Musings by Rod McQueen Blog

Unreal estate

During the last two years, the average price for a detached house in Canada has risen 25 percent, even more in Toronto. As a result, many hopeful first-time home buyers have been priced out of the market. This go-go period is all so reminiscent of the run-up in the 1980s that was followed by a 50 percent drop in values during the recession of the 1990s. It took until the early 2000s for values to get back to where they had been. I’m not predicting a repeat performance. This economy is stronger … at the moment. But I do think...

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Joyce McKeough 1937-2021

For Joyce McKeough, politics was a precious part of her life. Her father, David Walker, was a member of the House of Commons, a cabinet minister in the John Diefenbaker government, and later, a senator. Her husband, Darcy, served in the Ontario Legislature for fifteen years and was Treasurer in the Bill Davis government. Educated at Branksome Hall and Trinity College at the University of Toronto, Joyce had been presented at court to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and came away with a vivid remembrance of “the devastating eyes of the Prince.” Joyce was working at an advertising agency, Ronalds-Reynolds,...

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Publish and perish

At first glance, Google appears to be doing what it should have done long ago, making global product and licensing arrangements that will pay billions of dollars for reproducing other peoples’ articles. Until now, the originating organization received no payment for what clearly has been nothing less than copyright infringement. Around the world Google has signed with the Murdoch-owned News Corp. as well as media organizations in Germany and Australia. This week, Google announced deals with eight Canadian participants, including the Winnipeg Free Press, the Globe and Mail and Métro Média. That’s only a fraction of the organizations that exist,...

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Boys and their toys

We all know about type A personalities and their driven behaviour, but some senior business leaders have taken their private passions to new heights. Literally. Next month Amazon’s Jeff Bezos will take a ride to space in a reusable rocket launched by Blue Origin, his space company. This is not just any ride, this is the maiden flight with passengers. Coming along with him will be his brother, an unnamed individual who paid US$30 million for the privilege, as well as an astronaut yet to be named. In fact, the rocket, called the New Shepard, is named after Alan Shepard,...

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Down memory lane

For the past several days I’ve been working my way through three large cartons of family memorabilia, some of which I have never seen before. My mother must have been the initiator. Among the souvenirs is her mother’s teaching certificate from 1910. Another sign my mother was the original keeper is that the boxes contain every letter I ever wrote to my parents beginning in 1963 from Western, through my first job in Toronto, time in Ottawa and up to 1980 when I was at Maclean’s. That was the year she died. My father must have held on to everything, but...

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Encore une fois

The saga of Quebec language and powers seems to have been debated for most of my adult life. Quebec has always been on the verge of eruption or separation. Following the 1976 election of Rene Levesque, Anglophone Quebecers no longer felt they had a home. Companies left the province and relocated all or part of their head offices elsewhere. The value of the C$ skidded from US$1.03 to US$0.70 during the next decade. Referenda in 1980 and 1995 tested the appetite for separation. During the 1995 vote, many Canadians rallied in Montreal to keep Quebec in Confederation. The outcome was a narrow rejection of sovereignty by 50.6%...

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Birdland

A few weeks ago I reported on the sights and sounds of spring at the farm. As Bachman-Turner Overdrive sang, “B-b-b-baby you ain’t seen n-n-nothin’ yet.” During the past few days, we’ve been overwhelmed by the next phase of this wondrous season of the year. Plants in the garden continue to sprout, the trilliums provide a carpet in the woods, and leaves on the trees are unfolding in so many shades of green they must have come from a painter’s magic palette. Among the more interesting new avian arrivals is a pair of eastern bluebirds that have taken up residence...

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Fleeting fame

I’ve been a Blue Jays season subscriber, along with a small syndicate of others, sharing a pair of tickets since the team’s founding in 1977. Of all the players through all the years whose professional career has included Toronto, my all-time favourite is Roberto Alomar. At second base he had no equal. His range and ability to get to a ball hit anywhere near him was astounding. A lifetime .300 hitter, he was an All-Star for a dozen years, and a driving force when the Jays twice won the World Series. So I was saddened by the news that he...

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Patience and persistence

Regular readers know how much I enjoy a well-written memoir by a business leader. Such a book is “Lessons Learned on Bay Street: The Sale Begins When the Customer Says No,” by Donald K. Johnson. Johnson’s distinguished career as an investment banker started in 1963 at Burns Bros. and Denton and continued through various mergers until he became president of Burns Fry and then vice-chair of BMO Nesbitt Burns. Now eighty-five, he’s as active as ever. Johnson’s grandparents, on both sides of the family, moved from Iceland to Manitoba in the 1880s as did many others after a volcanic eruption....

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The next best thing

I’ve just completed an extensive project, Volume Five of the history of CIBC, covering the years 1973-1999. Four other authors wrote the previous four volumes, one of whom was Arnold Edinborough, editor and publisher of Saturday Night, so I am in good company. Research for the commissioned book included lengthy periods poring over the bank’s archives as well as conducting 150 interviews with people who worked at the bank and others who had relationships with the institution during that era. The book will be published by ECW Press later this year. This is my twentieth book in the nearly forty...

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Everywhere a sign

To quote Geoffrey Chaucer, “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote (When April with its sweet-smelling showers) The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.” (Has pierced the drought of March to the root).” Beginning at 4 a.m. coyotes bay at the rising half moon that lights up the early morning sky. Once dawn has fully arrived, we notice more activity in the pond. The pair of mallards that were there yesterday has been joined by two pairs of hooded mergansers, preening and diving beneath the water for breakfast. Compared with the mallards, the mergansers appear tiny, but both...

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The challenge of change

The trouble with Erin O’Toole is his job title: Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. As long as the Conservative leader retains that role, he won’t get any respect from the Ottawa press corps. I know whereof I speak. After all, I was press secretary to Robert Stanfield from 1970-1975 through two losing elections, back in the day when it was the Progressive Conservative Party. As Stanfield once said, “If I walked on water across the Rideau Canal, the headlines would read, ‘Stanfield can’t swim.’” That’s because most journalists then and now are left of centre, more likely to give positive...

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Half a life

Everybody is suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic: death of a loved one, the fear of illness and the relentless loneliness that grips so many. Of those who enjoy good health, I believe that the group who will bear the heaviest long-term cost are high school students. Think back to your own youth. You might be loved and well taken care of at home, but where you really wanted to be was with your friends at school, playing team sports, participating in clubs and choir, or just hanging out. What might seem simply like fun activities are actually lessons in leadership,...

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The red coat syndrome

The head of a pension plan loses his job because he got a vaccine shot on foreign soil. A veteran journalist is told to resign because of something he may or may not have said two years ago. A governor undergoes an independent inquiry because of complaints by two former staffers. And Charlie Rose is toast. I miss him still. Welcome to the cancel culture where your life’s work and reputation can be destroyed in an instant. What has happened to us? Where is the forgiveness factor that used to be more freely given? Meanwhile, a former president continues to...

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Fredrik S. Eaton 1938-2021

About eighteen months ago I was early for lunch with a member at one of Toronto’s finest clubs. I was guided to a sitting area to wait for my host. As I began to take a seat, I realized Fred Eaton was a couple of chairs away, waiting for his lunch companion. I had not seen Fred since my book on the demise of the family department store some twenty years ago. “I’m Rod McQueen,” I said. “I know who you are,” he harrumphed. I sat down nearby anyway and for the next five-to-eight minutes we had a conversation that got...

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