Quotes and political calculations

None of this is a surprise. Few of those involved are people we didn’t expect to be there. Some of the discussion has landed on coffee row or around the water cooler, but not a lot of it. None of the colours, the logos, the slogans or the rhetoric has caught us off guard. We even knew exactly when it was coming from as long as four years ago. Now it’s time for us to digest, assess and join the most important, but least acknowledged activity of our democracy – electing the right politician to represent us.

“Politics (is) the noblest of all callings,” wrote British journalist, Goldwin Smith, “but the meanest of all trades.”

Stats Can and your weekend

So, how was the weekend?

It’s safe to say, most people try catch up on weekends. They try to catch up on sleep or reading or, dare I say it, work? Yes, that’s right, work. And I don’t just mean errands and yard work either. If you noticed that big announcement from Statistics Canada last week, about the changing nature of the Canadian family, one of the other fascinating statistics to emerge from that survey included this fact:

“By 9 o’clock each Saturday morning,” the survey noted, “better than 85 per cent of Canadians are up and out of bed … and working.”

Granaries of time

In their prime, they were the harbingers of good times.

Last Sunday afternoon, I walked the couple of blocks from our house toward the centre of town. At the tracks of what was once the bustling Toronto & Nipissing Railway line, I stopped and looked up. There, rising like sentinels to a long lost era, stand the silos of the once prosperous Co-Op facility. Those now abandoned concrete, steel and wooden granaries are nearly 80 years old right now. But for George Moore, long-time Uxbridge, Ont., resident, they symbolized a very different time.

“Things were booming pretty good here at that time,” he said to me this week. “Those silos were an important part of that boom.”

Truscott guardian angel

The hero like the victim is long dead.

It’s 48 years ago this month that perhaps the most sensational murder trial in Ontario history began. On Sept. 16, 1959, Steven Truscott faced a judge and jury for the murder of his schoolmate Lynne Harper. He was 14. She had been 12. Just two weeks later, an all-male jury in Goderich, Ont., declared him guilty and requested mercy. Justice Ronald Ferguson set an execution date for Dec. 8. saying in part:

“The sentence of this court is that you be taken … to the place of execution and that you there be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

Cheque out the fine print

There we were, doing the environment a big favour. With just the two of us at home now, the additional porch refrigerator – some 20 years old, but still ticking away – seemed wasteful and redundant. In fact, the literature from the Ontario Power Authority suggested that old, second unit was consuming 75 per cent more electricity than a newer one might, i.e. costing us $150 more a year to operate. So an OPA truck had arrived to haul the power-sucker away. Almost the same day I opened a piece of mail:

“Secure your electricity rate for the next five years,” it announced. And “instantly benefit from the $50 bonus cheque enclosed.”

When red lights start flashing

On a recent warm evening, as I walked through downtown, I noticed all the fire trucks and assorted other vehicles out in front of the fire hall. I decided to check it out. On the other side of the hall, I found the chief conducting a demonstration on car air bags. I stood in the back row as about 20 or 25 volunteer firefighters watched and listened. When the chief had finished his talk he asked for questions. None came.

“I have a question,” I piped up. “And it has nothing to do with air bags. What’re we going to do with people who don’t stop for fire trucks?”

Cornerstone of service

I must tell you about a recent stop at a gas station. It was a station I encountered during our recent trip south of the border for that family reunion I wrote about last week. I pulled up to a self-serve pump in Maryland. I unhitched the nozzle, flipped the fill switch and waited for the read-out to zero. It didn’t. I tried again, but then went inside to talk to the cashier.

“You gotta pay first,” the woman said rather brusquely.

Guests at a family reunion

As family get-togethers go, this one held a lot of promise.

My immediate family – uncles, aunts, cousins and assorted other characters – is pretty much spread across North America. Some live as far south as Florida. Others reside within a few hours drive of Washington, D.C. And then there’s the branch of the family that stretches into Canada. That’s us. As a consequence, family reunions occur, at best, once a year – generally at Christmas time or for special occasions. So, when both our daughters had announcements – one a coming marriage, the other a coming birth – the results were inevitable.

“Why not have a reunion this summer at the half-way point?” suggested one daughter. “Let’s all get together in Baltimore.”

Sting of victory

At 87, Richard Opitz still walks erect. The infirmities of age make him less spry. But he still has a full head of hair and eyes that show intensity when he recalls his role at the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy during the Second World War. While other Allied troops had failed to dislodge German troops atop this apparently insurmountable height, he and his 2nd Polish Corps comrades broke through and seized the mountain in May of 1944.

“The engineers managed to make us a pathway up the mountain,” he told me. “We attacked in the night when they didn’t expect us. It was a bloody affair, but our Polish troops won the day.”

Business words of wisdom?

I really owe Helene Kremer an apology, first of all.

Monday morning, a couple of minutes before the Credit Union opened, she and I stood in the airlock waiting for one of the tellers to unlock the entrance to let us in. Ms. Kremer carried a brief case and clearly had an appointment with the C.U. manager. I asked what she did. She explained she was in the insurance business, specializing in protecting home owners from identity fraud. She began to explain and got a few sentences in, when I mentioned I worked in the media and said how frustrating reporters find insurance brokers, bankers and stock market analysts. She looked at me quizzically.

“It’s the jargon,” I said. “Why can’t people in business speak in plain English?”