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Chris Stockwell, RIP

Chris Stockwell was a funny guy, a witty heckler who, as a backbencher, could be passionate and eloquent. He was possibly the most effective Speaker of the provincial Legislature I’ve ever covered.

Why? Because if you want the class to behave, you put the naughtiest kid in charge. The  most disruptive kid knows the rules.  He knows how to break them  – and he’s more likely to hold others to account.

Stockwell was legendary in the Speaker role because he held his own party – Mike Harris’s Tories – to account. During the megacity debate, when the government was amalgamating the six municipalities into what is now Toronto, Stockwell forced the Tories to sit through hours and hours of amendments.

In a majority Parliament, no one person can stop legislation from passing. But they can slow it down. They can force the government to consider what they are doing – over and over again. They can focus media scrutiny on the bill. They can raise red flags.

That’s what Stockwell did. He loved this city and its government – serving as a Metro Councillor before running provincially in 1990.

He was outspoken, but not out of control. He was feisty and funny, while always respecting the Parliamentary tradition. He had a true fire in his belly for the democratic process and wielded the often arcane rules of parliamentary procedure as a sword in its defence.

RIP, Chris. Gone too soon at 60.


Passing the trash

One of the most shocking press conferences I’ve attended was 17 years ago, at Queen’s Park, when Justice Sidney Robins released his searing report on sexual abuse in our school system.

It was alarming in how devastating the revelations were and how little reporting or follow-up the stories received. That was back in 2000. Now, almost 18 years later, it seems Robins’ report and its recommendations have been forgotten. Here’s a reminder of the heart-breaking details of that report.

While Robins probed sexual abuse by a number of teachers, he focused mainly on separate school teacher Kenneth DeLuca, who over 24 years taught in five Sault area schools.

Robins noted in his report: “For the most part, when he was transferred to a new school, no inquiries were made of his former school in order to obtain any background on him, even when the new principal admittedly heard about problems DeLuca had had at his former school.”

So kids continued to be victimized by a system that allowed a predator to continue his evil acts.

On one occasion DeLuca announced to his class that they were going to have a quiz. Then he went to the back of the class and told students if they turned around, he’d fail them. He then sat down next to a Grade 7 student at the back of the class, took his penis from his pants, removed the pen from her hand and placed her hand on his penis. Although she was unable to write, DeLuca gave the girl a perfect score on the test.

In other cases, DeLuca kissed, fondled and grabbed young students.

In 1994, DeLuca was charged with 41 offences, involving 21 victims — all but one former students — aged 10-18.

He eventually pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, 14 offences: Six counts of indecent assault, seven counts of sexual assault, and one count of counselling a young person to touch for a sexual purpose.

The Robins report prompted Mike Harris to institute the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) with the aim of providing some kind of central registry and complaints procedure with teeth that would report and track perverts who prey on kids. You’d think that would end such abuse. Clearly from the reports in the Toronto Star, Dec. 4, they haven’t . We have learned nothing. We leave our children vulnerable to these horrific acts by the people they trust the most, after their parents: their teachers.

What’s it going to take?

Minimum wage – maximum job loss

When I arrived at my local Cineplex this afternoon, there was a sign saying the counter with sales staff would only take cash. If you wanted to buy with debit, credit or a gift card you had to go to one of the machines.

Staff at the theatre told us we were lucky. The original plan was to have no staffed cash registers. You either had to buy on-line or at the machine. And that’s the plan for Cineplex in future.

So now with the minimum wage hike, all those youngsters who used to make a few bucks on weekend working for Cineplex are out of luck. It’s cheaper to send customers to the machines.

What a shame.


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.