Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Black Mark on Canada

Dr. Paul Williamson, the father of a Kent State student, once wrote in a letter to his son, "Avoid revolution or expect to get shot. Mother and I will grieve, but we will gladly buy a dinner for the National Guardsman who shot you." After witnessing the anarchy that erupted during the G8 summit yesterday, I can understand his point of view.

Toronto resembled a war zone yesterday as windows were smashed and police cars were burned by a group of anarchist thugs known as the "Black Bloc". Let's not make the mistake of giving these goons the respectability of labeling them "protesters". The legitimate protesters demonstrated quietly and peacefully, as one would expect from any self-respecting Canadian. The legitimate protest parade was already "fait accompli" by the time the black-garbed, masked hoodlums began their vandalist spree. The only thing that they were protesting was peace, order and the rule of law.

Sadly, it's precisely these types of hooligans that enable our government leaders to justify the expenditure of a mind-boggling one and a half billion dollars for security. Even the harshest critics of the G8 and G20 summits can't deny that a gathering of all of the world's major leaders in a single location makes a tempting target for any fanatical whacko with an agenda of destruction to which he believes to have been ordained by The Almighty Himself.

Ridiculous fake muskokas aside, I would argue that getting the world's leaders together to talk about the many global challenges that we face today including economic, political and natural, can only be a good thing. The jaded may argue that these summits are nothing more than pointless photo ops for a group of talking heads. There may even be some truth to that point of view. But would it be better if the nations of the world simply threw up their hands and didn't even try? Would it be preferable for every nation to focus solely on its own interests rather than trying to work together to find common solutions?

Regardless of what we may think of these summits, I think that most Canadians will agree that nothing justifies what happened in Toronto yesterday. Broken windows and burning police cars are images that we might expect from the streets of Tel Aviv, Belfast or even Paris, but not from Toronto. Canadians are better than that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Fathers' Day Present

The Fathers' Day that stands out most clearly in my memory is the one from 1967. I was four years old at the time, and not yet a father myself. But I had a father, who smoked at the time, and who had expressed an interest in a certain lighter that he had seen in a store during a recent shopping expedition. So mom decided that she would get him said lighter as a Fathers' Day gift, and that she would take my two-year-old sister and me along, partially because she had no sitter for us and partially so that we might feel that we had participated in getting dad's Fathers' Day gift.

"Big deal," you may say. I agree it may not seem like one, until you understand that:

a) The store at which dad had seen the lighter was a considerable distance from our home.
b) We had only one car, which dad had taken to work, and mom didn't drive anyway.

So we took the bus, but even that entailed a fair bit of walking, both to get to the bus stops and because mom didn't remember exactly where the store in question was, having been there only once or twice, and never having navigated her way there on her own. You know how it is; when someone else is driving, you don't always pay attention. Besides, the buses almost never take the same route as one would take by car.

Still, mom was confident that she could find her way there and so off we went, the three of us, leaving home at some time between 9 and 10 am. We started off in the best of spirits, but young children tend to tire easily. By noon or so we still hadn't found the store, we were getting hungry, not having had lunch, and my sister and I were both getting hot, tired and cranky.

Not long after that, we finally did find the store that we were looking for, and our spirits lifted slightly, both because our goal was finally within reach and because we were finally able to get some lunch.

Once inside the store, mother was just as vague about exactly where dad had seen the lighter as she was about the location of the store itself, so we wandered around searching for a bit until mom finally gave in and asked a store sales clerk. Unfortunately, we had been in Canada for less than two years at the time, having immigrated from Austria in 1965, and her mastery of the English language was far from refined, so she mistakenly asked the sales clerk where we might find a "flashlight", which she thought was the english word for an instrument that lights cigarettes. The sales clerk, of course, very helpfully took us straight to the sporting goods department, where there was a wide variety of flashlights to choose from, none of which, unfortunately, produced enough heat to ignite the end of a cigarette.

We stood there, somewhat befuddled, for a few moments. Mom did not want to explain to the sales clerk that this was not what she wanted at all as she already felt stupid enough. She didn't want to have gone to all that trouble for nothing either. So, after a little more unsuccessful searching around, she finally bought herself a pair of gloves for forty cents, and we headed home. By the time we finally arrived back home, it was about 2:30 pm. Exhausted, we all went straight to our rooms where we slept until almost dinner time.

Dad never did get his lighter; in fact, he eventually gave up smoking entirely, which makes his premature departure from this life seem all the more unfair. When mom later told him of our adventure, he laughed and told her that she'd better mount and frame those gloves.

Happy Fathers' Day, dad. I miss you.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Those who know me well, and even those who just read this blog with any sort of regularity, know that one of the things that I despise most is the stuffed shirt or fat cat; people with far more money than any one person needs or has a right to; especially people who came by that money through dumb luck or through family or social connections, as opposed to having earned it.

Understand that I have no quarrel with someone who happens to win a lottery, as long as they don't start acting as though they somehow deserve their good fortune. What really raises the temperature, not to mention the pressure, of my blood the most, is people with a false sense of entitlement; those for whom no extravagance ever seems sufficient; those who seem to perpetually want more, no matter how much they have already. Eleanor Clitheroe appears to be that kind of person.

