The people are speaking

There was some confusion at the advance poll where I voted. Like a lot of people, I hadn't received my "vote at" card in the mail so we were all lined up to go through the ID process and be verified. The wee woman behind me had white hair. She said to no one in particular: "We've got to get rid of the F boys." The way she said "F boys" made the phrase sound like an expletive.

Once we got sorted away, each of us was handed a ballot the size of a kitchen-cupboard door. The ballot was further enlarged by being slid into a cardboard baffle so that when it was completed, every secret ballot would be hidden from view. I took my giant package to a seat in front of a box and looked for my candidate. Did you know there are 65 on the ballot running for mayor? 

There were way more people surging around my Ward 5 poll than I usually see on election day. I was not surprised to read later that the 28,046 voters on the first day of the advance polls was a record. I'll tell you what that means ... someone's going to be thrown out of office. The "F boys" will not be mayor. John Tory will have a bigger majority than any of the opinion polls have so far shown.

Thumper launch

Last night was the official launch of Thumper: The Memoirs of Donald S. Macdonald (McGill-Queen's University Press). Of all the cabinet ministers in the Pierre Trudeau government, Don was the most powerful. His portfolios included House Leader when the rules changed, Defence during the War Measures Act, Energy when oil costs quadrupled, and Finance when he imposed wage and price controls.

After leaving government, he chaired the Royal Commission that led to free trade, was High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and served on a number of corporate boards including Scotiabank and Sun Life. Don and his wife Adrian both spoke, as did Rob Prichard, former president of the University of Toronto, and now chairman of Bank of Montreal. Emcee was Janice Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs. The Toronto event was held in one of the Munk buildings, the Observatory, and was sponsored by the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice. 

The more than 125 attendees included Hal Jackman, former Ontario lieutenant governor; former Liberal cabinet ministers David Collenette and Roy MacLaren; former Ontario Treasurer Darcy McKeough and his wife Joyce; media heavyweights Andrew Coyne, Steve Paikin, Stephen LeDrew and and Allan Fotheringam; authors John English, Joe Martin, Susan Papp and Mary Janigan; friends who helped Don with the book at earlier stages including Peter Rehak and Robert Lewis; and business leaders Gordon Eberts, Don Johnston and Jim Fleck. 

Members of Don and Adrian's extended family who were there included, from Adrian's side: Elisabeth, Amanda, Adrian, Gregory and Andrew; from Donald's: Sonya, Leigh and Althea; plus about half of their 15 grandchildren. Also on hand were my own daughter Dr. Alison McQueen and her partner Dr. Ken Cruikshank as well as my son Mark, his wife Andrea, and their two children.

Book launches of memoirs are a particular celebration, because they cover an entire life. Don had been writing his memoirs for half a dozen years before I was asked to help. And it then took another two years to go through archival material and finalize everything. Sonya told me that she'd started reading the book while flying from Ottawa and had to stop at page 56 because she'd been laughing and crying so much. Certainly, the book was popular last night. The U of T Bookstore table sold 131 copies.


Just asking

Why can't baseball players who win a big game or a best-of-something series devise some other celebration rather than dance in a circle with heads down and arms around each other's shoulders? 

Why are we sending CF-18s to battle ISIS when the humanitarian aid we promised in August has yet to arrive and the last I heard we've welcomed less than 100 of the 1,000 refugees we promised to take from Syria. Why are we not accepting thousands of refugees as we have done ever since the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 through Uganda and Vietnam to Somali and Sri Lanka. What has happened to our generous civility?

Whatever became of novelty songs? You know, like Bryan Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" or  "The Little Nash Rambler" by The Playmates?

What is it with Dracula and the many and various Vampires? There seems to be an insatiable appetite (pun intended) for movies and books about the bloody minded monsters. Is it a sexual thing?

Mozart was touring Europe at the age of seven. Schubert composed his first symphony at sixteen. Their work is played and honoured today. What child prodigy of this era will be enjoyed two hundred years from now?

Just asking.


Feel the heat

With only one game left in the regular season, it's time to look ahead at the 2015 Blue Jays. Who to keep, who to dump and who to go after.

First, the easy part, who to let go: Colby Rasmus, who should be playing wherever they sell barbecue; Juan Francisco, a happy presence in the dugout, but a lug on the field; and R. A. Dickey, whose future is behind him. And if Dickey goes, catcher Josh Thole is sure to follow. Get rid of Casey Janssen. Aaron Sanchez or Brandon Morrow could be the closer. Or, either of them could be a starter. Whatever happens, both stay.

Let's offer to trade Adam Lind and/or Jose Reyes and see what we can get. Let's top any offer in order to keep Melky Cabrera. Anyway, he owes us one for giving him a chance for retribution. 

Rookie outfielder Kevin Pillar could be a superstar. Anthony Gose, John Mayberry Jr., Ryan Goins, and Dalton Pompey should play winter ball and come for a try-out in spring training.

As for pitching, Mark Buehrle will want to go to a winner and the Blue Jays aren't that. Keep Happ, Cecil, McGowan, Hutchison and Stroman. This year we had five 10-game winners. We need a 20-game winner. Go get Jon Lester. 

We keep Bautista, Navarro, Encarnacion, Lawrie, Kawasaki and take a look in the spring at the health of Maicer Izturis. 

And, as for Gibby, I hope he goes. He's no team leader, neither is he a strategist. He was just a guy looking for a job. We need a force in the locker room and an owner (or the owner's representative) who instills the same feeling in the team that Andy Pettitte was talking about on ESPN a few days ago. The retired Yankee pitcher said everyone knew that owner George Steinbrenner would replace any member of the team who did not perform because there were lots of players waiting to take their place. The Jays of 2015 need to feel a bit of that heat every time they take the field.

Talking heads

Two weeks of hearings by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) called Let's Talk TV are over. With the exception of a contretemps with a Netflix official, the proceedings were predictable. Everyone from the Harper government to consumers is in favour of pick-and-pay rather than the lump-and-allow preferred by the cable companies but we have to put up with months of delay before any CRTC decision, let alone action.

Cable television is the last great monopoly in Canada. If you move into a neighbourhood and want cable, you only have one choice. Ridiculous. What if you were told you could only shop at Loblaws? And when you sign up with a cable company you have to buy their unwieldy packages. I'm a Rogers customer, pay about $125 a month and can summon 300 channels, only a dozen of which I ever watch.

Go through your channels sometime. Do I really need every CTV outlet in seven cities, six Global, three City stations and more shopping channels than Winners has buggies? Nor does the availability make any sense. I get CNBC but not MSNBC, BNN but not Bloomberg. And of course I receive the ever useful Fireplace Channel, Aquarium Channel and Sunset Channel where the sun never seems to set. I can order Al Jazeera as a one-off, but if I want HBO (which I do) I have to take all the schlock on The Movie Network as well. 

The cable companies claim that they will go bust if viewers are allowed pick-and-pay. Yet they rank among the most profitable firms in Canada. Share prices over the last ten years have risen by 178% for Shaw, 196% for Cogeco and 275% for Rogers. Over the same period, the TSX 60 was up 93%, Royal Bank 177%.

Oh, and let's fret about Netflix. (Declaration: I'm a subscriber.) Netflix has an estimated annual revenue in Canada of $300 million, money Canadian TV executives think they should have. Rogers just paid $5 billion for hockey rights. Why should anyone worry about cable viability?

Finally, how much excellent Canadian programming is created by these giants? This week, PBS ran a terrific seven-part fourteen-hour documentary on the Roosevelts. The last time I can recall anything similar here was CBC's Canada: A People's History. That was in 2006, eight years ago. Let's stop talking and start picking.