phone use by pedestrians at intersections. Toronto should too. Surely extreme cases are as dangerous as jay walking or X-walk breaches.
There is agreement that the war against distracted driving is a great safety idea.
Why not a legal war against distracted walking? It doesn't matter that the result is not as dangerous as a car crashing into you. It's more than just an annoyance, as I can assure you when considering the bruise on my leg from my latest encounter.

Saturday, November 3, 2018



I think it's time for the election survivors of an inept city council to come clean on an unfunny practical joke.
 Or was it just a plot to so massacre the replacement for the east-bound York/Bay/Yonge ramps from the Gardiner that the voters would seek revenge on the anti-car councillors to whom the Gardiner is the Great Evil?
Now the Gardiner, one of the great work horse roads of North America, has always been hated by those politicians and planners who believe we should just walk or TTC or bike to move around this urban behemoth.
For years they cheated on the incredible amount of  traffic it carried, trying to lower the stats even as they ignored that the waterfront had grown around the Gardiner like coral around a sunken ship and prying the super road  out of the skyscraper woods would be as difficult and costly as it would be silly.
Yet the Gardiner has outlasted most enemies because it is one of the vital arteries of the city and blasting it out of downtown would cause cardiac arrest to thousands if not a congealed core.
Which brings me to the current mess which you and I have plenty of time to contemplate as we try to manoeuvre to make simple turns into the core of a city that is vital enough, fortunately, to survive even this looney bin of a City Hall.
I don't feel like repeating at length the obvious reality which was true even when I was enduring urban geography lectures at U of T  in the age of the dinosaurs.
Most people and all goods move around this city by vehicles and will continue to do so even if the transit is vastly improved and ridiculous bike lanes don't strangle major streets.
I live near the Royal York subway station, the renovation of which is another municipal embarrassment, and try to TTC as much as possible to avoid $20 parking and the molasses movement of traffic. But Mary uses a walker and like many older people with medical appointments finds the car superior to the complications of Wheel Trans or the gauntlet of regular transit.
So I have had to negotiate through this stupid replacement for the downtown ramps. According to what I can decipher out of the Y B Y internet site for this project, the contractor will be back. We just got the first stage in January, which is like saying we just got the first act of a horror movie.
My son Mark, who spends half his time in China where he has worked for almost a decade, returns to sit in the car as I curse my way through any drive which lasts more than five minutes. He is used to road and transit construction in most modern Chinese cities taking a fraction of a time. They built a new subway line in Dalien, his lovely home city, in the time it takes for one council debate on new routes.
Of course, I apologize to him as we muddle through traffic, it is easier there in a dictatorship with tens of millions of workers. But, he replies, it looks suspicious to him when we try to drive around Etobicoke or to the Kawarthas when the same roads and bridges are under construction year after year after year.
I admit that the lackadaisical timing is suspect. It certainly drives up the cost for taxpayers along with our tempers. Unfortunately, not that new! When I was a kid reporter covering politics, some construction contracts came with a whiff of scandal about the cost, the politics of the company owners, and indeed, the necessity.
And then we often come to another stalling point in our drive where the road has been under repair for years and we both heartily agree that something stinks to high heaven about how we build in Ontario.
Repairs to our infrastructure have boils deeper than our potholes!
So I look forward to the mayoral media conference where John Tory says that it is rather obvious now that what is being done to the Gardiner downtown is a terrible mistake and it's back to the drawing board for our traffic engineers after a few have been fired and planners told to start acting like they live in a real city and not one just in their dreams.
And while Tory's at it, he should chat with his colleagues who sit on the board supposedly supervising the police force (stop this semantic nonsense it should be called a service) to order that either the chief and his deputies improve the dire quality of traffic policing in this city or face review.
Present policing procedure in this city favours paid-duty work for every cop even as every year it sticks more and more organizations like the CNE with higher policing costs.
When you consider the taxes we pay for municipal services. TTC and policing, it is obvious that either our councillors can't manage a doghouse or we are being played for suckers.
 The quality goes down as quickly as the costs go up, thanks to union and gutless management. No wonder there was a foul mood during the last municipal and provincial elections, oceans of unhappiness with what we've been getting.
If you know anyone who really is satisfied, she or he is bound to be making more than $100,000 annually that is paid in one form or another by you and me. And they don't even feed us before they screw us.
Something to ponder as you contemplate your next attempt to drive around T.O. without dreaming of just getting to hell out of town, and staying there, that is if the light ever changes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018



