"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Thursday 16 July 2020


There's a little contretemps going on with the current Mayor of our town that reminds me of a story about the immediately previous Mayor. 

The town had a night for presenting awards for excellence in variety of endeavours. Everyone and their favourite auntie was welcome to attend. Organizations, individuals, and kids' sports teams were the stars of the evening.

The Council Chamber was filled with happy faces of all ages, and kid's in their team jerseys and tousled hair. The medals and certificates were inexpensive affairs. They were presented by Councillors. The Grande Finale was naming the Citizen of the Year and was presented by the Mayor. 

Afterwards, everyone trooped upstairs to the second floor where a bar was created and here and there tall round tables with stools dotted the space. Wine was served to adults and suitable drinks for the young ones. There were snacks. It was a bright and cheerful evening. Maybe the closest we ever came to using the Council Chamber and reception areas for the dual purpose intended. 

The only other occasion that ever came close was a jazz concert held in the Council Chamber on a Sunday night soon after the Town Hall opened. It was very nice...and never repeated. 

John West was Mayor then. So...we move forward to Mayor Dawe's first year in office. 

The date came up for awards night. We received notice, but not of the awards we would be presenting. Thought nothing of it. I arrived at the Town Hall expecting to be directed by staff. No such thing. Noticed Councillor Humfreys at the door of the Council Chamber in formal attire, obviously greeting guests. I joined a group of Councillors and asked what the procedure was going to be. They didn't know either. 

I went behind the Chamber to try to discover. Found a staff member busy with chairs and stuff. He went off and made an inquiry. He came back with the direction for me to find a seat in the audience. So I did that. The program had changed significantly. 

The audience was sparse and already seated. Award recipients were seated on the floor of the chamber. Nominators were at hand in the centre of the floor and a video screen was prepared to display the excellence of the candidates. 

At a precise moment, the Mayor came tripping down the stairs wearing a long tailed tuxedo in dove grey. He went to the front, cards in hand, and the ceremony began. I stayed for the nominations, the videos and presentation of the awards. My presence otherwise would neither have been noticed or missed. I took some satisfaction in the discomfort of the Mayor and Councillor Humfreys standing with their heads tilted back to watch the videos ensuring suitable expressions of awe throughout. They had not been provided with chairs.

I did not join the social that followed. A welcome was not evident. I could not be sure I would be civil either. He was the Mayor for one reason, to be certain the previous Mayor would not occupy the chair a second time. On that occasion, I might have found it necessary to remind him of the fact. It would not have been appropriate.

Saturday 27 June 2020


I told a story. Had to resist a number of tangents. Edited it and re-edited and finally stopped. I asked my grand-daughter to do a final edit and it was finished. The product of many days work. I am typing with one finger with the ipad on my arm. I have a keyboard and could be using it but it takes new co-ordination. I’m inclined to resist.

After the final edit of the post, I thought I would add a last sentence a single word appeared with two s’s instead of one. I tapped the word to remove one “s”. The whole blog turned blue. I tapped again to remove the redundant “s”. The whole post vanished. It’s happened before. But Stephanie has managed to retrieve it. Not this time. It has vanished forever. 

I once heard Mordecai Rischler say in an interview, once he had finished working a story, he never read it again. The obsession is obviously such, it will not let you go. You keep re-writing improvements. So, you have to cut yourself off. So, now I have to start all over and re-write the story. 

I was only weeks a Councillor. It was my first big battle. The town owned fourteen acres of land abutting the railroad, north of Wellington off Industry Street. It had been acquired by non-payment of taxes; a process that takes no less than three years. Provincial policy directs municipalities to dispose of properties redundant to their needs. Being a landlord is not a municipal role. 

So, the property was for sale but had not been advertised in a competition to obtain the best price.

