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What a masterpiece!

This is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and if it doesn’t win this year’s Oscar, it will underscore how artistic merit has little to do with winning the big prizes.

Everything about this movie is superb. Visually it is spectacular. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The sound effects made me think I was right there – on the beach, in the Spitfires, on a small pleasure craft pressed into action to rescue the British Army stranded at Dunkirk.

The music was perfect. It sent chills down  spine. It works gradually to a crescendo using motifs fromSir Edward Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma Variations –  an inspired choice.

The movie reminded me of Mrs. Miniver – the wartime tear-jerker that won six academy awards. That, too, was a great movie about Dunkirk.

What I think North Americans and young people may miss about this story is that it was a fleet of weekend sailors – in this movie, played superbly by Mark Rylance – that saved the British Army at Dunkirk. Thousands of small craft set sail from small harbours and ports around Britain to save the soldiers who had been pushed back to the French coast by the Germans. Average Britons braved German fire to save their comrades in arms.

That was what was so special about Dunkirk.

Be sure to go see it.

Well, I warned you …

Back in 2003, when the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty said they’d close coal-fired plants by 20007 and replace them with renewables, I warned you it couldn’t be done. Even if the government decided to do it over a longer term, I argued, it would cost so much money it would be prohibitive.

What happened? Well, the 2007 deadline passed three times – and hydro rates skyrocketed as the Liberals tap-danced around that pledge. And they couldn’t make up the slack in renewables. The gap was filled by nuclear power, which produces more than 50% of our power. Then there’s Old Faithful –  Niagara Falls – that produces at times more than 25% of our power in a clean, green fashion. And under terms of the Green Energy Act, we spilled water at Niagara Falls – the cleanest, greenest, cheapest energy in the world – to take ruinously expensive electricity generated by wind and solar.

(By the way, this morning at 10 a.m. there was zero electricity being created by solar, according to the IESO website.)

Still, voters bought into it and elected a McGuinty government that then went ahead and created an alphabet soup of agencies. All they did was add more fat cats to an already bloated hydro bureaucracy. They do very little except pad the Sunshine list every April.

Then they sited two new gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, to replace the coal-fired generation. Predictably, voters in those two communities balked. They were scrapped – one right before an election – at a cost of $1 billion.

I predicted then that it would all show up on your hydro bill. But voters bought into Liberal spin and elected another Liberal government – albeit a minority. Then they rewarded Kathleen Wynne with a majority government.

Feeling the heat from soaring hydro costs, Wynne announced recently that electricity rates would be rolled back 25% over the summer – conveniently ahead of next June’s election.

Can’t be done, I said. The cash has to come from somewhere. The Liberals have created a monster and the only way they can put a smiley face on the dragon is by creating another massive debt down the road.

Guess what? Leaked documents now show electricity costs will start to rise by 6.5% a year in 2022 and will soar to 10.5% in 2028.

I don’t get those critics who say Patrick Brown doesn’t have a solution and can’t criticize Wynne until he does. Huh? The Liberals have been in power for 14 years. The PC leader didn’t create the mess. Nor did his PC predecessors, who struggled to deal with the complex electricity file  in a realistic and businesslike fashion. They weren’t the ones who made the pledge to shut down 25% of generation by 2007. They didn’t scrap two gas plants at a cost of more than $1 billion. They didn’t bring in the ruinous FIT program or the Samsung deal or the Green Energy Act. The Liberals did all that. Yet now we expect the Tories to fix the mistakes they didn’t make.

Back in 2003, I said if you want green energy, build another nuclear plant and be done with it. Turns out I was right.



No free ride? You’re kidding

Should we blame John Tory for lazy kids? I hope not. He’s doing a good job under trying circumstances.

Just got back from a long walk down to the Beach this morning. It’s a beautiful day for walking and it felt so good to have the sun on my face at last.

When  got to Queen and Wineva, I decided to take the Main bus to the subway on my way home. My trust Rocketman app told me it would be a 7 minute wait. So I stood and enjoyed the sun.

I was quickly joined by a  large group of school children.  I thought perhaps they had a half-day and were heading to the subway. As the bus approached, more students gathered. When it finally arrived, at least 15-20 kids poured onto the bus, taking up all the seats and forcing older people to stand. The bus went around the corner and picked up even more students on Hambly Ave. By now the bus was jammed with students sitting and standing. And none of them paid – because the TTC is free for children under 12.

Where did they get off? At Williamson Rd. School – which according to Google maps is a 400 metre, 5 minute walk from Queen Street. That’s right. At least 30 students chose to take the bus on a beautiful day instead of walking 400 metres. They actually waited longer for the bus than it would have taken them to walk.

Is the new TTC free-for-kids policy turning our kids into lazy slugs who can’t walk two blocks? I hope not. Because free transit for youngsters is a nice idea, but if it gets abused it will all end in tears.