Canadians are blessed with so much fresh water flowing around us and from the tap that it is baffling and embarrassing that we spend billions on bottled water that then clogs garbage with empties.
I have to admit that my wife and related offshoots buy and guzzle bottled water despite my unveiled antagonism.
I also admit the purchase cost is a pittance. It's the principle that counts with me, and the garbage left behind. It's such a stupid idea to throw away even small change on bottled water which is often only our tap water run through filters by giant corporations and then marketed using computer-generated nonsense names.
Now there are municipalities around the world which have toyed with bans and have stopped providing bottled water at civic functions. They should go all the way and not just dip a toe into the issue.
My boyhood was spent in a town in the Bruce Peninsula which we boasted was famous for its deep artesian wells flowing with the sweet necessity of life. There was even a small brewery that boasted of its water before it was swallowed by a giant that concentrated more on distribution than taste.
When I returned to T.O, the populace would have giggled at the idea of buying bottled water. Then came preening bottled water from exotic locations and grumbling from activists about fluoridation (an important health improvement despite the silly poison claims.)
I remember only two major stories about southern Ontario drinking water (although the north had major problems on reserves) which meant that what came out of our taps here has never really been an issue.
We had the awful scandal about lengthy water pollution that ruined people in Walkerton (ironically the capital of the Bruce) and official mutterings from a radicalized city health department where a lefty listing himself as a doctor (his doctorate was in African studies) warned pregnant women and others that it would be best not to use Toronto tap water.
His warning didn't fill Toronto's councillors with alarm but it sort of roosted there ticking. Then I pointed out as a columnist in a private conversation with the head politician over the water supply that he as a chemical engineer and the engineers involved with the pumping stations from the lake were leaving themselves vulnerable to professional challenges of their credentials if the issue turned from a tickle to a flood.
Which led Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey, who apparently went on to work in baseball and publishing, to lead the charge to spend $135,000 on a major scientific study of the quality and safety of Toronto tap water compared to various bottled waters which were then mostly imported.
The results put to rest for all time any health claims that Toronto tap water was bad for you. In fact, in taste and quality it was rated superior to every bottled water sold in the city including the effete Perrier.
(Which reminds me of the chap who looked after all the drinking water for Expo '67 VIPs. This included the water that all the kings and PMs brought from their homelands so they wouldn't get tourist tummy. He showed me some of the giant bottles which actually had little "things" floating in them.)
But back to my recommendation that the new city council ban all bottled water from our store shelves on the grounds that city tap water costs less, may occasionally be safer,  and is environmentally friendly because it doesn't jam our landfills and suck zillions of litres out of our ground water supply.
It would be so simple to do. It would save us money and hassle. Among the minor benefits would be that I would no longer have to lug the unused bottles of water home when I close the cottage for the winter. It hurts my back even as I fume about the fact it's just a dumb fad.

Monday, October 29, 2018



Why have we allowed politicians, pollsters and foreign salesmen to transform our telephones from a vital part of our lives to a nuisance?
My childhood was spent in a home without a phone. I spent a couple of decades in journalism searching daily for pay phones before cell phones became common.
So there are few people who appreciate a phone more than I do. I spent too many nights in exotic locations trying to get a line back to the office from the latest crisis not to love the fact that I can walk into a hotel room on the other side of the world and actually dial Toronto and get through in seconds.
But the wondrous convenience of it all has been ruined by the barrage of crank calls, particularly that one that comes early every morning and there's never anyone there.
I realize there are do-not-call lists and various ways to block unwanted calls but the practitioners seem to slither around the latest shield as if they have taken lessons from the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Why should we have to buy options to block calls or have call display, or buy answering machines and let devices protect us? It's like hiring someone to stand at the door to deal with visitors.
I have neighbours and friends who are ditching their land lines because it's cheaper and they can guard their cell phones better from intrusion. But I am sure that any temporary protection is going to vanish like deodorant on a hot day.
As proof that the Robo Call menace is only going to get worse, I suggest you check the various outfits on the Internet promising to unleash a tsunami of canned calls for customers for only 0.7 cents a minute.
Of course I hang up immediately, as I'm sure most people do.
Yet I think I'm also going to organize a group with important initials to pledge they will never vote for any party or politician that use Robo Calls.  In our spare time, we will lobby for Robo Calls to be made illegal. It's bad enough when there's a real politician calling and not just a computer.
I have known John Tory since he was a kid radio reporter who came before meetings to ask my advice on what were the important issues on which he should concentrate.
If I had received one more Robo Call from Tory, I would not have voted for him, even though his major opponent had silly policies that were not improved from having been raised first decades ago.
To be brutally frank, I would make illegal ALL telephone calls for votes from politicians or parties. Just end political telephone solicitations. Let  them spread their message in pamphlets delivered by campaign workers or by Canada Post at a special rate. Ensure these pamphlets have real meat, real policies in them. not just the usual bunkum and puff pastries. Have real confrontations in election debates, like the dozens I moderated in the 1970s and 1980s in Nathan Phillips Square and on the community Rogers channel which has disappeared.
The easiest way for politicians, pollsters and companies to contact people with the least hassle is by email. We can just skim over the nonsense without wasting much time. Except I find the Internet in general to be so unreliable, so filled with routine glitches, that when the cut-rate brokerage outfits run by two giant Canadian banks kept crashing for days, it was not considered that unusual. In fact, TD officials seemed miffed when I complained.
I have a son working for a giant computer company who just spent eight hours trying to get his special computer to work again and grumbled that it happens weekly if not daily.
So I think any system that depends totally on computers is not going to work, just as this dream of driverless cars is going to go through a long nightmare stage. We have to have the post office as a backup (and believe it or not, I think our postal service works just fine.)
We have climbed to a peak of annoyance and we don't want to go higher. Limiting commercial and political use of our private telephone lines just has to happen or there is going to be a stampede back to smoke signals.
I realize there are arrogant outfits that think they have a right to bother me. They claim they are "allowed" to because they have done business with me in the past. I would squash their calls first. As I said on Facebook recently (FB certainly ditched the post in a hurry, not wanting to offend Rogers I guess) what is the point  in Rogers calling me every few days when I already buy most of their services? Then there are the calls from Bell. You would think its officials would not do anything to poke customers when their rates are so high.
If Rogers and Bell really want to sell more, they should improve their services and lower their costs. As it is, they are sinking into oblivion because technology and competition is drowning them in quick sand. I doubt that in a few years they will be getting the same monthly dollars from me. Only laziness has stopped me from cutting already.
Technology has overwhelmed our politicians and agencies like the CRTC. We have become a city  where most people no longer answer their door in the evening (some times never) but we have also become one where electronic intrusion by con artists is routine on our telephones and Internet.
Official spam is allowed to flourish by the politicians who think they will piggyback their way to the next election victory by bugging the hell out of anyone who is too stupid not to immediately hang up.
But what about pollsters, you ask? As someone who has spent many hours pouring over polls, that does concern me because I find polls interesting and useful.
I have trouble separating the real polls from the scam ones over the phone but if the real pollsters were given a special low postal rate, not only would the mailed polls be able to contain more questions, there could be more supporting material too. You don't get that on a call.
It is ludicrous that we have huge rooms in foreign lands filled with unintelligible people trying to sell us duct cleaning on the telephone, and exotic towers filled with hackers infiltrating our emails with dangerous solicitations, and our authorities say there is nothing they can do, that is when they aren't phoning and emailing with their latest scam.
I drove by the house recently where I lived as a boy in the small town of Chesley. It was a sleepy peaceful scene.  And I luxuriated in it for half an hour. Then I headed back to Toronto and my cell phone rang. The electronic madness had returned.



