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Archive for July, 2010

Hi everyone:

If you’re a Canadian, or if you like to follow the political scene here, chances are you have heard the latest brouhaha about our national Census. It is adminstered by Statistics Canada every five years and next scheduled for 2011.  For those outside the country reading this,  Statistics Canada (also known as “StatsCan”) is a federal government agency primarily responsible for gathering statistical information about Canadians. The Census is their primary information-gathering tool, and the work is accomplished by sending out both a long form which asks many questions about each individual and family, as well as a short form which asks only a few questions such as your home address, marital status and other “essentials”.  

My understanding is that the long form is sent to about 4.5 million households across Canada each time. Everyone else gets the short form. Who gets which form? I have no idea. And that, in itself, is part of the problem. I think that StatsCan should take a serious look at who gets the long form and why. And as I intend to argue in this entry, I believe that “singles” such as myself should not be required to fill out the long form. Why? Just keep reading,folks!

In recent months, the feds have proposed scrapping the long form (or at least making it voluntary), because there have been many complaints about its intrusive nature and that it violates individual privacy. As a reaction, this idea has prompted an outcry from many organizations across the country, who claim the information gathered from the long form is vital to groups like demographers, urban planners, economists and so on. They claim that abandoning the long form in favour of the short one will make it harder to collect this information, which they believe is essential to running our country. So here’s my take on the issue.

I think StatsCan should keep the long form because as many have pointed out, it is a useful information source. But when determining who gets to fill it out, I would suggest that the long form should be sent out to households only, and not to individuals such as myself who live alone. In my own situation, I was born in 1956 in Ottawa, grew up in a suburb of Montreal (St. Lambert) and have lived in the “Golden Horseshoe” area of southern Ontario for over 30 years. To be more specific, I lived in Mississauga from July 1978 to September 2002, and have lived in Hamilton ever since.  I am a single person and have never been married. I live alone.  I have no children or pets. ..you get the idea. If Ottawa really wants my financial or economic status, all they need to do is look at my annual income tax returns. 

In terms of ethnic background, I am your typical WASP (or “Caucasian” – to use the official Census designation for a white person), with ancestry from England, Ireland, Scotland, the USA and Canada.  My mother’s family has been in North America since my ancestors landed at New Castle, Delaware in 1751 after a voyage across the Atlantic from Scotland. My father’s family came to New Brunswick from England sometime  in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s. As an aside, some have argued that asking a person’s ethnic status on the Census could have racist overtones, is an invasion of one’s privacy and is not appropriate.  Maybe so, but I don’t mind sharing this information. In fact, it’s often easy to figure out these things anyway. I’m a good example.  My name is  Greg Brown. Pretty obvious that I would have a strong English component to my background – or at least from English speaking countries if not from England itself. And if you read the first part of this paragraph, then you know that is the correct answer.  It’s the same for a person named Gina Rosselini, Krishna Raganathan, Colleen O’Hara, Heinrich Muller, Sophia Gonzalez or Spiros Papadopolous.  I’ll bet it didn’t take too long for you to figure those people would have a strong Italian, Indian, Irish, German, Spanish or Greek heritage.

Or if you need further proof of how multicultural Canada has become, just watch Canadians celebrate their ethnic heritages during events such as the recent soccer World Cup in South Africa. Did you notice the English, Argentinian, German, Brazilian or other car flags waving proudly? And of course the celebrations when Spain won the final game on July 11. I was in downtown Hamilton that Sunday afternoon and of course heard the car horns honking and the Spanish flags waving. Viva Espana! Oops – I am digressing here, let’s get back to the Census debate.

A single person like me who lives alone has little or no bearing on information asked for in the Census, such as labour and other economic trends, immigration patterns, or determining where new schools, community centres, libraries or other related facilities are built.  Same thing for things like public transit and other services. Yes, I use public transit almost daily (especially since I don’t own a car), but I have no interest in where the stops are located or what time my train or bus comes. If my public transit  is fast, convenient and gets me where I want to go, that’s all I need.

As for community facilities, do whatever is in the best interests of everyone. Whatever the community decides is fine with me. Many families do care about where their kids will go to school or other aspects of community life. Let them make those decisions.  It is their right and their responsibility to do so.  And that’s where the long form comes in, and why it should be sent out to families. It can be an important information-gathering tool, as well as a way for families to have their say. Singles like me have no need to be involved in the decisions.