Who – and what – is a journalist?

Desmond Cole’s indignation about a Toronto Star editor quietly outlining to him the newspaper’s policy on activism and journalism is quite breathtaking.

He was given the talking-to by Star editorial page editor Andrew Phillips after Cole disrupted a Toronto Police Services Board meeting that was discussing destroying information collected through the controversial police policy of carding.

Cole, who was making a deputation to the board, took over the podium and halted the meeting. The Star’s Public Editor Kathy English wrote a thoughtful and well-argued column in that paper recently explaining the difference between activism and journalism..

Cole has since quit his Star column. Oh my. If I’d quit the first time an editor had hauled me in for a “chat” (i.e. “don’t do that again”) I wouldn’t have lasted 50 years in journalism.

As a longtime former journalist, and as a former press gallery president at Queen’s Park, where such issues frequently come up, I believe the Star actually behaved in a restrained manner.

First, was Cole attending the meeting as an activist or a journalist? If he was making a deputation, then he was there as an individual. Had he used Star credentials to gain admittance, then the newspaper has an issue. The mere fact that he had a high-profile platform via the Star meant the TPSB was obliged to treat him as a journalist. There’s a strong likelihood he would write about it.

To its credit, the Star reported the incident in a fair and even-handed fashion. But you could also argue he put the Star reporter in a very awkward situation.

And in this city, this province, journalists have very good access to politicians. And real journalists fight hard to maintain that access – because it is so vital to a free press.

Cole is young and, like many millennials, has a problem with authority. When they encounter rules they don’t agree with, they change the rules.

The fact is though that the rules about activism and journalism are there for a good reason. If activist/journalists continue to shut down legislatures/council/police board meetings legitimate journalists who are just trying to do their jobs will lose the access they have now. That’s why the press gallery polices itself so rigorously to ensure that only journalists with no axes to grind are in scrums.

I remember a couple of situations where journalists asked questions in scrums and news conferences that were clearly personal in nature. In one case, when market value assessment was being debated, one journalist, whose home would have been massively re-assessed, kept asking loaded questions about the issue.

In another case, during the Ombudsman’s probe of the lottery ticket fiasco, a freelance journalist came to a news conference and started to ask a question in which he clearly had a personal interest about a lottery ticket he believed he’d been swindled on. He was shut down by other reporters. As president of the gallery, as I recall, it fell to me to call him later and explain the rules.

In fairness, I should say that the only time Cole came to Queen’s Park that I’m aware of, he sat in the side gallery reserved for observers and those with a stake in the topic and not in the seats reserved for journalists.

There are those who will point out that as a columnist, I wrote nothing but opinion. That is true. But I have never been a member of a political party. And while I was generally a small-c conservative columnist, when circumstances called for it, at times I would criticize large-C Conservative politicians.

When Desmond Cole criticizes Black Lives Matter, then he can consider himself a journalist. To my recollection, covering city council, the school board, the Legislature and countless committee and board meetings, while I heard a great deal of nonsense and points of view I strongly disagreed with,I never leaped to the podium to take it over.

It’s true that of late with bloggers and online websites, the lines between journalism and non-journalism have blurred and it is increasingly difficult to tell who is and who isn’t a journalist and what the agendas of some reporters are. That doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and not try.

People with one special interest or lobbyists working to promote a particular point of view are not journalists. Politicians don’t need much by way of an excuse to limit access of journalists to them. Once you cross the blurred line, you are inviting a whole heap of trouble. And it won’t be good for journalism.

Usually when a columnist with a special interest writes in a paper, there’s a note at the bottom explaining who that writer is and what organization they belong to. That disclaimer allows the reader to assess the column taking into consideration the writer’s special interest. Cole always insists  he’s not a member of BLM, so you can’t note that at the end of his column.

Cole complained recently on Newstalk 1010 that Star honcho John Honderich had asked him to lunch and then suggested he diversify his column. Cole took offence. Are you kidding me? First, when a senior executive of the newspaper invites you to lunch, you should listen carefully. You don’t own the paper. He does – or at least he has the confidence of those who do. His advice is probably going to be wise and you should listen. The fact such a senior person took the time to have lunch to offer advice clearly demonstrates that the Star was falling over itself to help Cole stay. You can’t write the same column over and over. You have to diversify.

And Cole is convinced he’s vital to the growth of the paper – attracting clicks and eyeballs and readers. I don’t know about that. He could also be turning off readers in droves.

If you’re so thin-skinned that you can dish out nasty opinions but you’re not prepared to take gentle criticism from the people who hired you – and are therefore most likely to be on your side – then you’re probably in the wrong business.

Homework – or dadwork?

My heart went out to the Quebec mom who told her child’s teacher she wouldn’t be doing any more homework unless it was a school project.