Once upon a time, believe it or not, the federal government made it illegal to call yourself Canadian on the forms of StatsCan, particularly at census time.
I challenged this at provincial and federal human rights tribunals which ignored me on their grounds that I was just the Editor of the Toronto Sun and tabloids really didn't count with the Establishment.
Except the not-so-secret weapon of the Toronto Sun was columnist Doug Fisher, who before computers was the trusted memory of official Ottawa.
 Fisher had been a MP thanks to being the giant killer who defeated C.D. Howe, one of the most powerful pols ever to walk the Commons. Then he became a columnist feared and respected by every political leader in the land, particularly on immigration and native issues, and as a librarian by training, had the best files on any issue you could think of to buttress his opinions.
I was at many a party in Ottawa where leaders like Jean Chretien talked about Fisher's files as one of the best resources in the country.
The politically correct armies were just getting rolling but when it came to issues as sensitive as Indian/native/indigenous affairs, no one dared tackle Fisher even when he pointed out that the PC police were often full of crap and as a result too much money was spent and wasted on and by native leaders.
I began a Count Me Canadian campaign, in editorials, columns, speeches and electronic appearances, saying that Canadian should be allowed to call themselves exactly that when official federal questions involved ethnic origin.
With broadsides from Fisher and some immigrant leaders, we won, the census bureaucrats actually crediting the Sun for the change. So Canada as the next century approached actually went from fines for Canadians who dared call themselves Canadian on forms (we had to write it in) to formal recognition that as a country that was actually older than half the countries in the world, it was O.K. to say it was our origin. We no longer had to say our family originated in failed foreign regimes that specialized in driving their people to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
I hadn't thought of the issue for years. But I just read a letter-to-the editor complaining that the writer had to complete a form in which listing Canadian as an ethnic origin was not allowed.
Do we really have to go through this war again? Do we really have to go back to one of the sturdy roots for the good change, the great campaign by John Diefenbaker around 1960 to end hyphenated Canadianism?
Look at my family history. My father was born just two years after Confederation and came here from Cornwall a decade later. My mother came here from Holland in 1909. More than a century later, I visit the smuggler's coves of Cornwall and the canals of Rotterdam that my father and mother left behind and enjoy myself but don't really feel kinship.
Since Mary's parents came nearly a century ago, my three sons have our century-old roots in England/Holland/Slovenia, but their base, their source, is Canadian, not some hybrid gruel loved only by academics and those who boost the mosaic rather than the melting pot because they have more power (and grants) when they divide with hyphens fashioned as swords more than links.
Whenever I write about this, I still smell the stench from the past when ethnic origin and religion mattered more than the capability of the person in question. It's really not that long ago that politicians and businessmen found it necessary to fib about their history, and I'm not just talking about serial liars like Donald Trump who pretends he doesn't have German ancestors.
Religion doesn't count any more. Orange Toronto died a long time ago. Roman Catholicism may have been an issue in the mayoral election of 1972,  and it did take the city 146 years to elect its first Roman Catholic mayor in Art Eggleton in 1980, but we have just gone through a number of elections when religion wasn't important.
Or so they say.
I would just as soon not return to the days when our officials forced us to remember foreign roots that should instead be lost in the mists of history.
Count Me Canadian on every question about my ancestry or I will shove a bushel of forms down the throat of every official/professor/politician who wants to drag the baggage of other lands into this, the best country in the world. (Sorry, but the daily gush of patriotism south of the border is a tad infectious even though it must be obvious that we Canadians are much better and have a much nicer country.)

