Category Archives: Media

Riding with Rafe: 10 years of stories from a BC icon

Rafe Mair in Campbell River in 2009, speaking out against GE’s $5 Billion proposed Bute Inlet private power project (Image: Damien Gillis)

Listen to Damien Gillis and Phil Johnson on Kelowna’s AM 1150 discussing Rafe Mair’s legacy (Oct. 10):

Few people are lucky enough to work with, let alone become close friends with one of their heroes. Over the past decade, I got to ride shotgun with mine: legendary politician, broadcaster and environmental defender Rafe Mair. But on our many road trips around this great province, hosting townhall meetings on pipelines, tankers, hydropower, wild salmon and the public interest, it was me who did the driving. Rafe supplied the music – from his ipods full of jazz and old-time classics – and, of course, the stories. So many good stories. As we remember Rafe, following his passing at the age of 85, I’d like to pass on a few.

This is not meant as hagiography to gloss over Rafe’s imperfections, which he readily acknowledged were many – rather as my own recollections of the tales my friend and mentor told me and the adventures we had together.

Rafe, reinvented

Like many British Columbians, I listened to Rafe on the radio during his hall-of-fame career, mostly at CKNW. He was my kind of guy – an intelligent, entertaining firebrand with a deep sense of justice. And a voice that seemed to cut through the bullshit spewed by our politicians and CEOs. He knew that elite world, having worked in the law and served as a prominent Socred minister, but he left it behind to go to bat for the little guy on the airwaves, which he’d do as well as any before or since. At his peak, he was the highest rated talk show host in Western Canada, with numbers that are simply unheard of today.

And yet, the time came when he no longer fit the mainstream media. It was their loss and the beginning of the end of their cultural relevance. Rafe always said his politics didn’t change – it was the party on the right that did. Even as Socred Environment Minister, Rafe stopped the raising of the Ross Dam on the Skagit river, halted the slaughter of wolves in the north, and placed a moratorium on uranium mining. This from a right winger…in the late ‘70s! When the BC Liberals took over from the party of the Bennetts, the right began to harden and lose touch with the public. Rafe would see journalism undergo a similar transformation.

The media of Edward R. Murrow, Woodward and Bernstein, Jack Webster, Marjorie Nichols, and Rafe Mair became consolidated, corporatized, Reaganized, sanitized.  Thus, it was they who changed – not Rafe. Well, he did evolve, but not so much in terms of his values, rather in the tools he used. Which is how our roads converged.

Damien Gillis (left) and Rafe Mair in 2007, three years before co-founding The Common Sense Canadian (Photo: Donna Passmore)

In the mid-2000s, I was a young documentary filmmaker, 48 years Rafe’s junior, taking on environmental and public interest stories. I began digging into the Campbell Government’s plan to give away the rights to BC’s waterways for hugely expensive and unnecessary private power projects, producing videos and online articles for Save Our Rivers Society. We knew we needed to take our campaign to the next level and that’s when a lightbulb went off. I’d met Rafe as he spoke passionately at rallies for farmland. He was greeted with a hero’s welcome by audiences who appreciated his wisdom and passion and were wholly unaccustomed to being in the same room as an ex-Socred minister, let alone agreeing with him. Moreover, Rafe had been an avid fly fisherman and knew many of the rivers at risk, firsthand. He was already outspoken against salmon farms and eager to reinvent himself in his post-radio career. I begged SORS’ President Tom Rankin and the board to hire Rafe as our official spokesperson, which, to their great credit, they did. (I also want to acknowledge the recent passing of another SORS alum, Charles Boylan).

And so it began.

Rafe was baptized by fire into the campaign, leading the charge in front of 1,400 people in the Pitt Meadows Secondary gymnasium. Channelling his own hero, Winston Churchill, he brought the crowd to its feet – and a private power company, which wanted to divert all five tributaries of the Pitt, to its knees. “When – not if – we win the fight for the Pitt,” Rafe proclaimed, “we must take the spirit of the Pitt right around the province and rally decent people against an indecent government…What we’re talking about here is the very soul of the province that we love. And we must fight and continue to fight until we’ve beaten the bastards and preserved Super, Natural British Columbia for all time.”

The following day, the project was dead. Tom and I shared a few high-fives. We were off to the races.

Hitting the road

We set off around the province, taking our message to every corner of BC. I would screen videos I’d made about the issue, while Rafe and others like Joe Foy and Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee (also sadly deceased this year – another huge loss), Andy Ross of COPE, and retired NDP Minster Corky Evans would thunder away at the podium. It was a particular delight seeing Rafe and Corky – hands-down the best two political orators in the province and one-time nemeses – finding common ground and mutual admiration over the protection of our rivers and public purse.

