Thursday, October 1, 2009

Toronto councillor disses Tory

Far too frequently these days we see examples of how our public standards of behaviour have slipped. Last Friday, for example, Toronto City Councillor Sandra Bussin (Beaches East York) called the Newstalk 1010 show, Strong Opinions, hosted by John Tory, the former Ontario PC leader and activist Tarek Fatah, and insulted Mr. Tory while refusing to identify herself and denying, when asked, that she works for the city.

After praising Toronto’s mayor, David Miller, calling him “the most brilliant politician municipally anywhere in the country,” Councillor Bussin, who identified herself only as “Sandra,” turned on Mr. Tory, saying “Good luck to you John because you’re a three-time loser.” She was, of course, referring to Mr. Tory’s political defeats when he ran against Mr. Miller in 2003, then for premier of Ontario in 2007 and, finally, in a provincial by-election this year.

It is not what Councillor Bussin actually said that I find so objectionable, it is the fact she spoke from behind the shield of anonymity. In the old days, we referred to anonymous letters containing insults as “poison-pen letters.” They were frowned upon, considered cowardly and underhanded. If you have something worth saying, the reasoning went, then have the courage and integrity to put your name to it. In other words, have the courage of your convictions.

These days anonymity is routinely used to say nasty things to people on the telephone, in blogs and in comments left in on-line forums and elsewhere. For some reason, unknown to me, a huge proportion of Internet surfers seem to see nothing wrong with the practice.

A common defence of the practice is to use the case of a whistle blower who makes a serious attempt to publicize a greater wrong and seeks to avoid job loss or physical attack. I see this as an acceptable exception and there may be others. But the overwhelming number of examples I see daily are inexcusable. Those times when no insult or libel is given are inoffensive enough, but many are cowardly and vindictive.

Councillor Bussin has since apologized on the floor of council or, at least, made some mealy-mouthed excuses for her behaviour. She said:

“I was listening to the show, I seldom do, and there were comments that I found rather difficult, and I did call in to the show…. Perhaps it was something I should not have done.”

I guess she just did what came naturally. Poor thing couldn’t help herself.

You can bet an apology would not have been offered had there not been days of speculation fingering her as the likely culprit.

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