Monday, June 4, 2018



After a lifetime of political immersion, I ignored most of this provincial election.
I'll vote Tory because the incompetent Liberals bordered on fraud and the New Democrats want to give away even more of my money to the lazy, the unions, and every special interest group that has even a vague leftwing cachet.
 Naturally the teachers and civil servants want the Tories to lose.
I have covered politics since I was thrown out of my first council meeting in Whitehorse as editor of the onlyYukon newspaper. Then I had my vote thrown out in my first election when the territory court decided there had been too much fraud and voided the federal election.
My introduction to politics and journalism.
 My first taste of international media came via the same election when my story in Time magazine about the strange election in the land of the midnight sun appeared with seven errors not of my making.
 You would have thought I was a political reporter for the Star.
Since then it has been too many decades of covering elections, turning down invitations from three parties to be a candidate myself, and thousands of columns and editorials on politics.
Once upon a time, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to represent voters, whether as a trustee, councillor, mayor, MPP or MP. My proudest family boast was that my father had been chairman of the Toronto school board. Now who knows who that is, and who cares?
Over the years, most politicians seemed to fail us. So when the parties came calling, I said no, even when victory was practically guaranteed.
That got easier every year as elected representatives, which I thought was honourable work, slid down the slope of public opinion past even journalists.
I was at three recent gatherings which once would have been a hotbed of political debate - several hours of meetings of the CNE board, a Ryerson University reunion with three fellow grads of the class of '58, and a family party celebrating the 80th birthday of my cousin Paul Plewes.
I was surrounded on these occasions with avid critics and current and former political partisans who have been mayors, deputy mayors, councillors, senior party officials, MPPs, reporters and failed candidates.
In the day, there would have been fire in the air, along with cutting insults, volleys of facts and ambushes of insider data.
Not now. I am sad to report that for too many, and it was illustrated at these occasions, the battlefield is silent, littered with broken promises and pools of indifference and contempt. The voter hates the choices.
One reason is the fatigue over being bribed with our own money, and excesses being justified with lies and cheating.
Another cause is the 24-hour news cycle and the desperate search for news by skeleton staffs so what passes for political coverage is used to fill the yawning expanses and is often boring and shallow.
Then there is the poor quality of the candidates. It matches the reporting.
A third cause is social media and a general contemp by too many for facts and their acceptance instead of lies and hokum dreamed up propagandists and egotists who couldn't report what was happening in a flea circus.
It's difficult to be a good reporter. It's even more difficult to be a good columnist. Yet we are surrounded by fools who think they can play journalist without ever leaving their couch.
So the U.S. now is ruled by a corrupt president who has lied and cheated his entire life. And in Canada we have a minor drama teacher who inherited money and a family reputation.
In Ontario, the only choice is so flawed, it's enough to bring one to tears. The Ford family is a caricature sketched by a drunk -  a boring father and awful mother produced one bumbling clown who became mayor and another smarter son, both of whom won simply because they preached a populist message that conventional politicians waste money and are lazy jerks.
They promised change, the most seductive of all political messages, because so many hate how we have been  governed. So they go for a Trump and a Trudeau despite their huge flaws of personality and inexperience,  and Ford is a real possibility despite being a lurching rookie.
Thank heavens there are good Conservatives who can prop Ford up, including Christine Flaherty who should have won as leader. Give me this lawyer who raised triplets and was a good cabinet minister instead of this strange premier and a union flunky who may have been a good steward.
Since we have to have an election because that is the way democracy works despite this contempt for what it is producing, let's go with some women and men who promise us real change instead of old ways to give money to all the civil servants and teachers and bureaucrats and consultants and ad flunkies and....

Saturday, May 5, 2018



I have sifted the fallout from the White House Correspondents' Dinner and concluded that despite some chicken-shit commentary from media who have been covering too many politically-correct protests and got infected, I'm firmly on the side of ridiculing politicians.
In my blog about my memories of the dinner, I grumbled about Michelle Wolf at this one separating her good lines with foul expanses. This doesn't mean I thought she should be cast into outer darkness for her criticism of the president and his White House denizens, including the official liar who doesn't even seem embarrassed when the boss is caught out on another whopper.
Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher and all the professionals who earned their spurs doing stand-up who have refused to cry Wolf because of her gutter bits are correct in saying that Trump and his staff deserve to be roasted here on earth before they go on to burn in Hell for their utter contempt for truth, facts and the ordinary Joes and Janes who haven't bought their way into Republican hearts. (Assuming this lot have them.)
The president, who has been counterfeit since 1980, likes to talk about "fake news." Now he certainly is an expert at fabrication. But he needs the media to distribute this insult for him. Why then do we go along?
It has been left to the comics to be the most effective weapon against his bluster, although they should use more rifles than blunderbusses.
I have written thousands of columns, editorials and blogs. I even have been called upon anonymously to help write putdowns and gags for speeches about major figures, including premiers and prime ministers.
Now it's easy to write diatribes, as jerks demonstrate hourly in social media, but it's much more difficult to be subtler and clever in your lines.
So I have often sought advice from those who also have had to write for living...but have to be funny too.
 I remember grilling the greats, like Jack Benny on an exercise walk down Yonge Street to the Royal York Hotel. (And if you don't know who he was, that master of timing and the stare with one hand to the mouth, then you haven't done rudimentary homework in judging comedy.)
I'm told that when you write a humorous column or a roast routine, you start by putting down every  pun, crude gag, insult and double entendre that you can think of. Let it all hang out, from toilet humour to slander to rusted kitchen sink. Then you go through with a thick black pen and take out almost all of it. What's left can be funny.
The problem with Wolf is that she needed a good editor, one that would let her say almost everything  she wanted, but would get rid of the worst smut. If you get rid of the groaners, then the rest is funnier.
Of course even when Donald Trump sticks to the Teleprompter script written by his confused and terrorized staff, he Trumps the worst line delivered by Wolf who just did what she was supposed to do and then is criticized by media apologists who don't have her guts.
You know if the Washington media were really serious about criticizing Huckleberry and the mistruths of her regular briefings, they just wouldn't show up. Boycott the liars and let Trump and Fox marinate in  their swamp.
Then the rest of us could watch old TBS movie classics and take a break from the weird reality of this weird reality president whose behaviour for more than three decades has been worse than anything that Wolf could say.