But in spite of all these aspects of my situation, I received the long form from StatsCan as part of the 1991, 1996 and 2001 Censuses. I absolutely hated it each time and couldn’t understand why Ottawa kept doing this to me. As a single person living alone, I found that almost all the questions were irrelevant and in my opinion were a clear invasion of my personal privacy. Does the government really need to know which foot hits my bedroom floor first when I get out of bed every morning? OK – they didn’t ask that one, but I felt the questions they did ask were on the same level.  I found the whole exercise repulsive, disgusting and totally uncalled for.

As a protest, I deliberately put down the wrong information about myself each time, and added some angry comments, in the hope that StatsCan would finally get the message that as a single person they have no right to this information and I should not be forced to provide it. I guess they did eventually get the message because I finally got the short form in 2006. Who knows about 2011 and beyond?

Canadians like myself should not be asked to fill out the long form. Because the vast majority of the questions asked on the form are totally irrelevant and/or do not apply to “singles”. That’s the solution I would propose. Define a “household” as 2 or more people.  In my opinion, someone like me who lives alone is not really a “household”. And even if a single person is a “household”, then isn’t it pretty obvious that we make all the  household decisions?  Why ask who does the grocery shopping when the answer is already there for you? That’s only one example.

The long form is designed for families – or any other domestic situation where 2 or more people live together. And when StatsCan decides who gets that form, I think that should be the dominant indicator. Don’t send the long form to “singles” because the vast majority of the questions do not apply to us.  For that reason, we should not be required to participate in the Census beyond the absolute minimum information which is covered in the short form. It’s very easy to determine who the “singles” are across Canada. It’s clearly reflected in things like past Census data, income tax returns and other information which Ottawa already has. That’s also the reason why I didn’t mind giving all of you some background information about myself at the beginning of this entry. It’s all readily available from a variety of sources.

As proof of this, here’s a recent article from The Globe and Mail which was published in August 2010 shortly after I wrote the original edition of this blog entry. Some of you might find it a bit frightening, especially if you are concerned about your personal privacy. But it bears examining and is worth reading.

It notes in part that our online privacy may not be as “private” as you might think. In fact, technology is such that as soon as you visit a Web site, vital information about you has already been logged and stored for future reference. One would hope that it is done for “benign” reasons, and in order to make our lives easier, but you never know.

Here’s the article:

The End of Online Privacy – from the Globe and Mail

Give people like me the short form all the time – and the option to fill out the long one if we feel so inclined. Keep the long form as a mandatory document, but only for families as I defined above. Or if you really must have “singles” fill out the long form, then design a “special edition” of the long form which asks questions that are relevant to single people. That might help solve the problem and ensure that those who feel the appropriate information is necessary still get the information they need.

Best wishes to all!!

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Hi gang:

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything here, but I figured it was time to re-activate this blog. The following is based on something I recently wrote about on my Facebook page, but wanted to share this with a broader audience.  As with all my blog posts, feel free to share this with anyone you like.

Earlier this month (July 2010), the Ontario government announced that they are seriously considering a major renovation/ make-over of Ontario Place in Toronto. They will spend the next several months on public consultations, with the actual work starting sometime in 2011 and an anticipated completion date in 2012 or 2013. Or at least that was my understanding based on the media reports.  

Now for those of you who don’t live in this part of the world, a brief “back-story”.  Ontario Place (or “OP” if you prefer the short form) is an entertainment/amusement park complex owned and operated by the provincial government and located on the Toronto waterfront, next to the CNE grounds (they are linked together via a pedestrian bridge over Lakeshore Boulevard) . Since its opening in 1971, OP has attracted millions of tourists and locals through its doors. Taking its inspiration from Montreal’s highly successful Expo 67, Ontario Place was designed as a waterfront tourist attraction that would have something for everyone. You can learn more about Ontario Place by visiting them online at: http://www.ontarioplace.com

But as OP approaches its 40th anniversary, I think we have lost that original vision. For my part, I have lost all interest in visiting Ontario Place. There’s nothing anywhere on the grounds that would interest me.  I can’t remember the last time I actually went there. Maybe 20 years ago, but I’ll bet it’s longer. It’s too bad, because it wasn’t always that way. During my early years here in southern Ontario I used to love OP and went often. Let me share a few of those wonderful Ontario Place memories with all of you.

