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No subway for old folks

Whenever I travel on the TTC, I’m reminded of an interview I did with the late David Onley. He was a long-time advocate for accessibility, but what he pointed out was that accessibility wasn’t just for people with disabilities. When you put an elevator in to a subway station, you make travel easier for young moms with babies in strollers. You make it easier for people who are carrying groceries. You make it easier for older people who may not be disabled, but who nevertheless have mobility issues and can’t get around as easily as they once did.

Now that I’m a little older and a lot more arthritic, I appreciate what David was saying back then.

Getting on and off subways is difficult. Many exits have no escalator and elevators. How many times have I groaned when I realized either the escalator or the elevator is out of service. There are too many stairs. Too many people are in too much of a rush and they huff and puff behind you as you struggle up or down stairs.

Subways, subways, subways

I covered transit issues for 30 years, both at Queen’s Park and at Toronto’s City Hall. I also use transit frequently. Any time I wrote about the need for new subway lines, I was met with scorn from all the clever know-it-alls who told me in their very pompous way that above-ground light rail was the way to go.

In a city like Toronto, I argued, light rail will be paralyzed any time there’s a major snowstorm. Turns out, I’m right. Take a look at what’s happening in Ottawa, where its brand new light rail system is a big, fat, expensive mess. What genius decided that Ottawa, one of the coldest, snowiest capital cities in the world, should have above ground light rail and not a subway?

In my part of town, I look at the Eglinton Crosslink, which should have been finished years ago. I retired in 2016 and it was behind schedule then. It’s still not running. Out in Scarborough, the lines are there and so are the stations. They’ve turned Eglinton, once upon a time the best east-west route, into an obstacle course. And there is still no hope on the horizon for a transit vehicle to actually make the trip across town. And you just know that as soon as it snows, the line in Scarborough will freeze to a halt.

The downtown portion of the line was built underground. Oh, lucky downtowners, snug in their warm and comfortable stations. In Scarborough, we’re left with freezing, windswept stations on a line with no trains. And now they’re complaining because Scarborough is finally getting a three-stop subway line. We’re losing the Scarborough LRT, and good riddance to that. It was so unreliable, the TTC used to shut it down ahead of storms because they knew it wouldn’t withstand the wintry blasts.

And you wonder why people in Scarborough don’t take transit.

Subway tragedy

It was only a matter of time before something as horrific as what happened at High Park subway station happened. One woman was stabbed to death and another was injured in a stabbing incident. A suspect, apparently unrelated to the victim, was arrested.

I travel on the subway fairly frequently, usually when I go downtown. Over the past year or so, I have felt increasingly unsafe. On almost every train I’ve been on lately, there’s been someone who appears to be living there. They are usually sleeping across three or four seats. I’ve seen disruptive passengers and people with open cans of booze.

It’s bad enough when you’re an older person, such as myself, with mobility issues. It is disconcerting when you are travelling with small children. I picked up my young grandson from school the other day by subway, and I was worried. Not only did I have to worry about myself. I was, more importantly, looking after a small child who is unaware of what’s going on around him. You just feel so utterly vulnerable.

It’s to the point now where I will choose a route that avoids the subway to get to my destination. If there’s a bus/streetcar combo that will get me home, then that’s what I do. That way, there’s a TTC operator on board.

I think it’s time for more and better policing on the subway.

TV Royalty

It’s curious that the outcry about The Crown – Netflix’s imagined view of royalty – has subsided somewhat since the actual release of the series. Could it be that the series has actually toned down some of its representations of royalty? This series seems rather more sympathetic towards Charles and Camilla than previous ones. One episode actually describes the good works of King Charles III through his Princes Trust charity. And Diana is presented not as someone who is vaguely saintlike in her life, but as a flawed young woman. It’s true that writer Peter Morgan is harsh about the late Queen’s parenting style, which seems rather cruel. While he could hardly have foreseen the death of the monarch shortly before the release of the new series, did he really mean to be so nasty? After all, most people would prefer to be criticized for their work rather than for their failings as a mother or as a father. And like most Netflix series these days, he seems to be dragging this out in an overly long series. I realize everyone has to make a living, but this could have been wrapped up quite handily in this series. Do we really want to wait to see Netflix recreate through their jaundiced lens the events of the last 20 years, when many of us have seen the real events involving the real people unfold in real time nightly on our television sets?

Casting the Crown

I’ve watched all 10 episodes of the Netflix series, The Crown, now and a number of things become apparent. First, the casting is appalling. Yes, Imelda Staunton looked a bit like the Queen, but she just didn’t give a very convincing performance. She seemed a little too smug. It’s almost as if there’s a coterie of actors who feel it’s their turn to play Queen Elizabeth. This was hers, and she was determined to make her mark – not as the Queen, but as a better “Queen” than, say, Olivia Colman.