After the 2009 election, Rafe and I decided we liked working together so much that we’d create our own vehicle to do it on a more permanent basis. We shared a love for Thomas Paine – the Englishman who figured prominently in both the French and American revolutions. Perhaps it was the way he used the medium of his day – the printing press – to speak truth to power and rally the masses. The name of our publication was partly inspired by Paine, whose seminal work was titled Common Sense. But it was also in reference to our no-nonsense approach to the issues with which we dealt – pipelines, fracking, LNG, dams, fish farms, mines, and so on – often long before the mainstream media had even heard of them. We were interested in getting to the root of the matter, providing the public with good information and holding our politicians’ feet to the fire, no matter what stripe. Rafe wrote prolifically for other new media publications as well, including a great run at The Tyee. He even has a book coming out posthumously with Watershed Sentinel, titled Politically Incorrect: How Canada Lost Its Way and the Simple Path Home. It deals with a topic that preoccupied Rafe of late – democratic reform.

Rafe holding court in Merritt before the 2013 election

At The Common Sense Canadian, in addition to videos, articles and social media, we kept touring, which Rafe loved. I remember picking him up in Lions Bay for one of our first road trips together. The first order of business was plugging in his ipod (Rafe professed complete helplessness with all technology but curiously mastered the ipod). He hit play and out came the Gene Autry classic, “Back in the Saddle Again”. Rafe was rarely in great health in those days, but his spirits were high and he seemed reinvigorated in his new role. We traveled all around this great province, often driving for hours on end to packed halls in the Kootenays, the Okanagan, the Interior, Vancouver Island, you name it. The people came in droves to see Rafe. Everywhere we went, walking down Main Street – often to visit a book store as Rafe added to his massive library – people recognized him from his days in radio and voiced their admiration. It was remarkable what an institution Rafe had become, even in rural BC.

This all could have proved a tedious affair – the long drives, the motels, the fast food. Instead, they were some of the best days of my life. There was no question that we would listen to his music. If I had tried, say, to slip in a little hip-hop, I imagine I would have quickly found myself at the receiving end of one of his fancy wooden canes. And so we drove on, the voices of Ella Fitzgerald (his favourite), Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong providing the soundtrack to our voyage.

And Rafe would talk. And talk. (I’ve been known to do a little of that myself too – so there was plenty of give and take). I was an eager student of whatever the topic of the day. Often it was BC political history – a blend of big events, from his time as environment minister to shooting down the Charlottetown Accord, and anecdotes about the misadventures of our elected officials in the 1970s, most not fit for publication. From World War II to baseball trivia, Rafe was a sheer fountain of knowledge. Sometimes he shared stories about his many, many trips to London – one of which led to a chance encounter with one Wendy Conway, to whom he would propose just four days later. Impulsive, perhaps, but he’d say it was the smartest thing he ever did. As I got to know Wendy, it became abundantly clear that it was.

Taking down Goliath

Rafe also shared some of his previous battles, including a few triumphs. One of his proudest achievements was killing Alcan’s Kemano Completion Project, which top DFO scientists, in a detailed study that was hidden from the public, concluded would be devastating to wild salmon in the Nechako and Fraser rivers. A friend and then-recently retired DFO scientist, Dr. Gordon Hartman, slipped Rafe a brown envelope containing the buried report. Armed with that, Rafe hammered away at the project for years, in barrister-like fashion, alongside Prince George stalwart journalist Ben Meisner.

Ironically, the day Rafe finally gave up on this crusade, he took Wendy out for dinner in Horseshoe Bay. As they were commiserating over what he thought to be a failed campaign, a TV news crew came running up to them. The way Rafe told it, as they caught their breath, they exclaimed, “Mr. Mair! We’ve been looking all over for you. We wanted to get your comment on Kemano.” Premier Harcourt had finally caved and pulled the plug on the project earlier that day. For his work on the subject, Rafe would win the Governor-General’s prestigious Michener Award for public service journalism (he would later add the Jack Webster Foundation’s Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award and an induction into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame).

Rafe used the Kemano story to illustrate why, as Churchill famously said, you “Never give in. Never, never, never, never…” You simply don’t know when you’re going to make that breakthrough. Wise words for those still fighting Kinder Morgan or Woodfibre LNG or open net pen salmon farms or Site C Dam – all unfinished campaigns that Rafe continued to work on, literally until his dying breath.

It was because of Kemano that the Terrace City Council actually voted to declare the town a “Rafe Mair-Free Zone”. I’m not making this up. They were hungry for the jobs they thought the project would provide (they’d later learn the hard way that local jobs were the furthest thing from the company’s mind – instead preferring to sell the power through the likes of Enron across the border). So we had some fun with that when we ventured up to Terrace to talk about private power projects and, later, pipelines and tankers – another dangerous idea staked on inflated local job promises. No, Rafe wasn’t arrested, though he would have proudly sacrificed himself in such a way, as he swore he was prepared to do.