If you know me, or if you have read this blog regularly, then you know that I moved from St. Lambert (a suburb of Montreal) to Mississauga in the summer of 1978. The 70’s and 80’s were the “glory days” for Ontario Place, and my first visit there took place not long after the great move had taken place.

One of my childhood friends who was now living in Scarborough contacted me and mentioned that Robert Charlebois would be performing at The Forum, an outdoor concert stage at Ontario Place. Would I like to go with him and a few friends who were also Montrealers that were now living in the Toronto area? Sure, why not? Since I was still pretty new to Toronto and didn’t know my way around town,  Keith gave me detailed directions on how to get there. A few days later we all met up at the main gate and bought our tickets for the show.

It was a delightful evening. As someone growing up in Montreal, I was very familiar with Charlebois’ music, so hearing it live was great.  My friends felt the same way. We noticed that a number of people left after a couple of songs – we were all joking among ourselves that these must be the Torontonians in the crowd, who probably didn’t realize that practically the entire concert would be in French. If memory serves, I think he did do a song or 2 in English, but likely not much more than that.

The evening was a lot of fun, but for me the lasting legacy of it all was that I fell in love with The Forum. It was a wonderful place to hear a wide variety of music. Whether you enjoyed the classics, rock-and-roll, blues, country, jazz or other musical styles, there was something for you. And the architecture lent itself well. The Forum was designed to blend in with the surrounding trees, grass and other open-spaces.  One of its many unique features was a revolving stage, which meant that you always had a great view of the performers. And  it was rather small in capacity, which made for an intimate and friendly atmosphere. I don’t remember exactly, but my guess is that The Forum held about 10,000 or so – perhaps not even that.  But that’s not all.

Like many other outdoor venues, the designers of The Forum had added grassy hillsides all around the stage, which provided room for several thousand more folks to join those down in the main seating area. Perfect for a summer picnic or if you just wanted to sit with your friends high above the stage. Oops, watch out for the bird poop. Another byproduct of a setting down by Lake Ontario, and the countless seagulls and Canada geese who “dropped” by. Aside from that, the perfect place to watch a concert on a sunny summer day. But if you were there on a rainy day – too bad. Then the grass wasn’t such a fun place. Unless you had an umbrella, a raincoat or a poncho. Otherwise, you had to crowd in under the roof which obviously protected the performers and the main audience from the elements.

That Charlebois concert was my first time at The Forum (and at OP as a whole). But it was certainly not my last visit. Over the next few years, I became a “regular” at The Forum. During much of the 1980’s it was customary  for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to do a summer concert series there. The highlight was a special “Canada” concert which took place every year on or about Canada Day (July 1 for those outside our country reading this).  The climax of the show, which always guaranteed a standing ovation, was their performance of Tchaikovsky’s famous “1812 Overture”, including the guns of the HMCS Haida – which at the time was docked nearby, but ironically enough moved over here to Hamilton a few years ago.  Led by legendary American “pops” conductor and band leader Erich Kunzel, it was just an amazing experience. And for me, it became an annual event – something I always looked forward to. Given that I recall seeing many of the same people in the crowd year after year, I think many others felt the same. I still miss those summer TSO concerts and wish they would return, perhaps to a new Forum at OP. More about that later on!

I mentioned earlier that The Forum offered a wide variety of musical acts – and yes, I took advantage of that. In addition to the TSO, I remember seeing Neil Sedaka, BB King and many others. But my all-time favourite was that marvellous flugelhorn player from just across the lake in Rochester, New York – Chuck Mangione.  Just as the TSO was a Canada Day tradition, it seemed that every summer on or about the August long weekend Chuck and his jazz/blues flavoured music would take the stage at Ontario Place. By the way, for those of you who are not aware, the first Monday in August is a holiday in much of Canada.

For me, it just didn’t feel like summer until Chuck and his band showed up at OP. If you have read my blog, you know that I don’t care much for the summer season and never have. As noted in a 2 part blog entry from August 2009 (“Why I Hate the Summer”), hot and humid weather makes me depressed, anti-social and zaps my energy. But even I got into the summer “spirit” when that concert arrived. A perfect summer day would be sitting up on one of those grassy hills at The Forum, a cool breeze off the lake moderating the hot sticky weather, the sun shining – and just letting your mind wander while Chuck and the gang played their classics such as “Feels So Good”, “Chase the Clouds Away”,  “Hill Where the Lord Hides” or his theme song for the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics “Give It All You’ve Got”.  If every summer day was like that, I just might enjoy the season a little more – and probably retract that blog entry!

