Tarek FatahNational Post
Ten seconds in the call, I recognized the shrill voice on the phone that pierced my headphone in the CFRB studio.
John Tory and I were on Newstalk 1010's "Strong Opinions" discussing the announcement by David Miller on Friday morning that he will not be seeking a third term in office. The gentleman that John Tory is, he was insisting that I not berate the outgoing mayor, suggesting politely "today is not the day to criticize David Miller."
Not being part of the polite WASPish culture of hogtown has its advantages. As an immigrant Canadian from South Asia, I was under no social pressure of either political correctness or Ann Landers rule book to behave in any prescribed manner, so I let loose my feelings of anger at the sight of a crying mayor, his sobbing son and the invoking of "single motherhood".
I felt, the David Miller that I had worked for in his campaign and donated generously, was putting on a classic charade that had been copied from the US text books where every politician who errs has to say "I have sinned," brings out his family as his shield and chokes up.
In the case of Miller, he was hiding the sudden liability of $200 million liability he was leaving behind for us Torontonians to pay, while he delivered a self-righteous sob story of family, sacrifice and a contrived suffering being brought up a single mother, avoiding any mention of his privileged private school upbringing where he rubbed shoulders with the House of Windsor.
The callers reactions to my rant were mixed, until one "Sandra from Toronto" called. Upset at my taking Miller to task, she refused to talk to me, instead saying to John Tory, "Your co-host there is really messed up on statistics."
I wanted to interrupt her and say, "Sandra, I am right here. Talk to me. My name is not difficult to pronounce...it is T_A_R_E_K," but I was distracted. The voice sounded eerily familiar.
"Sandra from Toronto" then added: "In terms of the sick benefit, it's been on the books with the city for years, and it isn't something that's going to go away. It is something that is still there. And what the mayor did during negotiations is, for the first time, tackled that with two of the unions and said it couldn't go on."
By now, I knew it was either a CUPE official or Sandra Bussin, but was not sure, so I tried to interject. "Sandra,” I said, but she continued talking as if I had not spoken or that she had not heard me. As she rambled on, singing praise for the "really good deal for the city, I interjected again.
"Sandra, do you work for the city," I asked. However, Sandra Bussin kept on talking as if I simply did not exist.
I looked at John Tory and both of us smiled and shook our heads in disbelief. Usually, callers do respect the fact that the host's interjections or questions deserve an answer. She did not. I tried the third interception and asked again: "Sandra, do you work for the city?"
This time, not only did she refuse to acknowledge me or answer my question, she started berating John Tory. "... I bet, John, if you run for office, you wouldn't be able to do what he (Mayor David Miller) accomplished."
As someone who seldom gives up and has learnt a trick or two in forty years as a journalist, some of them in lesser friendly environments, I interjected for the fourth time and repeated the question for the third time:
"Sandra, do you work for the city?"
Without even caring to address me, she lied: "I don't work for the city." And as if the lie was not enough, she made it worse by adding, "but I'm telling you the truth..." ending up with the now infamous line, "And good luck to you, John, because you're a three-time loser..."
As far as insults go, the most effective is where one's presence is simply ignored and one is addressed in third person, as if the target of the insult was not present. It is subtle and safe. Not an ill word is uttered, but the target is put in his or her place in the most derisive and dismissive manner.
Then began the 24-hour hide and seek as CFRB reporters tried to reach her, left several phone messages, but Sandra Bussin went underground, conferring with comrades on how to make the best out of a spectacular exercise in wearing a virtual burka, invoking deception to avoid being recognized as a city councillor and then putting up a bizarre brave front and calling CFRB to deny any wrong-doing.
Later, apologies would flow to John Tory and to City Council, but throughout these days of hilarity and tragic comedy, not once did Sandra Bussin utter the words "Tarek Fatah," let alone apologize to me for refusing to answer to my questions in an honest manner. She kept referring to me as the "co-host" in a manner reminiscent of how lowly domestic servants of the British Raj were referred to by the likes of Sandra Bussin me as "boy" or "Mali" (gardener) or "driver," but never by the person's name. It reminded me how blacks are addressed as "Ya Abdi" (Oh my slave) in the Middle East.
All I have to say to the city councillor is this:
"Dear Sandra Bussin, my name is Tarek Fatah and it easier to pronounce than your favourite dog breed, the Chihuahua. And if you still cannot get to lower to lower your esteem to refer to me by name, stop acting like the queen of diversity and the dame of anti-racism, because you are nothing more than of the many millionaires mimicking misery among the Marxist lumpen bourgeoisie.”