Somehow a party, in the person of Dodie Hershkovitz, approached a councillor with a proposal. She had half a dozen small industries ready to locate in Aurora if she could buy the Petlavaney property. Eager for new tax revenue and employment, council were ready to sell. They’d done it before. When the arena burned down, they advertised the site to whoever would establish the best retail business. Sold it for a pittance. That would be sixty years ago. Several remediations of the site have been accomplished. The creek crosses Yonge Street at that point. Still it has never been developed. 

I did not agree with the proposal to sell the Petlavaney property. There were no guarantees the town’s interests would be protected. In an extraordinary move, councillors were invited to speak to the town solicitor, Tom Macpherson, on the phone during a meeting to be assured the town would in fact be protected. I declined the invitation.

Councillor Illingworth was my main protagonist in the debate. He muttered darkly about my socialist thinking. My support of the NDP was no secret. Bob Buchanan, the Banner editor, also an NDP supporter, took no editorial position. Buchanan took a year to familiarize himself with Aurora politics before using his influence. He was extremely helpful in how to conduct myself in debate. He was a veteran journalist in municipal politics and thoroughly conversant with rules and practices. 

The Town made an agreement of sale to Ms Hershkovitz of $35,000. They advertised a contract for a road and services that cost $35,000. On the day the contract was awarded, Hershkovitz sold the property for $75,000. It was sold to the owner/operator of the school bus service. It would be used for parked buses. No jobs would ensue and tax revenue would be minimum. It was not met with approval. It never happened, the land would remain idle.

Years passed. Elections happened, Dick Illingworth was the Mayor. I was out of office that term. A decision had to be made to re-locate the town works yard. It was situated on Wellington Street. It accommodated two rusty old Qaunset huts, a pile of dirty sand collected from the streets in the spring clean up. Vehicles in various stages of deterioration. Scrap metal collected by the work force and sold to provide Town employees’ children with a Christmas party. 

Town vehicles were used until no longer reliable. No capital levy funds were available to replace them whether or not they need to be replaced. If the need was dire, we borrowed from the water reserve. In short, the work yard was the biggest blight in town. It had to be re-located.

Guess the new location of the new Town of Aurora works yard....right...Scanlon Court, the former Petlavaney property disposed of by the town for effectively no advantage whatsoever. 

I was Mayor when the new works yard was built and presided over the opening. I never inquired how much the town paid for the site, I didn't have the stomach, and nothing could be gained. 

But I did have the personal satisfaction of knowing I was right and the advantage of that was to bolster confidence in my own judgement.

The second writing of this story is shorter and less elaborate. It may be less interesting but has no less clarity. I shall ask my trusty editor, Stephanie to edit once more and publish it without letting me at it again.

Wednesday 17 June 2020


Being defeated from political office is possibly the most unimaginably painful experience...until you’ve been through it a few times. Then you take nothing for granted and it only hurts for as long as you let it. But, it’s a unique experience. I’ve studied losers. They seldom repeat the exercise. Sometimes they leave town and go as far away as possible. The humiliation is too great to bear.

One Aurora incumbent, Earl Stewart went to Australia for six months, sold his house in Aurora and went to live in Barrie. It’s not the same if you’re a first-time candidate. You can’t lose something you never had. When you’ve served a term and did the best you could, then it’s tough.

I came to think of losing as an end to a chapter and a new one beginning. I quite looked forward to discovering what lay ahead. Somewhere along the way, I picked up an impression of life being like a jig-saw puzzle scattered in front of me on a card table with a pair of invisible hands hovering above my head waiting to shift the next piece into place. I stopped believing in coincidence. I started believing in me.

It wasn’t my plan but I think letters to editors and other scribbles were a large part of my success and longevity in politics. My willingness to share my views were also. At one point I wondered if I’d rather be the story teller than the story. I never planned to be a politician. I was a candidate three times before being elected. Afterwards, the Banner editor indicated letters would no longer be welcome. He felt it gave an unfair advantage over other councillors. I didn’t argue though I didn’t see how it was an advantage when anyone had access but I had no option. Things evolved. In my bid for re-election, I heard two incumbents were campaigning against me in my own neighbourhood. Both were candidates for the County Council seats of Reeve and Deputy Reeve.