Channelling your inner Rafe

We also attended many bogus environmental assessment meetings together – though Rafe would say he’d rather have a root canal without anaesthetic. There, I saw and documented firsthand his greatest gift. The government and industry organizers – working hand-in-hand – would try to control the process, tamping down public furor with bureaucratic procedures and dry presentations by the proponent. Rafe had no patience for that. He would grab hold of the microphone the first chance he got. In Powell River and Campbell River, he spoke before packed houses about General Electric’s proposed $5 Billion, 17-river Bute Inlet project and was chastised by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency lady for his foul language – but the crowds had a different reaction.

Once Rafe got his hands on the mic, the government and company would lose control. Rafe opened the floodgates to every otherwise timid granny or young person who’d never spoken in public, now suddenly emboldened. You could see them nodding along to Rafe’s rallying cry, clapping their hands, as if to say, “Yeah, what he said, damn it!”  Rafe gave them all permission to release their inner firebrand, which they did, each getting up to the microphone and giving the powers that be a piece of their mind. So effectively that one-by-one, we killed multi-billion dollar projects – Bute Inlet, Upper Pitt River, Glacier-Howser in the Kootenays. Thanks to the Campbell/Clark Liberal government, we BC Hydro ratepayers have inherited $58 Billion worth of rip-off private power projects and dozens of damaged rivers. The problem would have been twice as bad were it not for the efforts of Rafe and his allies.

So great was Rafe and co.’s impact on these environmental assessments that our governments actually changed the environmental assessment process. Gone are these big townhalls with an open microphone and bully pulpit – replaced by “open houses” with people in green polo shirts, armed with clipboards, shiny pamphlets, tea and cookies, happy to “manage” your concerns.

Speaking truth to Brian Burke

During our time together, Rafe would also recount many stories from his days in radio. He revered CKNW owner Frank Griffiths, who always had his star broadcaster’s back, even when Rafe slagged the station’s big sponsors, like McDonalds or the Canucks. On the occasions Rafe spoke ill of the latter, management would be sure to get an angry phone call from then-GM Brian Burke, demanding Rafe apologize on air. Rafe would then get the predictable call from the sales director, hoping against hope that Rafe would throw him a bone and patch things up. But they all knew there was a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening. Rafe Mair didn’t kowtow to anyone, nor did he have to. Old Frank Sr. would tell his sales people, “If you can’t sell advertising with Rafe’s numbers, you’re in the wrong business.”

Well, the Griffiths family sold ‘NW to the Shaws and their Corus Radio behemoth and Rafe’s days were numbered. With him went the last of the golden era of Vancouver talk radio. If you want to understand this fascinating phenomenon which influenced media around North America, check out George Orr’s documentary, Talk!

But this was just a microcosm of a larger shift in journalism, which Rafe often lamented in these pages and in our conversations. This culminated in our largest newspaper chain, Postmedia, signing a five million-dollar deal to provide editorial and journalistic content to the oil and gas lobby.

The Ryerson story

One Rafe Mair story perfectly encapsulates this shift in the Canadian media landscape. Some fifteen years ago, he was approached by the editor of Ryerson School of Journalism’s annual review to pen its feature column. As Rafe told it, he happily agreed and soon thereafter submitted his piece, the thesis of which was essentially: As you idealistic, young grads go out into the world of journalism, you will inevitably find yourselves being censored or you will feel the pressure to self-censor to protect your career.

Weeks went by and Rafe heard nothing back, until, finally, a note came informing him that his column was “unacceptable” – but not for a lack of quality. “Unacceptable to whom? And why?” Rafe asked. They wouldn’t say, but they did offer him two options: 1. He could take a hundred dollars in compensation for his unappreciated efforts; 2. He could submit a new piece on a different topic. “There’s a third option,” Rafe replied. “You can all go fuck yourselves.”

A decade or so later, following his retirement, another Ryerson journalism student approached Rafe, wanting to interview him about “the greatest disappointment of his career in journalism.” Rafe agreed, but before the appointed interview, the student emailed him for a preview of his response. Rafe wrote back that the greatest disappointment of his career was the time Ryerson University spiked his column. You can  probably guess what happened next.

A man of many contradictions

The better I got to know Rafe, one of the big things that struck me was the contradictions he embodied. We’re all complicated people, but he more than most. He called wild salmon “the soul of this province,” and he’d fight for them to the ends of the earth – but he couldn’t stomach a bite of the stuff.

A former lawyer, he was likely the most sued journalist in Canadian history, winning a landmark battle at the Supreme Court of Canada which increased the protection of free speech against defamation suits. Our friends at the Wilderness Committee leaned on this precedent to stave off a SLAPP suit by Taseko mines over Fish Lake. Another pal of Rafe and mine, anti-salmon farm campaigner Don Staniford, also found Simpson v. Mair very useful in his own defence against a defamation case.

Rafe was a masterful public speaker, but surprisingly insecure. Every evening before a show, he’d nervously go over his notes, striking out a line, then putting it back, questioning his tack, wondering if his legs would carry him to the podium. He’d bring the house down, then, to my bewilderment and disagreement, apologize to me for fucking everything up.

