Readers write

I’ve never before written a book that elicited so much positive feedback as Fantasy in Florence. In the past, my non-fiction work has been about: entire industries such as banking and insurance; things that went bump in the night – the Confederation Life fiasco and the Sinc Stevens conflict of interest scandal; bios and business families – The Eatons, Martha Billes of Canadian Tire and Edgar Bronfman Jr., the man who couldn’t drink straight. Fantasy in Florence is different. On the surface, it’s a journal about our time there, but it’s really about how to live and how to feel....

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How to write a book: Part one

People are forever tugging on my drinking arm at receptions and saying:? “I’ve always wanted to write a book. How do I go about it?” I used to have a long and complicated response but I could see their eyes glazing over at the two-minute mark. So I devised a two-sentence answer. Here it is: “Write 500 words a day. At the end of a year you’ll have more than enough for a book.” People look at me in disbelief, but it’s true. Writing a book is all about discipline. Those who say they plan to start when they go...

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Tory, Tory, Tory

Far be it from me to tell John Tory what to do. On the other hand, as my former boss Robert Stanfield used to say, why offer a target when you don’t need to? The leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party may have fallen into the same trap as Stanfield did in the run-up to the 1974 federal election when Stanfield campaigned on price and income controls. Voters thought his policy was a great idea as long as it didn’t affect their wages, which, of course, it did. Pierre Trudeau made hay with his scoffing line, “Zap, you’re frozen,”...

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Another one bites the dust

Is there any reason to be cheerful about the sale of Stelco to U.S. Steel? Some would argue shareholder value has been enhanced and jobs saved. But 1,000 jobs have already been lost in the past year as the turnaround team whipped the place into sufficient shape for an auction. That makes all four major Canadian steel companies sold off in the last 18 months to foreign buyers. Dofasco, IPSCO, Algoma and Stelco are all gone taking with them millions in government tax write offs over the years and, in the case of Algoma, two time-consuming court-ordered runs at salvation....

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Banker with a social conscience

When I was researching the first book I ever wrote, The Moneyspinners published in 1983, some of the CEOs of the Big Five Banks didn’t know quite what to make of me. Russell Harrison of CIBC declined my interview requests with utter disdain. Others gave me hours of their time, and revealed their innermost thoughts. Rowland Cardwell Frazee, Chairman and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, was among the latter group. Frazee died on July 29. He was 86. Frazee was the first of the chairmen I wrote about to invite me on his plane, a Lockheed Jetstar. I...

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Dining on feedback

Even famous writers need appreciative readers. Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, once said to his wife after she made what she believed were helpful comments on one of his drafts: “I don’t want your criticism, I want your praise.” Of all the people who’ve so far read Fantasy in Florence, the highest praise has come from a friend who enjoyed the last chapter best. “It’s a love story,” she said. “I cried at the end.” What author could hope for anything more! As a writer, I also work hard to get things right, so it has been a...

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The cost of Confederation

Michael Moore’s new movie “Sicko” favorably compares the Canadian health care system with the U.S. He reduces wait-times in our emergency rooms to mere moments, a nosestretcher equal to his claim in “Bowling for Columbine” that in crime-free Toronto everyone leaves their front door unlocked. Despite Moore’s ridiculous comparisons, we Canadians are nothing if not morally righteous about how much better off we are compared to Americans. Behind our phony facade, however, lurks a day-to-day dilemma that should have us up in arms: how much more expensive it is to live here than in the U.S. There’s been a lot...

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What’s it all about, Edgar?

It was only a matter of time before Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold his magnificent Upper East Side townhouse. Nothing in his life lasts for long. After Edgar Jr. married his second wife, Clarissa, in 1994, the next year he paid $4.375 million for what had been a five-storey nine-unit apartment building on 64th Street in the same block as Donatella Versace and Ivana Trump. Edgar Jr. and Clarissa spent two years on the design, two years on construction, finally moving in 1999 to the thirty-one foot wide home with its two-and-a-half story atrium containing a life-size Nigerian fertility statue. Three...

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