I decided, in my exuberance, if they were my opposition, I would compete against them for the Reeve’s office. I won....with more votes than the two of them combined. I was Aurora’s last Reeve in the last York County Council. I ran for Office of Mayor in the next election and lost. I really wanted to be a member of the first Regional Council.

During the interval, between terms, the Battle of Arnheim was commemorated in Canada. A disastrous paratroop drop caused the loss of thousands of young men in Holland not long before war ended. German mothers asked if they could be part of the commemoration. The Canadian mothers said no.

I did not agree and said so...in writing....to the Banner editor. My brother had been killed not long before the war ended. I claimed the right to speak for all the young sons, brothers and sweethearts whose lives were so wantonly sacrificed.

I received a call from Newmarket Era editor. I had not said my brother was killed. He asked and I acknowledged. We chatted for a while. Then I asked if he would be interested in a weekly column from Aurora. The two newspapers were separately owned at the time and competition was real and ferocious. Both editors were previously colleagues active in the Toronto area before being appointed editors to the two small locals.

While still in office, I was challenged once by an officer of Queen’s York Rangers militia. His wife was active in the company of cadets. We were making our way across the town park to the Armouries. They asked why I no longer wrote letters to the editor since being elected. Said straight out; “they must have served their purpose”. It wasn’t true but my attempt to explain sounded hollow even as I made it. I later realized the exchange was not intended as friendly.

When I asked the Newmarket editor if he would be interested in a weekly column, it never occurred to me until this minute, something like it might have been the purpose of his call. He said he would be interested. We should talk.

I took the conversation back to the editor of The Banner. He was concerned. As I thought he might be. I reminded him he had cut me off from writing letters to the editor. I told him of the exchange with the QY Ranger officer. I said I needed to protect my interest. My interest was a weekly column in The Banner. The editor was in a corner.

Dick Illingworth was a popular Mayor. Buchanan was his best supporter. He knew a weekly column from moi might not be to the Mayor’s absolute advantage. He resolved his problem by convincing Richard he should write a Mayor’s weekly column. So he did. He discovered he had a facility and continued as a contributor to the Banner and then the Auroran almost until he died. The day before, from his hospital bed, he discussed getting his weekly Bricks and Bouquets list in on time for the next edition. He was in his nineties.

So that’s the story of how I came to learn to write a weekly column. It could not be about politics and I had to learn on the job because quite frankly, I had no idea.

So that became the next paragraph in the book I was living.

Sunday 14 June 2020


I’ve been a prodigious reader for as long as I remember. Reading was the best teacher I found. I learned other things too; like a professional author writes a single story and all the rest being but variations on a theme.

Initially, I found Letters to the Editor were a satisfying outlet for strong opinions on anything and everything. I submitted to all 3 Toronto newspapers, The Telegram, Star, and Globe and Mail and published often enough to convince me writing had a place in my life.

My reading became selective. If the point of the story was not made in the first page, if it didn’t catch my interest immediately, it wasn’t likely to do so. Some successful novels were just a bunch of research strung together with a cast of unlikely characters. Many of them became movies.

Once, when I was nine, I wrote an essay about a movie I’d seen during the summer. The assignment was an essay about a vacation. We never went on vacation. A family picnic or a day at Largs was the closest we got. Sister Eugenius could hardly hide her disdain. The movie was The Four Feathers and I ended my essay, as taught, with a line from a poem.

“For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever” from a Mountain Brook. I was nine years old for Goodness Sake.

My choice was not appropriate, she sniffed. I was already feeling self-conscious about not being able to afford a family vacation. I was not pleased with the negative review.

Later in life, last thing at night, after the lights were out and I was in bed, at ten minutes to eleven, I listened to a Book at Bedtime on BBC radio. A reader read for ten minutes from a successful novel. That was before television and I thought it was better than television. I could imagine it better than television could produce it.