He was as tough as they came, but a deeply caring, sensitive man. Seven decades after attending St. George’s Private School, he still spoke out about the horrors of corporal punishment on his young classmates. He offered open mea culpas about his family receiving the benefits of business assets “stolen” (his words) from interned Japanese Canadians. He was one of the first public figures to speak openly about his own depression, shedding light on mental health issues in the workplace at a time when that was still very much taboo. People like fellow broadcaster John McComb have acknowledged just how helpful this was to them.

He loved his chocolate labs (and chocolate bars – but don’t tell Wendy I let him have any on our road trips). He became a big bowl of mush whenever they sought his affection. I can see him now, in a better place, tossing a ball to Chauncy and Clancy.

Bombastic? Cantankerous? Sure, to people who crossed him – and they mostly deserved it. But I witnessed his kindness to strangers, always taking time to listen to their concerns and share a moment with them. He spoke everyday of his love for Wendy. He was proud of his children and absolutely loved his grandchildren and growing brood of great grandchildren. He could gush, telling me how proud he was of me or how much he valued our friendship. I wish I was half as expressive in return – but such words didn’t come as easily to me.

Giving up fishing

Roderick Haig-Brown (Haig-Brown Institute)

One of his most interesting contradictions came about later in life. He loved fly fishing and regaled me with stories of his trips to New Zealand, whose rivers he valued second only to those in BC which we drove by on our trips. He wrote a number of books on the subject and one of my favourite experiences with him was taking him to see the old home of Roderick Haig-Brown, the famous fisherman, author and conservationist, in my hometown of Campbell River. Haig-Brown is a legend, both locally and far afield – but Rafe was a particularly big fan.

We were in town for a show and had some time to kill, but it was winter and the house wasn’t open to the public. We drove up anyway and knocked on the door, to no avail. Just as we were walking back to the car, the husband of the writer-in-residence who was living and working there at the time opened the door and overheard us talking. “Is that Rafe Mair?” he yelled after us. “I recognized your voice. I loved your show! Come on in!”

Roderick Haig-Brown’s study in Campbell River (

We stepped into the post-and-beam study overlooking the river, which is perfectly preserved, right down to the pipe on the desk, the smell of old tobacco and leather book jackets perfuming the air. I looked at Rafe and he was having what seemed a religious experience. This was the dean of fly fishing and conservation philosophy, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to see Rafe as heir to that legacy.

And yet, a few years back, Rafe had given up fly fishing, one of his great loves. As we drove on, he described his epiphany: One day he had a fish on the line – I don’t recall if it was a rainbow or dolly or bull trout – but another fish swam up beside it, as if to show sympathy to his captured pal. Of course, the captured fish was due to be released, but Rafe had been reading about low survival rates from catch-and-release, and that was the last straw. “Damn if those fish don’t have feelings!” he exclaimed. Away went the rod for good and he wrote a book called The Last Cast.

“I used to hate Rafe Mair”

Rafe always said he didn’t change much – it was the media and politics that changed around him. But clearly he did evolve, and not just in the area of fly fishing. “With First Nations, there’s no question I’ve changed,” he conceded. This was evident on the evening of his 80th Birthday Roast, which I organized with Rafe’s longtime producer and dear friend Shiral Tobin nearly 6 years ago. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, explained that in his days as a young, long-haired native rights activist, listening to the radio, “I pretty much have to say I hated Rafe Mair. I couldn’t stand hearing that voice and those opinions,” but later clarifying:

[quote]We’ve seen an incredible transformation take place with respect to Rafe Mair. He has marched with us, he’s walked with us, he’s stood with us, he’s spoken out on all of the issues that are important to our people.[/quote]

Flanked by his Vice-President Bob Chamberlin and Secretary-Treasurer Marilyn Baptiste, Chief Phillip noted that this was the first time to his knowledge that the UBCIC’s full executive had ever come out to such an occasion to honour someone in this way.

In recent years, Rafe grew too ill to hit the road, and our literal journeys came to an end. But his mind and pen remained sharp, as a wander through the archives of The Common Sense Canadian will prove. At Rafe’s 80th, he was presented with a beautiful wooden walking stick, hand carved by the DFO scientist who helped him bring down the Kemano Completion Project, Dr. Gordon Hartman. It told the story of Rafe’s life – the battles he’d fought, some lost, but a surprising number won in the face of great odds. Six years later, that cane merits a half-dozen new etchings and a few more only partly finished – the battles left for others to carry on, perhaps with Rafe’s words of encouragement echoing in their ears.

Rafe Mair personified BC. He loved it, lived it, changed with it…and changed it.

Me, I was lucky to be along for the ride.

Happy trails, partner.

Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside

The Shattered Mirror: What caused the fall of mainstream media – the Internet or shoddy, sycophantic corporate journalism?

Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside
“Nine-year-old newsie and his 7-year-old brother ‘Red.'” (1915 Photo: Lewis Wickes Hine/Shorpy)


On January 27, an outfit called the Public Policy Forum released a report call the The Shattered Mirror, dealing with the state of Canada’s media. It was quarterbacked and written by Edward Greenspon, best remembered as editor of the *”Toronto Globe & Mail”. Discovering the terms of reference takes some doing and this is the best I could find:

[quote]When the Public Policy Forum (PPF) began thinking about a study on the state of the news media in Canada, in early 2016, the headlines were all bad. Within a fortnight in January 2016 alone, Rogers Media and Postmedia announced new rounds of staff reductions, Torstar revealed plans to close its printing plant, and Confederation-era newspaper titles in Guelph, Ont., and Nanaimo, B.C., were shuttered, the first of six daily papers to close, merge or reduce their publishing schedules before year’s end. The situation wasn’t much better on the broadcast news side, where revenues, especially in local television, followed the downward track of the newspaper industry, inducing the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to step in.

A parliamentary committee was formed. News companies and industry associations queued up with complaints of inequities in the marketplace. Some made requests for public assistance.

The Government of Canada contracted with the PPF, a non-partisan and independent think-tank, to assess the situation and make recommendations on what,if anything, should be done. The object was not to defend any mode of news delivery, but to evaluate the risk to democracy.” (Emphasis added)[/quote]

The Public Policy Forum mandate states “to serve as a neutral, independent forum for open dialogue on public policy, to encourage reform in public sector management and excellence in government”. I’ll have a look at “neutral, independent” in a bit.

After several readings of the The Shattered MirrorI’d say that the mandate is credible so long as your notion of public sector management and excellence in government jibes with that of the upper 20% or so of the population, the late Denny Boyd’s “Higher Purpose Persons”. The recommendations make clear that the essence of the report is getting more money to the news media as it exists by taxing digital providers on the Internet.

Let’s go back to the last line of the Terms of Reference.

“The object was not to defend any mode of news delivery, but to evaluate the risk to democracy.”

It’s interesting and I think central to this critique to note that there is no attempt in The Shattered Mirror to assess “democracy” in the “Mainstream Media” today, so let’s take a peek at the industry that wants more money to take care of it, and see how democratic it really is.

Selling its soul

Rafe- Canada's biggest newspaper chain has sold its soul to oil and gasThe largest Canadian newspaper chain, Postmedia, has a deal with The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry shill, which guarantees that Postmedia will support the latter at every turn. I’ve called the pact, indelicately but I think accurately, a mutual masturbation agreement. (See

What does this deal mean in the real world?

Surely we can all agree that this is a fair and reasonable statement of the basic code by which journalism should be judged: “The core purpose of a journalist is to research, document, write, and present the news in an honest, ethical, and unbiased way”. Clearly, failure to meet those elementary standards would be to fail the principles of democracy.

In law, there’s a maxim which reverses the onus called res ipsa loquitor, which simply means “the thing speaks for itself”, so that, in the absence of an explanation, no further proof is necessary. When a newspaper or a chain makes a back scratching deal with the fossil fuel industry, it surely can be taken as producing a “bias” contrary to the principles of journalism, thus undemocratic.

What if a Postmedia newspaper, say the Vancouver Province, were to make a deal with a company promoting an LNG refinery, highly controversial in the community; would that not also take away the journalistic independence so necessary to democracy?

What if that paper became an actual partner in that project? How could it possibly report on Woodfibre LNG in an honest, ethical and unbiased way? As we all know, the Province is a formal, legal partner with Resource Works whose only raison d’être is to promote the Woodfibre LNG project.

How much news, adverse to the production of LNG in Howe Sound, do you suppose the Province or any Postmedia company is going to print? How about LNG itself? And there’s the rub – it’s difficult enough to know whether or not what is printed is valid but when media outlets simply don’t print anything on a notorious subject, it’s impossible to know what news they avoided.

A higher-up in the Vancouver Sun admitted to me that they are under orders to be supportive of the BC government and it’s common knowledge that when the NDP were last in power, Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer roasted them at every turn and was widely credited with killing the Glen Clark government. Since 2001, Campbell, Clark and the Liberals, now in power, can do no wrong if the deafening silence of the Vancouver Sun, the Province, their editorials and columnists are to be believed.

How come? Did Mr. Greenspon raise this clear bias with them? If so, you wouldn’t know that from the The Shattered Mirror!

See no evil, print no evil

I, among others, long ago raised the Independent Power Project/BC Hydro issue, warning the Liberals publicly that this policy would not only ruin many rivers but would be the financial ruination of BC Hydro. None doubted that had the NDP brought in such a deadly policy, there would have been hell to pay in the Vancouver Sun and Province but Campbell and Christy Clark got a free pass. That is by no means the only Liberal catastrophe Postmedia has avoided raising.

