I have now written this blog for more than four years. I have generally stayed on topic, discussing Bay Street matters. You can read all my previous posts here. This one is a bit unusual, but I believe it will set the proper context for many future pieces I will write.
I have always been transparent with you that my name is NoBull Klev. Technically, I am NoBull Klev Jr., as the original NoBull Klev is my grandma. (No relation to Sitting Bull.) However, I now realize that having such a traditional Judeo-Christian name has allowed me to conceal something that I am perhaps self-conscious about. It’s time that I come clean: I have an ethnic middle name. It’s 11 letters long. Spooky! It gets worse. Ever since I wrote a piece pooh-poohing Wes Hall’s book claiming that this country is systemically racist, there have been rumours swirling about my own background. People say that the only reason I was able to discuss such a fraught topic so breezily is because I myself am a visible minority. Why would people spread such hurtful rumours about me? Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with being ethnic. But if there’s even a 1% chance that Wes Hall is right about you people being racist, why risk it, you know what I mean? I am Bay Street’s Chief Kompromat Officer for crying out loud. It’s a position of high trust. Unfortunately, despite deploying my usual playbook of Threats, Intimidation and Deterrence (TID™), I was not able to get on top of the rumours. And so today, with great sadness, I must officially concede that I am indeed a visible minority. And not just because I have massive balls.
I know this will come as a special disappointment to those of you who know me best and assumed I was just another Anglo-Saxon. Or at the very minimum, Dutch. Or, worst-case nightmare scenario, Portuguese. Knowing, as you do, the colonial history of my birthplace, Sri Lanka, these are all plausible assumptions. But alas! I am indigenous. I am less like Christopher Columbus and more like Pocahontas. The original Pocahontas, not phoney-baloney Elizabeth Warren.
Who controls Bay Street?
You are no doubt familiar with the antisemitic trope that Jews pull the strings of the financial world. I am sick and tired of my Jewish friends being maligned in this way. It’s high time someone from my community said it: we Sri Lankans control Bay Street. Now, you might wonder: aren’t Sri Lankans better known for being the backbone of the restaurant industry in Toronto? You are right, but these innocuous, part-time jobs are just a cover we use to deflect attention from all the power that we wield.
One time I was at classic Bay Street spot Bymark. I was there having a meal, not clearing the tables you racist bigot! I got up to go to the toilet. As I passed by a man who I had never met, he announced to his table: “There goes a Sri Lankan.” It takes some skill to tell apart a Sri Lankan from an Indian. But I one-upped him by saying: “And you’re Ian Joseph.” Ian is a fellow Sri Lankan, but unrelated to me. I only knew of him because I have always been tracking the people of Bay Street. He’s the President of brokerage Paradigm Capital. Paradigm is a pretty small shop, so I don’t know if Ian was at Bymark entertaining clients or if he had just put in a shift washing dishes. Ian’s full name is Ian Michael Hildebrande Joseph. OMG, what a sellout!
The most interesting Sri Lankan in the world
Perhaps the most legendary Sri Lankan on Bay Street was Sir Christopher Ondaatje. His life is like one of the old Dos Equis beer ads. After his alcoholic father lost the family fortune, Ondaatje had to leave school a year from graduation. In 1956, he moved to Canada with virtually no money. In 1964, he represented Canada at the Olympics in bob-sledding. His first success in business was as a stockbroker. There's still a Bay Street brokerage that bears his name (Loewen Ondaatje McCutcheon). But he really made his mark when he started a publishing house called Pagurian in 1975. By 1988, Pagurian controlled over $1 billion in assets when Ondaatje sold to Hees International and became Vice-Chair. Hees kept morphing until it became Brookfield, now with AUM of $850B. I rest my case, Sri Lankans have been running Bay Street for a long time.
Wikipedia says Ondaatje "was considered one of Toronto’s most aggressive and predatory businessmen.” Which Christopher confirms, being quoted as saying: “I have always identified with predators. In business, you are either predator or prey.” Yikes! Are all Sri Lankans aggressive? That would be a generalization. Of course, just because it’s a generalization doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If you smirked at that, you definitely are a racist. In his defence, the word “predator” used to have a positive connotation, as in “Predators’ Ball”
At the peak of his game in 1995, Christopher returned from a safari, decided to quit business and move to Britain. There, he became a philanthropist, an adventurer chasing leopards and an author. Incidentally, his Canadian art collection is being auctioned by Waddington's this week. Christopher’s brother Michael is more famous, as he is the author of The English Patient. Ondaatje is a Tamil name, though spelt with Dutch flair. That’s because the Ondaatjes are a Burgher mix. What on Earth is a Burgher mix? It’s not a spicy version of Hamburger Helper! Burghers are Sri Lankans with European blood - they are a small minority. They're a bit like Thomas Rolfe. That's Rebecca Rolfe's son with her English husband. Rebecca is the name Pocahontas was given when she was baptized. Do I need to explain everything?
Some background: Sri Lankans come mainly in two varieties: Tamils and Sinhalese. Sinhalese are mostly Buddhists, while Tamils tend to be primarily Hindus (with some Catholics). In Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese are the majority. There was a big civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Predictably, the Brits had something to do with it. Under colonial rule, they favoured the minority Tamils for high posts. I wish Wes Hall had been there to point out how wrong that was. When the country got its independence, the majority group saw a chance for payback. One core issue were ethnic quotas in university admissions. Tamils take their education seriously! We have no choice - you might say we have "Tiger" moms. Most Sri Lankans in Canada are Tamils - like me - refugees from the war. My Tamil compadres would probably appreciate me clarifying that the notorious Sri Lankan-Canadian-American SPAC promoter Chamath Palihapitiya is Sinhalese. Look at his skinny legs!
I identify primarily as a Tamil. You’ll find us in Sri Lanka, India and of course, Scarborough. Famous Tamils include American VP Kamala Harris and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Perhaps the most visible Sri Lankan Tamil on Bay Street these days is Roy Ratnavel. He was the former Head of Distribution at CI Financial until his retirement in August. Roy was a political prisoner in Sri Lanka at age 17 and managed to escape to Canada alone at age 18. He started working in the mailroom at CI where big honcho Bill Holland took a shine to him and Roy eventually rose to hold the title of Vice Chairman. He has just released a bio called Prisoner #1056. His book and other writings are an implicit rebuttal to the victimhood narrative favoured by Wes Hall. I think Roy is doing a great job representing Sri Lankan Tamils as a hard-working, grateful, non-whiney minority. I am very bullish on my people.
Nevertheless, screw the other Sri Lankans, I want to be the totemic Sri Lankan on Bay Street. It’s perfectly OK and even encouraged to refer to me as Klev the Sri Lankan. No way I can let Ian Michael Hildebrande Joseph, if that is his real name, be more famous. In conclusion, I'm not caucasian, I'm a cocky Asian. Another time, I will make sure to address some of your lingering concerns: whether I am a proper Christian or whether I pray to one of those elephant-headed deities, whether I have at any point been a Tamil Tiger and most ominously, whether I am in any way related to RAJ RAJARATNAM. Spooky!