Later still, I watched a program on Arts and Entertainment, an hour long interview of successful writers responding to questions from university students, about their daily writing routine

I knew I had a facility. I’d been doing it a long time; Letters mostly. For family members in the beginning. Except for reading, nothing gave me greater satisfaction than writing. Had there been further guidance or encouragement and without WW2, my path might have been charted along different lines.

Huge tomes, like Michener and Leon Uris were favourites. Then I discovered the deeper the tome, the more pages were filled with minute descriptive details. If I turned over several at a time, the tale continued without skipping a beat. Some books kept me reading all night, to creep into bed before daylight, so no-one would know I hadn’t slept. Then I’d be sorry it was finished and wished there was more.

After buying a home in Aurora, the Banner Editor called to ask why I didn’t write letters to the local newspaper. I didn’t need to be asked twice. More water flowed under the bridge and more years of life experience, I did some news reporting. I learned the value of brevity and that a news item is not like a school composition or essay. It has to fit into a space left over from advertising which is the real business of newspapers.

Over a period of eleven years, I wrote a weekly column for two different newspapers, acquired a few more skills and discovered humour in writing. Then, after more years, along came social media. Now, I write to my heart’s content. But most of what I write has a narrow interest. I’ve written a few tales of my childhood and been asked for more. But my childhood was difficult. I’m the last survivor of my family. I can’t write fiction, and I don’t want to delve too deeply. “Don’t go where the guilt lies” advises comedian George Carlin.

I suspect much written by professional authors as fiction, is reality with real characters given fictional aliases. Students are advised to write about what they know.

Mordecai Reischler is successful. Many of his books have become movies. His stories are peopled with characters from life. He describes them with accurate, cruel detail. So much so, that relatives, friends and other associates recognize themselves in his stories and hate him for doing it. It’s a terrible temptation and he obviously doesn’t try to overcome. He’s remorseless.

It’s taken a long time to acknowledge I can’t write fiction. I can only write reality. For a while, I thought maybe the short story might be my genre. I bought a couple of anthologies of award-winning short stories to see what I might learn. But they’ve failed to catch my interest. Since I started this post, I’ve compelled myself to read a couple of dozen from a Canadian anthology compiled by Jane Urquhart.

They are short because they have no beginning or end. Almost all are written by librarians and teachers and journalists. Judging by the vocabulary, some seem to be written to impress other librarians and teachers and journalists of the author’s erudition. Maybe judges of the competitions are from the same sector.

I like words. I hear melody in phrases and sentences. But I don’t hear any lilt in the short stories I’ve read so far. If it were not for this post, I would have put the book aside without finishing a single one. They are dull, they are dreary and they end without ever catching my interest. If it’s the reality of the authors life, it’s a dull, uninteresting, pedantic existence.

So my search continues. In the meantime, I write a blog, I comment on Facebook, I get an argument going wherever I can and probably infuriate a few people along the way.

I believe I may have concluded my search. I may have been writing my life story since I bought the computer. In bits and pieces, scattered here and there...in comments and replies and memories stirred by post cards and photos of the ancient pre-medieval town where I was born and lived my childhood, my mother’s childhood and glimpses, through my mother’s eyes, of my grandmothers and great grandmothers lives.

I have been in the attic room where my great-grandfather spent his last years until the age of a hundred, more than a hundred years ago, reading letters and assisting with government forms and discussing political headlines with members of the Irish Catholic community who had not had the benefit of learning to read and write. My mother’s last memory was of him sitting up in bed, with a long white beard wearing a red stocking cap providing the service that was his responsibility.

Saturday 30 May 2020


Anonymous entices me to talk about amalgamations  and  why voters tolerate political behaviour. Political conduct is not tolerated ,it’s dictated by voters. But nobody ,it seems,  wants to talk about function of a  fire department as exposed by a  fire fought in Aurora last week.

Fire Chief Laing is a sensible straightforward director. He doesn’t play games. When he stated to the media that the building was a “teardown“ after three  days of  three fire departments working triple strength to extinguish it, he wasn’t being coy. He was stating a fact, and the fact is ,all that effort and expenditure was for nought. The same result would have been  achieved with no effort at all.