Lest you think that all Ontario Place had back in the 70’s and 80’s was The Forum, think again. There were lots of great walking trails. Movies and other educational exhibits based at the Cinisphere and at other places on the grounds. Retail shops and other boutiques. Smaller musical stages that offered other great music. I remember one hot July night at one of those smaller stages watching a wonderful Beatles tribute band “1964” that looked and sounded exactly as the Liverpool Lads did in their early days.  As far as I know, “1964” is still around today, playing those great Beatles songs, but at the risk of digressing I will leave it there. But I cite all this to show that during the early years of Ontario Place, it really was a fun and inclusive spot. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that their attendance figures were the highest in their history back then. I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed my visits to the lakeshore playground, and who made OP a regular part of my summer, year after year.

So what happened? Why has Ontario Place lost its lustre? To me, it’s nothing more than just a glorified amusement park for kids. Oh – and there’s that damned Molson Amphitheatre. Since I hope that people of all ages read my blog entries, I won’t tell you what I really think of the MA. Except that calling it “damned” is being polite. I think you all get the idea, right?

I think the beginning of the end for me came in the early 1990’s when those responsible for managing Ontario Place decided to tear down The Forum and replace it with the Molson Amphitheatre. We lost something when that happened. Some of it was the atmosphere. The fact that instead of a broad cross-section of musical acts, the MA is pretty much an expensive, highly commercial, rock-and-roll music venue.  It’s everything that The Forum wasn’t, and that really saddens me. The Forum was a relaxed, general admission fun type of environment. An inexpensive enjoyable place to see some great music.  But it’s all different now. Someone correct me if necessary, but since the MA opened around 1994 or 1995, the Toronto Symphony has never played there. I doubt if Neil Sedeka, BB King, or my buddy Chuck have ever been there either. Unless you’re a rock-and-roll fan and willing to pay big bucks to see the big acts, there’s really not a lot there for you. Some of you reading this may tell me that there’s more than just rock-and-roll at the MA. You’re probably right. But I miss The Forum and everything that went with it. The day they tore it down, a part of my musical soul died too.

OP has also become VERY expensive. Now of course we could argue that everything in life is more expensive today than 40, 30 or even 5 years ago.  I don’t think anyone expects to pay 1978 prices in 2010.  But even when you take into account the cost of living and other inflationary factors, it’s still far more expensive to visit Ontario Place today than it was many years ago.

And what do you get for your money? In my opinion, not a whole lot. Sure, you have the MA – but as I noted above unless you like expensive rock-and-roll concerts, there’s not much. Aside from that, it’s all aimed at kids. OP has turned into a huge amusement park. Sure, my old pal the Cinisphere is still there – but it’s not promoted and marketed as it should be. I assume the walking trails are still there, but you never know.

OP’s management team makes no apologies for their emphasis on kids. In fact, they relish in it. As those of you reading this who live here in the Toronto area are well aware, we frequently hear those radio ads featuring “Kids Just Wanna Have Fun”. Fortunately, the ads are not as annoying as they used to be. When the campaign was first launched, it was a jingle sung to the tune of Cyndi Lauper’s 80’s hit “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.  It didn’t take long before I shut off my radio or tuned to another station for a couple of minutes when I knew the jingle was coming.  To their credit, the Ontario Place management finally scrapped the tune after a few years. But, sad to say, not the theme. Although I hope it wasn’t their intention, but in my opinion the underlying message is that if you don’t have kids, if you’re not a “rides” person, or if you don’t buy the whole package, then don’t visit Ontario Place.

As an aside, I actually met the guy responsible for that original campaign. A couple of years ago, he came to a few of our our HAPPEN networking meetings . I assumed that he was now looking for work and he felt that we could help him. I did my best to be polite and kind to him (as I do with all our HAPPEN members), but in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think to myself: “Your jingle is one of the main reasons why I never go to Ontario Place”. I have nothing against him personally, however, and if by chance he ever reads this blog entry, I wish him all the best.