Sunday, April 29, 2018



"Those were the days" I thought as I was watched the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Nope, I wasn't recalling when Archie Bunker shocked the world in All In The Family (he really didn't but the political correct had to pretend) but my trips inside the American bubble to mingle with the famous and those who wished they were.
I also wasn't remembering when the dinner's guest comics were clever and funny like Stephen Colbert and not killing their good lines with foul expanses of dubious humour like Michelle Wolf.
Early Sun expeditions were legendary but our trips to Washington were great even by those standards. Led by Doug Creighton, the Sun founder and a delightful Pied Piper, the Sun mafioso used to invade the White House dinner because we owned the Houston Post, one of the larger U.S. newspapers that died a couple of decades ago. (One of Doug's few mistakes came when he bought the Post rather than the Chicago Sun-Times. Most directors wanted Chicago.)
The dinner's a magic time in Washington. The city's pretty with blossoms, the summer humidity not yet soaking, but mainly because major politicians spend a lot of nice time cozying up to major journalists even if they would never dare confess that in public.
 On this journey, there was a special tour into White House corners the public never sees. Some  Americans got annoyed when I pointed out an error in the plaque on a Truman portrait and was indiscreet enough to remind them it was nicknamed the White House after it was painted to cover scorch marks left when we burned it after winning the War of 1812.
Toronto used to have a great weekend when the Toronto Press Club flourished. The Byline Ball, revue and dinner that invited media greats like Walter Cronkite. Corporations and pols rushed to have receptions for three days.
Both Doug and I had been press club presidents and missed the decline and eventual death of that fine time of media smoozing. So we threw ourselves into this similar Washington weekend with abandon.
We had so many notables at our reception before dinner that no one really caught the name of a tiny U.S. cabinet minister who was pulled in by Don Hunt, one of the three Sun founders. Don who was quite large had reverted to his days as a rowdy sports reporter and had found the minister in a hotel hall.
Doug viewed his colleague's kidnapping with more humour than the minister's security detail. "Is Don carrying that guy or just dragging him?" he asked me. Fortunately the perplexed minister found out the friendly giant ran the Post before his guards were ordered to rescue him.
The dinner was a cross between a World Series game and the Academy Awards.
The Sun/Post had two tables.  I was sitting beside Miss Universe, whose date was a famous Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson. (Tom Hanks played him in the movie Charlie Wilson's War from a book that detailed how Charlie wangled huge sums for the CIA in Afghanistan.)
Across the table were Ken Taylor and his wife Pat. I tried to wiggle insights out of our former ambassador about his sheltering of the Americans trapped in Iran in 1979 but the dinner roar took the moxie out of major questions.  ( Ben Affleck's mischievous movie Argosy which downgraded Taylor and the Canadian role was far in the future.)
The star of the dinner was, of course, an actor who never rose above supporting roles. Yet Ronald Reagan was a better president even at the end with his Alzheimer's than Donald Trump is on his best day.
The mood was mellow and the applause was warm. Then Reagan, a great talker, rattled his sabre and got standing applause when he reminded us about his bombing of Muammar Gaddafi (there are many spellings.)
I did not stand. After all, he was boasting about bombing the home of the Libyan leader in a raid where two sons were wounded and Gaddafi claimed his four-year-old adopted daughter was killed. (The West still doesn't know if that's true.)
I looked over at Charlie Wilson, who was such a blithe spirit operating from his hot tub that he was nicknamed by colleagues as "good time Charlie." But Charlie wasn't standing either. And he had been a naval officer. "I don't think you clap or stand when you injure the innocent family of a leader," I said, and Charlie nodded his support.
It's hard from TV to grasp how the dinner has evolved from what used to be a grand party. Now it appears everyone is posing for the nearest camera. It doesn't help when CNN gives us those endless panels as we wait for hours to judge the latest verbal assassination.
I don't know why the correspondents' association bother with one comedy hitman when no one can top Donald Trump as a clown. The dinner audience is sophisticated enough to figure out his lies, and all the Trump supporters watching on TV will swallow any fib from his supposed fortune to his supposed accomplishments.
Poking this president with a stick of humour is like expecting a porcupine to feel the prick of a pin.
The dinner in this form has been ruined by the man who didn't come to dinner. CNN is going to have fill a Saturday night some other way, perhaps with Senate mud wrestling.

Saturday, April 7, 2018



Nelson Mandela and I stood under a tree awkwardly eating a buffet lunch while bodyguards watched suspiciously within grabbing distance and the elite of the world press circled waiting for their chance.
Mandela had lined up for the food at the Nijo Castle with hundreds of publishers and editors gathered for the prestigious annual conference of the International Press Institute in Kyoto.
But they weren't as quick as me to slide in behind him in the queue for food and chat about what he liked to eat. Turned out his favourite food came wrapped in nostalgia about his childhood - maize  porridge.
I followed him to the shade of the tree, having established a weird rapport when earlier we had crashed head-on into each other on an elevated walkway as we surveyed the famous 15 rocks in what is said to be the most famous Zen garden in Japan, Ryoan-ji, a raked gravel "garden" where the Japanese come to meditate. (It's also called Temple of the Dragon at Peace.)
 Neither of us had paid enough attention to those walking towards us. I'm big, but he was an inch taller and hard from a youth as a boxer and those awful years in the quarry of his prison on Robben Island. Still I almost launched him into air since he was 73. And that would have been a dangerous fall that would have snapped bones. But I managed to grab him and haul him back up to safety while his bodyguards behind him glared in horror. "Gawd, I almost wiped out the guest speaker," I said as we both grimaced in bruised embarrassment.
So I had really made an impression.  Thank heavens, I thought.  My wonderful and difficult boss, Doug Creighton, reluctantly paid for the trip during Sun budget cuts after telling me I had better get an "exclusive" interview with Mandela. (I hate media labelling interviews as exclusive if they are with famous leaders or personalities who live in the media spotlight. and are interviewed constantly.)
After a few mild questions not to alarm him since this was a touring day, I asked just what he was doing in Japan at exactly the same time as his wife's notorious trial for kidnapping and murder was starting in South Africa. (In this story, the dragon was not at peace but back home in court.)
He studied me in silence, then slowly said: "We have good lawyers. They were good for the family. They were in the struggle."
There were other questions that day and the next, after he asked "the Canadian who hits so hard" what I thought of his speech defending his African National Congress in a forum that included such luminaries as Robert McNamara, the former U.S. defence minister.
I told him it would have been better if he had written the speech himself. Mandela challenged me on that, but laughed when I pointed out that he hadn't known when he got to the end and had turned the last page expecting to find more.
Yet it was his almost painful response to my questions about Winnie, the beauty for whom he left his first wife, by all reports a gentle nurse, that I remember most about this encounter with a remarkable man who bloomed in world stature and acceptance for his compassionate leadership despite his beginnings in the bloody terrorism of the ANC.
A year after this, he decided to stop being polite in public about the woman who was lionized for her struggle against the brutal apartheid regime even as she was attacked as the cruel den mother of a deadly vigilante group which beat and murdered any opposition. He separated from Winnie as she  flaunted her nickname of Mother of the Nation, then several years later sued for divorce for being so blatant in her infidelity that "I was the loneliest man when I was with her."
Mandela married again, this time happily. When he died, he left Winnie nothing, and his family squabbled over his will. She died April 2, but that will not end the controversies over her corruption and cruelty and her many roles with the ANC government that so often is an affront to the decency and honesty of the leader who  brought it to power.
Unfortunately, there are those who choose to ignore the calamitous history as apartheid was strangled  and now portray Winnie as the valiant woman who wouldn't be hobbled by men or apartheid thugs. Her obituary in Time by a former UN official skips over the trial of her gang for the murder of the youth where witnesses just happened to disappear. (Of course the UN staff are always painfully politically correct when it comes to gender and whatever myth the power blocs dictate. Just look at their  dishonesty over Israel.)
Winnie was the firebrand who believed in tires of fire hung around necks as well as in oratory. Only a great man could have survived her to continue to be respected by all who met him, even if it was just for two days long ago on a foreign island.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018