Jonathan Pryce as Prince Philip really isn’t convincing. I covered a couple of royal tours and I can say that Pryce bears precious little resemblance to the Duke of Edinburgh. Philip was tall and elegant and even well into his 80s you could see what an attractive and handsome man he was.

Marcia Warren as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother I thought bore no resemblance to the Queen Mum and it took me a while to figure out who the old lady on the couch was.

I know others have had difficulty finding Elizabeth Debicki convincing as Diana, the Princess of Wales. I thought she actually did a rather good job. She didn’t quite have Diana’s looks – then again who does? – but she seemed to have studied the late princess’s mannerisms and her speech patters and gave what I thought was a rather convincing performance. The best representation of Diana I’ve seen was Kristen Stewart in Spencer. She seemed to have captured something of Diana’s wistful air and her other-worldliness.

The Crown doesn’t sparkle

Okay, I’m only about halfway through the new season of The Crown on Netflix and I have to say I am less that impressed. It’s not so much the storylines and the writing that are not as good as the earlier series, it’s as if they’re turning the monarchy into a cartoon. And by constantly rotating actors in the various lead roles, it’s as if a group of people is looking at each other and saying, “It’s your turn now.”

I don’t think Imelda Staunton is as convincing as Olivia Colman as Queen. Colman managed to convey feelings and emotions by raising an eyebrow. Staunton just doesn’t have that same ability. Just because you are vaguely the same age as the Queen was at the time she’s portrayed, or because you vaguely look like her, doesn’t mean to say you can deliver a performance that takes people back to the times.

I found the Crown’s depiction of the “annus horribilus” speech at the Guildhall to be particularly poor. It is a legendary moment in the Queen’s history, etched in all our minds as a moment when the Queen spoke directly to her people in a heartfelt moment that defined that year. And the writers slightly rewrote the speech. The Queen did not say she thought it was her “annus horribilus,” she said it was “in the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents.” There’s a very subtle difference which wasn’t acknowledged and slightly alters the context.

Toronto the morose

As if to prove my point in my post about London, England, I found the rudest people ever on Toronto’s subway this week. Look, I don’t expect everyone to jump up and offer me a seat. But all those young men slouched over two blue seats meant for those with mobility issues really could take a lesson in manners. They like to pretend they are engrossed in some fabulously interesting article on their phone, but I know they’re not.

The subway used to be friendly. Or at least it wasn’t hostile. And that was the feeling I got this week as I stood on my arthritic legs as all those people ignored me. There was an unsettling anger. Never mind. With luck, they too will get old and will learn they just have to suck it up. No one cares.

London calling

Just back from a vacation in London. A chance to catch up with old school friends. What a blast. And how London has changed! Once upon a time, no one spoke to you on the Tube. People were not exactly unfriendly, but they tended to be reserved. We found such a change. If we looked lost, people helped us find our way. If we looked tired, young people leapt to their feet to give us their seats. People chatted quite happily. It was wonderful.

My statement on Mayor John Tory’s endorsement

I am immensely proud to report that Toronto Mayor John Tory is endorsing me for school trustee for Scarborough Southwest.

As I reporter, I covered Mayor Tory both at City Hall and at Queen’s Park. What I learned in the years I was writing about him was that he is a man of immense honesty and integrity. I was not always kind to him in my commentary, but he was always gracious, never rude and always treated me with respect. In return, I have the utmost respect for him.

He is someone you can disagree with without being disagreeable. He listens to others’ views carefully and when he has given his word on something, he keeps that promise.

I am thrilled that he has chosen to endorse me for TDSB school trustee in Scarborough Southwest. I am the only person running for the school board across the city that he is endorsing and that means a great deal to me.


My statement on school safety

All children have the right to a safe learning space. I support reinstating the Student Resource Officer program that was cancelled by the Toronto District School Board last year.

In the National Post in January of this year, columnist Christie Blatchford reported on an exhaustive research study that has demonstrated conclusively that young people feel safer in schools where an SRO is present.

“Students benefited one way or another by having an SRO, regardless of their gender, or whether they’d ever been arrested or stopped by the police, or whether they had been victimized.

 “All students … indicated that they felt significantly safer at school and less stressed and anxious” after five months’ exposure to the SRO,” Blatchford reported. 

“And the more contact a student had with an SRO, the more likely he or she was to see the program in a positive light — and fully 75 per cent of the students felt safer because of the SRO,” she said.

Blatchford reports that the 258-page analysis, done by two Carleton University professors and their PhD students, shows unequivocally that students overwhelmingly feel safer in school — and even report sleeping better and feeling less anxiety — with SROs.

If a student doesn’t feel safe in the classroom, he or she will not learn. As a trustee, I will do my utmost to ensure that all students in all schools are able to study and learn while feeling safe and secure.