Homework is a cop-out for teachers. The kind of work that gets sent home and the amount that is assigned tells me it’s really the school saying they didn’t have time to teach this to your kid – so now it’s up to you.

My kids were lucky. My ex-husband is good at math and was able to help them with their work. As well, we were able to hire tutors to fill some of the gaps. But I used to wonder what happened to families who didn’t have those resources. It’s one reason, I suspect, why school performance is inherited. If your parents didn’t graduate, likely you won’t graduate – because your parents can’t help with your homework.

We took part in an exchange program with students from the South of France when my son was in high school. Those kids loved Toronto. Why? Because they didn’t have to be at school until 9 a.m. And they finished at 3.15.

They started school at 8 a.m. and went until 6 p.m. But they had no homework. Why? Because their teachers taught them everything they needed to know and then made sure they understood it.

My ex often had to teach my child the concepts of math. He wasn’t just helping them practise it, he literally had to teach them the math from the text book.

So yes, teachers need to scrap some of the homework and make sure the kids understand the concept – before they leave the classroom.


Royal retirement

I’m not sure how many people retire aged almost 96, but you have to hand it to Prince Philip that he’s going out in style.

How many World War II war heroes are still working? Yet he is a true war hero, saving many lives as a first lieutenant during the Allied invasion of Sicily.

And he has a colourful background. Born in Greece he considers himself Danish, from the House of Schleswig-Holstein.

In 1922, his family was forced to flee Greece – with the baby Philip in an orange crate.

His eccentric mother, Princess Alice, attended the wedding of Prince Philip and the Princess Elizabeth dressed as a nun.

Over the years, Philip has often been controversial, with often bizarre public comments. But he’s also been loyal and incredibly hard-working. I’ve covered several royal tours, and believe me, they are gruelling.

Philip has served Queen and country – and Canada well. He has visited this country numerous times. The last time I covered him was in 2013, when he presented new colours to the Royal Canadian Regiment. He appeared frail, yet despite that he made a flying, less-than-24-hour transatlantic trip because as colonel in chief, he felt it was his duty and obligation to present the new colours.

This fall, the Queen and Prince Philip will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. It’s been a long and winding road for the royal couple since they wed in November, 1947. No one can question their dedication, their love of country and Commonwealth – or their hard work.

And for those people who say it’s time to dump the monarchy, think again. The monarchy’s roots run deep. All you have to do is cover a Royal Tour to appreciate just how much they are appreciated in this country. The monarchy is a defining, unifying force for this country. It separates us from the U.S.

You may not like the person who wears the Crown. That’s not what the monarchy is all about. It’s about having a mature level of government that is above politics. Watch the faces of people the Queen talks to on the Royal Tours to appreciate how much that means. Critics of the monarchy quote polls showing 50% of Canadians would like to do away with our connection to the Crown. That’s a figure that comes at a time when there has been no education campaign. I believe most Canadians, upon serious consideration, would reject a mould us into a republican U.S. shape.

Talk to any Canadian who’s been given an award in the name of the Queen, and they will tell you how meaningful that award is. Talk to people like former Lt.-Gov. David Onley about what an honour it is to hand out those awards, and they will tell you how people had tears in their eyes to be recognized in such a fashion.

If this country elected a Donald Trump, wouldn’t you like to have Queen Elizabeth as senior, sober voice of second thought? Look back over any U.S. president in the last 60 years and name one you’d prefer as your head of state to Elizabeth.

No, hands off the monarchy. It has served us well. And before you replace it, tell us who – or what  – you will replace it with.


Religious (re)accommodation

There’s an old joke about how as long as there are math exams, there will aways be prayer in schools.

“Dear God, help me with this algebra.”

Many years ago, the public school system here in Ontario dropped the ritual saying of the Lord’s Prayer every day before class. I welcomed that. As a practising Christian, I don’t want people who don’t share my faith to be forced to repeat a prayer that is deeply meaningful to me, but not to them. In a public school system, everyone should feel welcome and valued.

The place for religion is at home, in the church, the synagogue, the mosque, the temple.

That said, there are some times when the calendars of various faiths intrude on the calendars of some schools. On Ash Wednesday, for example, as an Anglican, I would take my kids out of school for the morning – which they are permitted to do without being marked as absent.

And there are faiths that require adherents to pray throughout the day. I believe those children should be accommodated – but carefully. Just as non-Christians should not be required to recite the Lord’s Prayer, so  other faiths should conduct their prayers in private.

Students who need a place to pray should be accommodated in their own private classroom. Not in the cafeteria; not in the gym. Not in a place that inconveniences the rest of the student body.  And if they are in a public school, all the human rights rules apply. Girls are equal to boys. They should not sit in the back or be excluded if they are on their period,

Now shall we discuss how religious accommodation works in the Catholic school system – where prayer is a requirement?

Fodder for another post.