It symbolized the political meteorite known as Chris Stockwell that after he died of cancer at 60 - far too soon - there was no service but friends gathering in a Bloor St. W. pool hall to lift a glass to his memory.
Now The Crooked Cue is a vast improvement on the seedy ones of my youth where I lived, or died on the black, as I shot more snooker than I studied. (No drinking from a brown bag in the corner here either!)
Except Chris was once a young star in Toronto politics, both municipally and provincially. He played for keeps not on green baize but the carpets of power.  He had blazed there but then collapsed to a dreary end triggered by an expense account scandal involving a trip to Europe where he had been treating the family after marital difficulties. He was allowed to resign.
Yet he had once glowed in the media with apt quotes and fiery feuds. A veteran from his wars recalled Stockwell as one of the fastest man with a quip he had ever seen, one reason Chris made such a great Speaker in the bear pit of the Legislature where faltering words can blight a career.
Chris came from a family used to being in newspapers. His grandfather had been a character as the Argo trainer. His father Bill had been an acting mayor, veteran councillor and top administrator at the Ex and in GTA municipalities. He still is a Wasaga Beach councillor.
The Stockwell were so woven into city life that they kept the Grey Cup one winter behind the living room couch and the mother grumbled it made dusting difficult.
Chris was a terrible student because of dyslexia but he made up for early difficulties by a populist appeal, fearless common sense and a dislike of lazy BS from his colleagues that got him elected at only 25. A Tory who wasn't afraid to say the Grits could be right on the odd issue.
I recall a column I wrote supporting him when he ran later for Board of Control in Etobicoke. (We no longer have controllers, which were elected across a municipality and formed a cabinet selected by the people. Pity we don't because some tame councillors selected by mayors for their executives couldn't supervise a doghouse.)
Chris distributed thousands of copies of my column around the suburb. And one of the incumbents, David Lacey, sued me for libel, and Chris for the reprint, because I had punned on his last name, calling him Lazy because he walked through the job. So cool you weren't sure he even voted.
Chris had no money and phoned me quite upset. I told him that being sued was no big deal.
 I was named as Editor in all the legal actions against the Toronto Sun as well as suits against my column, and had never lost even though the complaints could be weird. One of the three from Jack Layton claimed damages because he had run into an "illegally placed" Sun box with his bike. A restaurateur sued, mainly, I think, because I wrote he used too much garlic on the steaks. And Anne Johnston, a friend who had once asked me at a municipal convention to beat up a Newfoundland mayor who had made a pass at her on the dance floor, sued me for a reason that I had never quite understood. It seemed the lawyer wanted the work.
I took pity on Chris in this case and talked the Sun lawyer, Alan Shanoff, into representing Chris as well, for free. Then Shanoff phoned one day saying that our interests, and those of Stockwell, had now diverged and Chris should get his own lawyer.
So I recommended a friend, a lawyer very well connected in Conservative and legal circles. And Chris and this lawyer waited while I laboured through the prelims, such as Examination for Discovery. Lazy, I mean Lacey, finally dropped the suit. Even though I don't think the lawyer did much for Chris, he charged him $35,000, as Chris lamented to me after he got over his shock.
Oh yes, the position of Etobicoke controller paid $32,000 a year.
Life often is unfair.  As Chris discovered then, and in the last years of his life, when all the promise had flickered out and he, once a lauded Speaker and capable cabinet minister, couldn't even get appointed by his former colleagues to fill out a term in a vacant riding.