Eleanor Clitheroe was vice president of Ontario Hydro from 1993 until 1999, when the Ontario government restructured the bloated, inefficient utility, already mired in debt, splitting it into five companies, one of which became known as Hydro One. Eleanor Clitheroe became Hydro One's president. She was paid a salary of over $2.2 million in 2001, which included $174,000 for a car and $172,000 in vacation pay.

In 2002, Hydro One's Board of Directors moved to fire Clitheroe, citing misuse of company funds, including personal club memberships which she charged to her corporate credit card and $40,000 worth of renovations which she had Hydro One's service providers make to her home. She eventually repaid the renovation money, but not until after she was caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar. She wound up quitting to escape the humiliation of being fired.

Since her deservedly disgraceful departure from Hydro One, Clitheroe has been collecting a monthly pension of $25,000. My keen sense of math tells me that's about $300,000 per year; a comfortable pension even by Canadian politicians' standards. But not enough for Eleanor Clitheroe, apparently. Last year, she petitioned the Ontario Superior Court to raise her monthly pension to $33,000 - that's almost $400,000 per year - claiming that her constitutional rights had been infringed when the Ontario government passed legislation that significantly reduced the $6 million severance which she had negotiated into her employment contract to a "paltry" $3 million. To its credit, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that having a grotesque severance cut in half after being fired for incompetence and embezzlement is not an infringement of a person's constitutional rights. This month, Clitheroe is back in court appealing the decision.

Eleanor Clitheroe is the reason why every Ontario family is now required to help pay down the enormous debt that Ontario Hydro and its offshoot, Hydro One, ran up under her watch. If you're a resident of Ontario, check your next Hydro bill. It's right there in black and white; "Debt Retirement Charge". In 2006, Ontario's Auditor General, Jim McCarter, confirmed that $127 million of that deficit came from "questionable" charges to corporate expense accounts, with few receipts to justify them. What's worse, we're given no idea how much of the debt has been paid down, and how much remains; in other words, how long we're expected to continue paying for the incompetence and excesses of Clitheroe and her executive cronies.

I'm not suggesting that Clitheroe is solely responsible for the Hydro debt, but I'm singling her out for her greed and her lack of empathy with the common ratepayer. In an economy in which many are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, and many have lost jobs without receiving a cent of their modest severance entitlements, as often happens when companies go into receivership, Eleanor Clitheroe feels no shame in suggesting that a monthly pension that's more than three times the average working Ontarian's salary, to say nothing of the average retired Ontarian's pension, is insufficient.

If I were given any say in the matter, I would not only deny Clitheroe's bid to increase her pension, I would garnishee the pension that she is receiving so that she can personally help pay down the hydro debt.

Oh, and here's the icing on the proverbial cake. These days, "Reverend" Eleanor Clitheroe has become an Anglican priest. It would seem that the Anglican clergy aren't required to take a vow of poverty.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Cover-up

My mother owns a very attractive living room set. The couch, chair and love seat are upholstered with a white fabric embroidered with a floral pattern, and the armrests are accented with teak wood. At least, that's how I remember it. I rarely actually see the upholstery or the teak accents, except on special holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, or perhaps when mom has special visitors, such as her Austrian relatives. I don't count as a special visitor. Neither does anybody whom she sees more than twice a year. The rest of the time, mom's living room furniture is covered with a checkered cloth cut from an old bedsheet and sewn to loosely fit over the various pieces (mom's something of a seamstress, you see).

The old bedsheets are there, of course, to keep the furniture's fabric looking nice. If someone should thoughtlessly sit on the furniture with dirty clothes, or if food or drink should accidentally be spilled on the bedsheets, they can be relatively easily removed and washed. Let's face it, white tends to stain pretty easily.

While visiting mom earlier this week, I noticed that her living room chair happened to be uncovered (I suppose the bedsheet cover was being washed or something) and I was struck by how much nicer the chair looked than did the rest of the furniture. Herein lies the fallacy. Mom covers up her furniture to keep it looking nice but, in covering it up, she hides its beauty. Personally, I'd be inclined to leave the furniture uncovered, to be admired by others and enjoyed by myself, even if it means risking the odd stain. I can deal with that if and when it happens. There are a lot of effective upholstery cleaners available these days.

Those who protect the fronts of their cars with vinyl "bras" commit the same fallacy. The bras are there to prevent stone chips and keep the finish looking shiny and new, except that you can't admire the shiny finish since it's covered in vinyl. I think it would make more sense to eschew the bra, show off the finish while it lasts and, once it gets marred by the inevitable stone ships, then cover them with a bra.

I've heard it proposed that it's foolish to save things for special occasions, because the special occasion may never come. More to the point, why can't the special occasion be right now? Let's try to remove phrases like "some day" and "one of these days" from our vocabularies. Let's make today the day. Don't save your best perfume or cologne. Use the good china. And lose the crappy bedsheets, mom. I promise to put on clean jeans before I come over.