BC Premier Christy Clark touring Petronas' operations in Malaysia (BC Govt / Flickr CC licence)
BC Premier Christy Clark touring Petronas’ operations in Malaysia (BC Govt / Flickr CC licence)

As this is written, we’re down to election time yet the colossal misdeeds of the Liberal government continue to get a very soft ride. The Liberals’ social services record is appalling; BC Hydro is in financial tatters; the public debt has more than doubled; the so-called “balanced budgets” are as phoney as a $3 bill; Liberal party fundraising is an ongoing scandal; now we learn that affairs of the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) have been mangled by endemic Liberal mismanagement and is in deep trouble. How remarkable that a “business-oriented” government could even lose bundles with monopolies on power and on car insurance, and get away with it in the Postmedia newspapers. It’s not difficult to connect the dots between the pleasant treatment that the Sun and Province give the Liberals and the “sweetheart deal” between Postmedia and CAPP. It’s also not hard to understand why Kinder Morgan was always going to get Clark’s approval, nor a mystery why Clark supports the climate-destroying fossil fuel, LNG. Her political motto should be “money over morality”.

Old boys’ club

We’re supposed to be a country that honours, indeed demands, competitiveness in the marketplace. The Toronto Globe and Mail and Postmedia are competitors.  With Postmedia financially crippled, why hasn’t the Globe and Mail gone on a major circulation campaign and driven Postmedia to its knees and picked up the pieces at fire sale prices? That’s what capitalists are supposed to do and we even have laws to compel competition but evidently they don’t apply to the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Shattered Mirror chair Edward Greenspon (
Shattered Mirror chair Edward Greenspon (

I should remind you that the head of Public Policy Forum, Edward Greenspon, was long associated with and editor-in-chief of the Toronto Globe and Mail and clearly sees this as a “them and us” struggle between the old boys, much including Postmedia, and the digitalized forces of evil. It’s critical that the “good guys win” meaning they show solidarity rather than fangs.

If the recommendations Greenspon has made to visit GST and PST on Internet companies result in bankrupting them, and the “good ol’ boys” convince Trudeau to put the new tax money into a “completely independent” pot for “needy media companies” (guess who), why, God is in his heavens and the Luddites have won! With respect to the electronic media, that must await another day.

Let me close with a couple of questions to Mr. Greenspon.

As part of keeping Postmedia afloat, did you insist that they divorce themselves from the fossil fuel industry? Did you tell them  that they must restore journalistic principles to their entire operations? Did you insist that they hold government’s feet to the fire? That their writers must have freedom of speech restored? Did you tell Paul Godfrey, head of Postmedia, that he must pay back the $900,000 he paid himself as a bonus as he terminated employees left, right, and centre?

Lawyers don’t just look at the details of a deal but what they call the “pith and substance”. What a contract says it does and what really happens can be very different, so what Mr. Greenspon declares to be the objects and the results achieved require careful, skeptical, indeed near cynical examination.   

Bailing out a failed industry

The Shattered Mirror has bugger-all to do with democracy and good journalism and everything to do with bailing out an industry that’s facing obsolescence just as workers faced in the industrial revolution did when the cotton gin was invented. The electronic media has the same advantages the cotton gin had, being much cheaper and much more productive.

I urge you all to read The Shattered Mirror and reach your own conclusions, but I can tell you what came through to me loud and clear was that the current media industry was going to get financial relief at the expense of the new digital techniques if it gets Justin’s approval – and I suspect he had that, “nudge, nudge, wink wink d’ya get my drift” from the outset. It’s a defiance of history where the machine smashers get to keep their jobs – where the cost of failure to keep up with the times is visited on the consumers and taxpayers.

Shattered Mirror picLet me close with joining dots between the Public Policy Forum and Kinder Morgan. Do you wonder what their position would be had this BC controversy been referred to PPF? Here’s one of their projects – billed “How Canada Can Restore Public Confidence in Resource Development”, complete with this photograph I took from their website.

Trudeau fils, whose views on pipelines are such that he unhesitatingly places the interests, indeed loyalty, of BC a distant second to the prospect of winning 34 seats up for grabs in Alberta and approved the Kinder Morgan line, would love this independent, let the “chips fall where they may” study done by Public Policy Forum:

[quote]Partnering with Enbridge, ATCO Group, Cenovus Energy, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Public Policy Forum launched an exploration of key issues and opportunities in establishing public confidence in resource development. Through one-on-one interviews and roundtable discussions with more than 80 leaders across sectors, we identified four critical factors in building public confidence in resource projects and the specific roles that key stakeholders need to play.[/quote]

And that, dear friends of democracy,  how the big kids in this country  make their fair, independent and unbiased decisions.

So, do we just let them go broke?

Let me answer this way: If they do, history teaches us that the void will be filled. But keeping them alive with government subsidies is a slippery slope to disaster. Instead of a news industry in thrall to big business generally and the fossil fuel industry specifically, they will no more wish to offend the government than they now do the fossil fuel industry, and guess what – big business and especially the fossil fuel industry plus the Liberal government will be be there, for, never forget, now they’re partners of the government too.