Friday, March 2, 2018



Another in the long series of horror stories about Ontarians trapped in American hospitals with their horrendous charges because OHIP and the health ministry and hospitals claim they don't have one empty bed here.
This time the patient from London ended up in St. Catharines because closer hospitals weren't willing to rescue him from a Mexican hospital where he languished for more than a week after a fall burst vessels in his brain.
The family calls the experience, including being ignored by the ministry,  "unbelievable." But having endured the same atrocious disinterest from Ontario's medical system, and knowing of too many other cases, and remembering all the Legislature questions that showed the health minister really didn't care that much (and the medicrats cared less) I know tragically it's very believable.
I wrote about how Toronto hospitals refused to let me be flown back from West Virginia in 2011 in a six-part Toronto Sun series titled "hospital hell." My bills for eight days there totalled $85,000. Then when an air ambulance delivered me to that awful hospital, St. Joseph's, the lead doctor refused profanely to my frantic wife to admit me. He finally gave in to two sets of paramedics, perhaps because the air ambulance staff was refusing to fly me back to Charleston, as I struggled to get off the stretcher to punch the fat arrogant bastard harassing Mary.
I became seriously ill with a gall bladder infecting every cm. of my body cavity on April Fool's Day. My three sons came from three countries to support my wife. Even though they have six degrees among them, including U of T and Harvard, and are strong challengers to any system, even though my Toronto doctors include the noted and powerful Heather Ross and Bernie Gosevitz, no Ontario hospital would take me.
As I wrote the Sun series, I talked to Deb Matthews, the health minister and a major player at Queen's Park. She promised to have a task force look into the costly dilemma that I posed to her.
Ontario hospitals have a policy that Canadians needing a hospital bed in Ontario are at the bottom of the eligibility list if they are in an American hospital because they already are being accommodated in a health system. Except American charges are appalling and will bankrupt most families unless they have travel health insurance.
I did have insurance. Except TIC Claims, the company representing some major Canadian insurers, refused to pay, pretending there had been problems with the questionnaire before the policy was granted. My intro to the notorious con that is the travel medical insurance scam was TIC sending a copy of the refusal (but not sending me the original) to OHIP on July 11, which timestamped it on August 15, and notified me on Oct. 3.  TIC never talked to me in any way.
As one sympathetic specialist told me later, if the health ministry and the travel insurance industry screwed me deliberately or through incompetence, even though I was well-known as a columnist and editor who had served on a hospital board for two decades, with friends who served on or even chaired other hospital boards, even though I was a patient who could actually get the health minister on the phone, can you imagine how badly ordinary Joes and Janes without a bit of clout get treated.
Even though it took me a year to recover from the bed sores from St. Joe's, I had enough energy to go to war against TIC. I also wrote 54 letters to hospitals, paramedics, specialists, and assorted agencies, and told two collection leeches to go take a flying leap in Lake Ontario.
I enlisted Ross and Gosevitz and all the initials and titles that march behind their names. The family was mad at Gosevitz, feeling he hadn't done enough to get me home, but he volunteered the name of another of his patient, a "pitbull" lawyer who just loved to sue travel insurance companies because of their numerous infamous attempts to evade responsibility.
I didn't need him eventually, but it certainly was another ordeal. Nine months after I became so sick I spent three months in four hospitals and had to learn to walk again, the travel insurance sharks paid up. OHIP and the ministry never did a damn thing other than ignore me. Matthews moved on, the policy leaving us at the bottom of the priority list if you're stuck in a foreign hospital never changed, and MPPs are still getting up in the Legislature to complain their constituents are not being helped by our health system even when they're at their most vulnerable.
It's a disgrace, just like most of what happens these days under this corrupt Liberal regime which spends more time covering their ass and wasting millions on PR and ads where they try to put lipstick on the donkeys of their botched administration.

Thursday, February 22, 2018



The warm stories about the passing of that legendary evangelist Billy Graham skip over that an important figure in his formative years had been Charles Templeton, a true renaissance man who  dominated the media of his home city of Toronto several decades ago.
Chuck Templeton was successful in just about everything he did, from his first job as a sports cartoonist to his last days as a TV commentator/inventor/writer/personality before Alzhemier's wiped him out in 2001.
In a strange deal that would take pages to outline, I as Editor got Templeton to write a column for me in exchange for the Sun running excerpts from one of his books and giving him valuable publicity.
Templeton, despite a major career in radio, TV and as managing editor of the Toronto Star, had never written a  column, and so he set to his new task by bugging me about what actually a columnists did (I had written thousands of columns at that point) and becoming a charming and fascinating friend.
Finally he decided that I wasn't paying him enough to justify all the extra time he was spending agonizing over the words. He had books he wanted to write with Rev. Robert Schuller (once one of the most famous tele-evangelists preaching from Crystal Cathedral) and there were inventions to patent like the one about a teddy bear that you put in the microwave so it would be nice and toasty beside the baby.
We met to hash it out at Winston's, then one of the best and most noted restaurants in the land, and stayed from noon into the evening. And, of course, as Templeton had once been one of the most famous evangelists in the world before he stunned the same world by becoming an agnostic, and my mother had been a Toronto Bible College grad and missionary, we argued religion.
Finally we got to Billy Graham, who Templeton had hired as the first preacher when he founded Youth for Christ. In my youth, it was one of the most famous Christian organizations in North America.
David Smith, the retired Liberal senator/lawyer with a father and brothers who were ministers, recalls Templeton preaching at the old Varsity Stadium, dressed in gleaming white from collar to shoes, at a Youth for Christ rally that was the top attraction that day in the city. He dominated the stage.
Many books and biographies recall Graham and Templeton preaching their way through Europe in a  tour before the famous crusades that Graham and local churches organized throughout the world from London to Seoul that attracted millions of worshippers. Graham finished each service with a renowned altar call in his distinctive baritone, and hundreds of "sinner"s would come forward to pray and be born again in front of the stage while a massed choir sang a muted and haunting Just As I Am.
During the long lunch at Winston's, Templeton reminisced about the early days. "We got into Paris one Saturday and we were so tired from jet lag that we couldn't sleep. So Billy called my room and said let's go for a walk. We strolled around the Arc de Triomphe in the evening and Billy got energy back and became quite enthusiastic. You know, Chuck, he said, this is really a friendly city. "They say people in Paris aren't, but look at all these pretty young women smiling at us."
Chuck said he stopped him right there, incredulous that his friend could be so naive. "Billy," I said,
''they're prostitutes, hookers, they're looking for business."
Templeton told me that Billy just didn't believe him, so he urged Graham to watch what happened. And  men approached the "friendly" women, and then they left the circle, presumably to the little hotels that cluster near the Arc. Graham finally conceded that just maybe Templeton was right. But his was an approach of love. He always wanted to think the best of people.
I asked Templeton, who had been the best man when Graham got married in 1943 to the love of his life, Ruth, whether he had left any mark on his old friend as they went their separate ways, Graham to become the main preacher of the United States, pastor to presidents, Templeton to become a leading figure in Toronto.
"I told him to stay away from love offerings. You know, it was common at revival meetings, whether in the old tents or downtown churches, for the collections to go to the preacher. I said that would raise too many questions, too many opportunities for critics to say that evangelism was just another way to make a lot of money. So I told Billy to put himself on a modest salary and never make any secret about what he was getting paid and what his expenses were. So he did that his entire life."
When I as a fallen Baptist watch the old telecast of a Billy Graham crusade, or listen to the hymns of the Gaither Gospel Hour, I go back decades to the tent-and-sawdust world when in the sweltering heat outside some town in Southern Ontario the insects would buzz around the bare bulbs and the visiting evangelist would preach fire-and-brimstone warnings that made the book of Revelation seem like a page in the local weekly.
Graham led the way with an upraised Bible from the outskirts of towns to the downtown of cities and the capitals. Some evangelists had done it before in explosions of publicity and then flamed out, but Graham lasted because his message was of salvation, not of solicitation, and his Canadian friend was one reason for that success even as he lost his faith.