A  single incident cannot  of course be used to argue fire  protection is not needed. Another fire
might involve a town house complex or condominium  building and lives  more likely to  be at risk. But  this one is  enough to give us pause . When it costs more to extinguish a fire in an uninhabited building than  the building is worth , the question must be asked: Where is the logic?

It reminds of a fire in Etobicoke that  obsessed me for months. A full fire crew died. A  funeral parade was held to honour  their courage. They should not have died. The parade was a cruel farce; to obscure colossal error  in judgement, for which no-one was called to account.

The fire was in a warehouse. The second in days. Contents of said warehouse were massive rolls off absorbent  paper stacked to the ceiling. No lives were involved. An individual wearing firefighting gear did try to inform the process. His efforts were dismissed. He was just some meddling guy running around wearing a firefighters helmet.

Firefighters had no need  to be inside the building. Only property was involved. The community does not expect firefighters to risk their lives to save property.  But they were in the building and the crew leader did order a ladder propped against the stacks to take the hose deeper into the fire. They obeyed The absorbent tissue  was  already fully absorbed and  collapsed. The guy in the helmet was doing his job. He tried to warn them. There was no escape for the crew . They  suffocated in  a mass of soaking wet tissue.

 I lost sleep over such senseless horrifying loss of life and the farce that followed.I couldn't  stop talking about it.

Fire Services was the first committee I  chaired during my first term of office. Ours  was a Volunteer  Brigade with a full-time Chief elected by the brigade and appointed by Council. Only one committee was lower on the totem pole... Bylaws . .. Pete Miller and myself were the greenhorns.Volunteers ran their own show. Bylaws were the business of the Clerk/treasurer. I did not understand  how little
influence  the chair of the Fire Committee was expected to have.,

It occurred to me  a fire department should have up-to-date records  of all manufacturing processes in industrial buildings . That was years before firefighters lost their lives  in Etobicoke.

I also thought  it was not sensible  for men over forty-five to be hauling hoses with high water
pressure around  the site  of a fire.A volunteer who returned to work at the works  department after a fire call, had a heart attack and died. He was forty-five years old.

Aurora bought a second-hand ladder truck from Etobicoke fire department.. Periodically  substantial sums were spent on maintenance but the first time it was used was on a Mutual Aid call in Newmarket. Just  think about being up in the air, out at the end of one of those things waving about over the flames of a building on fire. It would surely have felt like  a marshmallow stuck at the end of a pointy stick.

No wonder Etobicoke sold the sucker.

Friday 29 May 2020


I’m encouraged by response to my last blog. Anna’s was first responder.  She provided  the link to my blog , in her blog. An anonymous friend found  the idea of selling municipal firdepartment.lock,stock and barrel interesting. He hadn't read about it  anywhere. He understood why it would account for my not being elected if the story got out. He  advised me to check my facts before making statements like

I don’t have to check my facts. If I’m wrong I will be corrected . Of that I’m sure..  I’m certain  my readers are now better informed about the sale of the 407 Ontario Toll Road than before. It wasn’t a sale.It was a long-term  lease. Premier at the time of lease was not Bob Rae. It was Mike Harris who signed the deal.

I don't mind if a person wants to be anonymous but I don't think he’s in a great position to criticize politicians for being short on courage.  I was not a candidate for election. I was an incumbent who was defeated. While I was a Councillor, I was a member of the Joint Fire Services Committee . It puts me in a very good position to know it was proposed.  It was my idea. I put it forward. It would not be recorded because it was not a resolution. It was not a resolution because there was no  seconder.No-one on that committee likely to second such a proposal.  I put it forward alright.More than once. I liked knowing the effect it undoubtedly had on everyone sitting at that table

I’ve never heard anyone in support of amalgamation either ,who expects to lose his job. Logic dictates amalgamation reduces expenditure.Practice  proves it doesn’t .