Now whence that democracy so dear to Mr. Greenspon’s heart?


* This paper has no more right to declare itself Canada’s National Newspaper than does The North Shore News and, besides, it pisses them off so.


Rafe: Gary Mason, quit lecturing Vancouverites for opposing pipelines

Recent Kinder Morgan protest in Vancouver (Photo: Lu Iz/Facebook)
Recent Kinder Morgan protest in Vancouver (Photo: Lu Iz/Facebook)

I simply couldn’t believe Gary Mason in Friday’s Globe and Mail In his article entitled “Sorry Vancouver: The rest of Canada needs pipelines”. I urge you to read the article so that if I misrepresent Mr. Mason you will see it for yourself.

Mason gives Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson hell and by extension all of us the same for being overly proud and concerned about our coastline and other beauties we cherish. He tells us about the unemployment in the oil patch and tough times in Newfoundland and Labrador and praises Justin Trudeau for his decision on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the strong implication being that this was in the best interest of all Canadians and therefore it didn’t matter if it was distinctly not in the interest of some of them.

We selfish British Columbians

The, dare I say, majority of British Columbians are bad Canadians because we are not prepared to sacrifice our coastline, homes, fjords, mountains, forests, rivers, farmland, lakes and oceans so that Alberta can reinvigorate the Tar Sands, the world’s worst polluter, and send its, forgive me, shit through our province, into our ocean and destroy what we hold dear.

Mason glosses over the environmental disaster that Alberta’s Tar Sands are. It’s evidently an act of patriotism to get it up and running again so that Alberta will be rich again and their employment problems all behind him. There isn’t a suggestion, perish the thought, that Trudeau has a large political stake in this decision.

It doesn’t seem to matter that this decision will wreak huge destruction in this province. Oh, a bit of a risk perhaps but nothing to be concerned about. Never mind that a risk is an event waiting to happen, never mind that, once started, not only does it never end but increases. Overlook the fact that statistically it’s a certainty that there will be bad spills and collisions and never mind that the consequences will be terrible, British Colombians are churlish in the extreme to withhold their support for such selfish reasons. Mason, at one point, sneers:

[quote]People in Vancouver need to get out of their Idyllic little bubble and see how things are in the rest of the country. Not everyone has fluked a small fortune as a result of home ownership. Many people across this country live day to day.[/quote]

This from Gary Mason surprises me a great deal. I believe that British Colombians have a great deal of empathy for other Canadians who are having financial difficulties. In fact, I was part of the debates on equalization in the 70s at first ministers conferences and our province was always supportive of the “equalization” being part of our Constitution and we consistently recognized that we were fortunate in our natural resources where others have not been so lucky. Alberta, I might add, wasn’t quite as supportive. However, it never occurred to me, nor did I ever hear it suggested, that it was part of our obligation to permit our resources to be damaged and destroyed in order to fulfill our patriotic duty.

BC has changed…for the better

British Columbians have made extraordinary adjustments in their outlook in the last several decades.  When I was a boy and a young man there was always another valley to log, another run of fish, more farmland around the corner, more rivers to dam or even reverse. This was considered our birthright. But though it took us a long time to realize it, we saw that we no longer had those luxuries. For far too long we carried on with blindfolds, in denial, but, helped considerably by brave men and women, mocked for their ideas, who marched, picketed, protested, harried, we changed. Groups seen as crazies, even outlaws, gained respectability and stature. I think of people like Colleen McCrory, Joe Foy, Paul Watson to name just a few. Resource extraction companies and politicians, however reluctantly, began to change. We started to ask questions and do research before we acted.

We left a hell of a lot to be desired but we did better and better. We began to respect what we have and not just see resources as dollar signs in the making. We accepted that conservation and restraint cost money. Not everyone did, of course, but more and more every day.

More environment than “resources”

Photo: Canada2020 / Flickr
Photo: Canada2020 / Flickr

Those who didn’t feel this way sometimes just said to hell with it as Stephen Harper did. Others, like Justin Trudeau learned duplicity, how to speak out of both sides of their mouth. They eloquently talked about saving the environment and changing our ways while doing the very opposite.

As I assess it, and I could be very wrong, the majority of British Columbians, in ever increasing numbers changed and saw their province as much more than a cash cow. They took increasing pride in what was around them and became determined to protect it. They also noted a great example of what past government follies unchanged can do to a great salmon fishery. This has become a daily reminder to British Columbians but unnoticed by Justin Trudeau and his crew.

And they learned that oil companies and their own government obscured facts and in fact lied. They saw and remembered what Enbridge said was a minor pipeline rupture did to the Kalamazoo River. When they’re told that tankers don’t hit things they read publications like gCaptain and see about one serious collision a week. They see environmental assessments as about as honest as a the old Soviet show trials were. There is no trust of corporations and governments any more because they damn well don’t deserve it.