Saturday, January 27, 2018



The National Post reminded us with a page on Lyndon Johnson on Jan. 27 of just how foul mouthed and oozing of sexual shenanigans the White House was decades before Donald Trump brought  his coarse preening, lies and daily cheating to the American presidency.
It also perked out of my memory one of the nicest power couples that Mary and I ever met in our travels. This occasionally took us to the International Press Institute annual conference packed with world names in politics and the media who spoke and performed, and then yarned into the wee hours as booze chased caution and slander suits.
Lucianne Goldberg, the author and literary agent,  stood out, just as she did in every arena from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the bear pits of Washington to the casting couches of Hollywood. And her husband, Sidney, head of the NANA syndicate, was an agreeable host at the parties that formed around the couple after the sessions of IPI, the gathering of editors and national leaders crusading for freedom of the press and of expression. (The noted conservative critic, Jonah, is a son.)
If Nelson Mandela didn't come to us in Capetown, Bishop Tutu did, and Mandela saw us in Kyoto. If it wasn't the president of the host country to welcome us, it was the opposition leader who probably jailed the president by the time the next IPI conference was held in another troubled country.
And Lucianne knew every former VP and Secretary of State on the speakers' circuit.
To place her for those who remember her name but can't remember why, Lucianne persuaded her friend Linda Tripp to record her many conversations with Monica Lewinsky and to make sure the infamous dress survived from the legendary encounter with Bill Clinton. She was a central figure in that scandal,
just one of the notorious anecdotes in which Lucianne played, since she wandered through presidential campaigns for years after interning at the White House. So when she dropped the name of a famous politician over a drink, she usually gift wrapped it with salacious details.
When she gossiped about authors and movie stars, she did so with the assurance of someone who had sold her novel about high-priced call girls,  Madam Cleo's Girls, to Hollywood for just under $500,00. And she did it twice. (If anyone has a copy, please email me because my autographed one has frayed  after Mary loaned it to so many friends.
I remember many conversations with Lucianne over the sexual side of politics, not that my names matched hers.
There was mine about the provincial cabinet minister who died while having hot sex at the King Edward. The body was moved, by one of those aides who do those kind of chores, back to his suite at the Park Plaza so the widow back in the riding could report the next day how her husband had died peacefully in his sleep.  (I have never read about this incident.)
There was a reporter with a national rep working for me who was so drunk when he was trying to get back to his desk in the press gallery in the Parliament Buildings that he went in through a first-floor window. Since it was the middle of the night, it meant he landed inside on a couch on which reclined a politician and his aide, and they weren't sleeping.
There was a premier who cavorted at a far north lake with young Japanese acrobatic twins, which was the mildest of the gossip told me by an opposition leader. Indeed he starred in many stories.
Mild stuff compared to Lucianne's notebook of scandal. She knew, of course, all about the famous encounters of JFK, like in a broom closet in Macey's, but then Kennedy was quoted as saying if he didn't have intercourse every day, he got a migraine.
So I asked her about LBJ who always has fascinated me. How could such a coarse man - he was said to often scratch any part of his anatomy, including his balls, no matter where he was  - get such major  legislation as the Great Society through the Congress?
Lucianne said she was only 18 and riding up alone in an elevator with LBJ on one of those muggy  afternoons. (Before air conditioning, Washington was considered a tropical posting for British diplomats.)
She was wearing a flimsy blouse because of the heat. The President of the United States reached out and pinched both of her breasts because as POITUS explained briefly, "I really like to see titties stand up."
The 36th president didn't run again because of the unpopular Vietnam war, not because of the uncouth behaviour that revolted many around him. Things are changing in such areas, they hasten to assure us, but are they really when there are too many voters (and some Canadian voices raised approvingly too) who are willing to tolerate far more than LBJ's antics in the 60s just as long as they seem to get what they want from a leader who has cheated in everything from marriage and business to politics and decency.