Reducing administrative costs by the number of Chiefs presiding should reduce over all expenditure. But management positions  increase in number, costs more and government  loses control  altogether.

Government is a clumsy tool at best. Politicians do tend to be skittery  and obsequious. Full-time firefighters inherit status from Volunteer Brigades. They are our local heroes.

There are no more or less courageous people in government than anywhere else in society.

But I really do believe Fire Chief Lang’s comment that what was left of the multi-million mansion
is a “tear down “ should give everyone pause for thought.

If , after two days of fighting the fire, three fire departments involved, three million plus dollar
pumpers ,custom-built in the U.S. , twenty one firefighters, twelve police cars and officers, Fire Marshall of Ontario and sundry other department  vehicles, all cost more than the building was worth to put the fire out , an argument certainly could have been made to let the building burn to the ground.

Think about it. If it’s going to cost more to put  the fire out than to let it burn ...why bother?

While I wrote that last sentence, a picture  of my grandfather came into my head. he was a coal  miner. The first labour member ever elected  to the UK Parliament went from our riding in Ayrshire.

Grampa was in his  rocking chair by the fire, having just heard  an item on the 6 p.m. news.
Coal miners had taken a vote to strike. The rom was full...grannie and aunts and likely my mother and one sister at least. I was a teen-ager but it seemed his eyes met mine as he shook his head in disapproval of the union vote .

It didn’t happen for decades yet but when it cost more money to bring coal  out of the ground than the value of coal , mines were nationalized  by  a Labour government, Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher was able to close  down the industry without a revolution of the French Variety.

Sunday 24 May 2020


A magnificent mansion ...under construction ...atop a hill ....in Aurora burned this week. Three fire departments attended, three pumpers filled with thousands of gallons of treated water, three crews of firefighters (21), various other fire department vehicles, including on from the Ontario Fire Marshall’s office, and 12 police cruisers. I’m not sure if that still means two men cruisers. The photo Anna Lozyk Romeo posted showed pumpers hooked up to hydrants, meaning pumpers needed re-filling to fight the fire or to return to the fire station full.

Anna's photo was not what reminded me of a proposal I made as a member of the joint fire committee. I suggested municipal fire departments should be sold, lock, stock and barrel to the insurance industry. The rest of the committee and fire officers looked at me as if I had horns on my head and quickly changed the subject. It may have been the reason I lost  in the next election.

No...the reminder came from the newspaper story Anna copied in her blog. The story was lengthy. At the end came a quote from the Fire Chief. “It’s a tear down” he said.

That stunned me. If the object had been to spend the greatest amount, they could not have done better. If the object was to save the building, they could not have done worse. If no department had responded to the call, the fire would have burned out and not needed to be torn down.

The response should have been...burn baby burn...exorbitant as it is, the cost of fighting that fires must be staggering. Three multi-million dollar pumpers. Twenty-one firefighters, hundreds of thousands of gallons of treated water at exorbitant regional rates. Fire halls equipped with sleeping, recreation and cooking facilities to save a residential unit five times bigger than an ordinary family might need.

Since I made that proposal, there’s even more reason to give it serious consideration. Is any building worth the cost of dousing the flames?

The Region has contracted out care for the elderly to the private sector where  costs by employees to less than twenty hours, so that, they have to work at two jobs to make a poor living. The Premier who changed welfare to workfare for single mothers to compel them to take minimum wage jobs is now Chairman of the Board of Chartwell , the for-profit company, who have had to be subsidized by the Ontario government to the amount of $4.00 an hour.

Municipalities contract out parks maintenance. Those employees work side-by-side with unionized workers and receive none of the benefits. While elected officials , who are not employees, work away quietly, reducing their numbers, so that they can h all the benefits of unionized employees.

NDP Premier sold the 407 into the private sector after a previous government spent  horrendously to construct it.

And Ontario toys endlessly with the idea of selling Liquor Control shops into the private sector so as not to have to deal with a most powerful organization......Ontario Public Services Union...and they mantain silence, in the face of it, to protect existing members.