All That Glitters

How would you want governments to bolster revenue within a province? Few of us would be happy with increased taxes or reduced services, but what about another lottery?

I was waiting for the Number 1 line Toronto subway last week. As the train pulled into the station, I realized it was completely gold covered in advertising for a new lottery from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation(OLG). Inside the train, every bit of advertising space was covered with ads for the same lottery, bathing all of us rush hour riders in the same golden glow. I looked all around to confirm it only to be confronted by still more of this artificial glow.

I immediately began to question the OLG’s rationale for this advertising. I have two reasons for this. The first is that, like many Ontario doctors lately, I have questions about how the Ontario government is spending and investing money. I cannot quite believe that I would be the only person on that early morning train wondering if all this golden advertising for a new lottery is absolutely necessary. In the face of our economic situation, is covering a subway train inside and out with advertising really a good use of government spending. In fairness to the government, I took the subway five times last week and I only saw one golden train.

My second reason for being concerned is the fact of the lottery itself. I am tremendously ambivalent about gambling. A great part of this comes from the fact that gambling is the fastest growing addiction among young people. It’s also a far more insidious addiction to recover from or treat since its link to health and mental health is not direct the way the way an addiction to a substance that one ingests is. Because of this, I am not certain that the government’s involvement in lotteries and gaming is a harmless way for it to raise revenues. To me, it is trying to fund what we need on the backs of the unhealthy, who need the government to develop innovative treatments not innovative enablers.

Despite the above statements about not enabling those with difficulty resisting, I am also not a gaming prohibitionist. I know than banning something does not necessarily make it less accessible to those who must have it and I am certainly not in favour of tacitly supporting an underworld with prohibitionist measures. I hope the government also struggles with how best to balance between the “service” OLG provides while hopefully protecting the “public good”. Before publishing this, I thoroughly examined the OLG website There is a section on “responsible” gambling, another on “consumer protection” and another that tells the visitor that OLG pours roughly $2 billion into Ontario’s coffers on an annual basis – an amount that’s also increasing. They outline quite precisely where the money goes in detail.  If you compare this to the pie chart on the Government of Ontario’s website, you can see that the Ontario Health Premium brings in $3.3 billion for the government – the gross amount OLG collects, incidentally on all operations.

Finally, I cannot say that writing this has helped me to clarify how to think about the government’s role in gambling because this is a difficult issue. But do we need a golden subway train? Don’t we all know that there is no golden train? Doesn’t the government know?


(This is obviously my own very bad photo of the advertising that covered the train, inside and out.)

Subway Study – What Can a Citizen Do?

Yesterday morning, I rode the subway five stops, from Davisville to Bay. It did not take extraordinary powers of observation to see that there was an almost unanimous topic of consideration  that morning. Normally when I get onto the subway, I may hear one or two patrons discussing something but yesterday morning was remarkable for the fact that there were numerous individuals discussing with each other their concerns about Rob Ford and the governance situation which his performance difficulties has caused.

I may have been in an unusual area of the train – on the new subways, there are not really cars separated from each other – but all patrons seemed more concerned than angry, almost bewildered by the enormity of what was happening. People were also considering what they ought to do, as citizens.

“I wonder if I should write to my Councillor or call her.”

“What would you say?” (Heads turned to listen.)

“I’m not sure. That I’m concerned. That I feel something ought to be done to make sure the city could manage in an emergency.”

“What kind of emergency?”

“Well, like a really bad snowstorm – it’s November, it could happen.” (It’s Toronto. People worry about bad snowstorms.)

“What could be done? Council has to ask the Premier to act, but what could the Premier do?”

Like everyone, I was listening to conversations and no one minded others joining discussions which might have seemed private on other mornings. One man listened, ignoring the newspaper held upright in his hands, the front page showing a picture of Mayor Ford speaking in Council chambers while his colleagues sat turned away from him. I realized that I would also like to do something to help in this situation, but I can’t think what that would be.

Five stops on one day is not an extended study, but it was enough to give an impression of how much Toronto’s dilemma is on the minds of people who live there. I left the subway feeling buoyed, oddly enough. I was heartened to realize that there are many people whose main reaction is a thoughtful and compassionate one. That reaction was best illustrated by the picture on the front page of the Globe and Mail which shows a sad-looking Mayor, sitting alone in his Council seat. This photographer saw the situation as my subway companions did – as tragic, on very many levels.

Subway Study: What Are Riders Reading

One way to pass the time on the subway is to look around and see what other riders are reading as they travel in the morning. I use the subway on the Yonge-University line in Toronto at least once a week .  Other than a newspaper or magazine, I cannot imagine what it would be possible to enjoy on that early morning commute when everyone is being tossed around with the stops and starts. Nonetheless, there are a surprising number of book readers so if you are one of them and would like some reading suggestions, here they are.

Let’s start with the textbooks. There are quite a few students(or people who like to read textbooks) travelling in the early morning and I have seen more than one reading through their textbooks – I have seen chemistry, accounting and business textbooks. I will say that these hefty books are only being reviewed in the hands of riders seated on the train, which is understandable. It’s difficult enough to balance without a book in one’s hands at times, let alone a large textbook. I have prepared for quite a few exams over the years and the rush hour subway ride does not seem like a good time or place to cram to me. Also, I have assumed that these are not teachers or professors but maybe that’s also a possibility since the material would likely not be new to them.

The next category of subway reading I will loosely refer to as “classics”, mostly because these are books not written within the last ten years but generally well-known.  In the past week, when I took the morning subway four times, I saw people reading these “classics”: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Of all of these, I did myself think that Foundation would be easiest to read since it comprises five short stories. I also wondered about the possibility that these books were either being reread, having been previously enjoyed, since I do find rereading less complex that the first reading of any book. I also wondered whether, given how “classic” each of these works is, the readers were, once again, students catching up on their class assignments.

“Bestselling Fiction” is another popular kind of subway reading. Since these works are very popular, I did think that they were possibly “gripping” and “hard to put down”, meaning that one could likely read them even when being thrown back and forth on the subway train. These books included Jean Auel’s The Land of Painted Caves, Terry Prachett’s Dodger, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, and Lee Child’s Killing Floor.

Another popular category is “Bestselling Nonfiction”. I found this category most interesting  – mostly because I could consider the readers’ possible motivations and this always amuses me. I saw a man reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I always feel it is a positive thing for women when men will read books that consider women’s advancement.  I saw two people reading The 4- Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris. I hope that this will work out for them and that their bosses don’t see what they’re reading.

As a study of subway reading, mine is flawed since I am missing the group of people reading from their ebooks, and most readers that I’ve seen are doing this rather than reading from a printed text. I also wondered, however, how many textbooks are now online. This would be great for students: no more lineups at the bookstore, coupled with the anxiety of finding out that you’re too late and do not have a copy of the text on which the first test is in two weeks.

Finally, I am always curious to see who is reading which book but it is never a good idea to stare for too long at a fellow rider in order to obtain some nonverbal cues as to their personality. It’s better just to collect titles and marvel instead at the extraordinary concentration of people who can read something longer than two hundred words while holding onto the ceiling support and keeping out of the way of their neighbours when the train comes to an abrupt stop.

The most valuable aspect of this “study” for me is obtaining reading suggestions by an unconventional method. Some of the covers intrigued me sufficiently that I looked up the books and some of them I will read or reread, although maybe not on the subway. There are too many studies to do on the subway