So what’s next? I am pleased the Ontario government has decided that OP needs a make-over. I’ll bet the province will get a ton of suggestions. In part because I think there are many people like me who over the years have become totally turned-off by what Ontario Place has turned into.  What would I do? I’m glad you asked! Here’s a few highlights of what I would do with OP:

1) Bring back The Forum. I’m not saying that you tear down the Molson Amphitheatre. The MA has been a money-maker and allowed many of the leading musical acts to perform in an open-air setting. But as I noted before, unless you like rock-and-roll and want to pay the big bucks, the MA doesn’t mean anything. So I would suggested recreating The Forum and the atmosphere that went along with it – but on another part of the grounds.  Perhaps expand the property by reclaiming some land from Lake Ontario.  Leave the rock-and-roll shows for the MA. But if you’re into jazz, blues, country, classical music or other formats, a recreated Forum would be perfect – complete with the rotating stage and grassy hillsides. To my knowledge, the Toronto Symphony has never found a summer home. How about it folks? A reconstructed Forum as part of the “new” OP would be a perfect summer venue.

2) Make Ontario Place more inclusive. Don’t just focus on the kids and the “amusement park” setting. Bring in attractions and other things that will appeal to adults too. Some educational components – maybe even a university or college campus .  Some nice restaurants.  Shops and boutiques with a wide variety of merchandise.  A year-round casino – with or without a hotel and meeting facilities.  A museum, science centre or similar buildings that can offer rotating exhibits through the year. How about a sports complex with room for tennis courts,  soccer and baseball fields in the summer and outdoor skating or cross-country skiing in the winter?  A pier extending out into the lake from OP that would be similar to the Navy Pier in Chicago – with all kinds of fun things for everyone to see and do.  Keep the Cinisphere but promote it better.  Especially the IMAX movies being shown there. If the walking trails are still there, expand and enhance them. In other words, put things at Ontario Place in keeping with that original vision of a place that would appeal to everyone.

3) Bring down the prices. I mentioned earlier that OP is very expensive. People talk about sports events at places like the Air Canada Centre being very costly. Sad to say, but so is Ontario Place. How about giving people options such as selling “non-ride” tickets? For example, if I want to visit OP with some friends – and all I want to do is try some walking trails, have a meal, or catch a movie at the Cinisphere, give me that option. I don’t need an all-inclusive package when I have no interest in the rides. Give me a pricing system so I can pick and choose the things I want to do and not pay for the ones I don’t.

4) Make OP part of a larger revitalization strategy that also includes the nearby CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds.  In my opinion both of those properties are the most underused pieces of land in downtown Toronto. Both properties sit vacant for much of the year. The Ontario Place season tends to run from early May to the end of October. But then it just sits there for the winter months. Aside from the Toronto FC soccer games at BMO Field and the Honda Indy in July, the CNE grounds are only used to any extent during the CNE itself (which runs from mid-August until Labour Day – and marks the unofficial end of the summer for many Torontonians). Then, just like Ontario Place, almost nothing happens there the rest of the year.  So why not come up with some strategies to make both OP and the CNE grounds year-round destinations?

5) How about a ferry terminal at Ontario Place? This could be a boon to transit planners, especially as the Toronto area continues to grow rapidly. Perhaps GO Transit (our regional commuter transit system) could run water taxis such as hydrofoils, hovercrafts or other high speed vessels from OP to places like Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton or down to the Niagara region. Or if you’re an east-ender, do the same thing from Scarborough, Pickering, Whitby or Oshawa.  A shuttle ferry from there to the terminal at the foot of Bay Street in downtown Toronto? Or across the lake to Rochester or other American sites. I know that someone tried that a while back and it didn’t work out, but why not give it another try?  Gee – if Chuck and his band come back to a reconstructed Forum (see my earlier comment), they could come right to the front door and arrive at the Ontario Place ferry terminal.

I could go on, but as always I have written another long post. I guess that’s what happens when I get interested in a subject. And the future revitalization of Ontario Place is one of them. I have many fond memories of some great times past at OP. There’s nothing there for me now, but perhaps if a “new” OP rises phoenix-like from the ashes, it may give me the chance to make some new ones. I wish those working on Ontario Place’s vision for the future every success. Like many others in these parts, I will be watching with interest.

Until next time !!!

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