Now comes Gary Mason and the Toronto Globe and Mail telling us that British Columbians are wrong to be proud of caring about their surroundings and taking increasing steps to protect them and that when the likes of Justin Trudeau tells them they owe it to Canada to sacrifice them for the Tar Sands we should cheerfully do so.

The Prime Minister and Premier Christy Clark are prepared to do so.

Most British Columbians are not and to call their patriotism into question is disgraceful.  It is our Premier, Prime Minister, Gary Mason and The Toronto Globe and Mail who should be ashamed.


Rafe: Clark getting free ride from media, Horgan just dropping ball

Christy Clark (Province of BC/Flickr and John Horgan (BCNDP/Flickr)
Christy Clark (Province of BC/Flickr and John Horgan (BCNDP/Flickr)

Before I start today’s piece, a quick report on the two columns I did recently on the Canadian government, starting with the ravages of “responsible government”, moving to suggested cures.

I received substantial feedback from across the country but not one word from an MP, MLA or an ex, questioning what I said about the effect of “responsible government”.

What to do?

Two things – raise hell with the Ministry of Education and teachers and make sure that our youngsters are taught what really happens with “responsible government”, and, secondly, test the bona fides of Democracy Watch, and its Founder and Coordinator, Duff Conacher, which claims to advocate for democratic reform, government accountability and corporate responsibility issues.


I’ve been critical of John Horgan, leader of the official opposition, because I don’t think he understands his job and hasn’t been performing it. There are so many issues that care must be taken not to lose one’s way in the morass of meanderings the Clark government has taken us on.

One of the major issues, if not the major issue, is BC Hydro and a former NDP leader, Adrian Dix, is finally doing the kind of job that proper opposition requires. He has the facts and is persistent at getting the arguments out everywhere possible.

Media quit doing its job

That leads me to a problem Mr. Horgan has and it started with the Campbell election in 2001 – the print and electronic media collapsed. Certainly in my time and in the NDP years, they took the position that government pronouncements were probably bullshit. When the opposition cross-examined ministers on policy and legislation, it was reported and reported accurately – although we in government always thought it was overblown in favour of the opposition. It was the major source of opposition information.

The principal BC newspapers, the Vancouver Sun and Province are owned by Postmedia and they have a written deal with the oil industry which I call, and I think fairly, a mutual masturbation agreement. If anyone wants a copy, I will be pleased to provide it.

When you think about it, that’s a free pass for Christy and Co. to do whatever they please. There is no serious criticism of Clark’s ongoing multi-screwup of the LNG issue because Postmedia is an ally of the oil industry. Furthermore, The Province is a partner with Resource Works, promoting the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant.

Proposed pipelines don’t get any serious static from local newspapers and when it comes to increasing production and export of petroleum products, Postmedia is in favour. Once newspapers start supporting a government to that extent, it goes right through the entire government record.

Private power fiasco

Let’s quickly look again at an issue I’ve been raising now for quite a few years. It is commonly agreed by independent experts that Gordon Campbell’s Energy Policy of 2002, continued by Clark, has not only been an environmental disaster but also a huge economic burden on what once was one of the finest energy companies in the world, BC Hydro. Campbell gave large, often foreign corporations the exclusive right to generate new electricity and BC Hydro is forced to take that power whether they need it or nor, at the time it’s offered and at a highly inflated price.

Wouldn’t you have thought that Vaughn Palmer, the slayer of premiers, would have been right there demanding to know why private corporations got this favoured deal and were making a bundle at the expense of the taxpayer who owns BC Hydro? That question has never been asked by anybody from the Vancouver Sun or the Province to this day. Why not?!

Hydro’s exploding debt

Here’s what economist Erik Andersen has to say:

[quote]So here is the Government’s and BC Hydro’s brilliance. The customers of BC Hydro have not needed any additional electricity for more than a decade yet, all the while, customer rates increased by 30% and the debt to run the crown corporation has been increased by 1,170%, from $6 billion in 2005 to $70 billion in 2015.[/quote]

No one in the media has demanded to know why?

Return on investment

Now, don’t for a moment think the companies haven’t been grateful, even before they got their leases. The record, always available to Postmedia, shows that from July 1, 2008 to September 30, 2010 – when B.C. Hydro was making its decisions – 14 proponents donated $268,461 to the Liberals. One donated $1,000 to the NDP. Ten of the 14 were successful.

Their before and after donations are interesting.

For the 10 successful proponents, their donations doubled from $112,801 (January 2005 to June 2008) to $229,471.

After the deals were done, they settled back again. Seven donated $112,345 to the Liberals (2010 to 2014).

It’s now 2016, less than a year from an election, and this has to be dug out by Mr. Dix rather than already be common knowledge through newspapers doing their job. That’s no little matter!

A different Vaughan Palmer

Mainstream Media Ignoring Real Story on BC Hydro Debt, Skyrocketing Power Bills
The Sun’s Vaughn Palmer (Weekday on KUOW)

It was instructive to see Mr. Horgan going after the premier for her strange gift of $150,000 to the Haida Gwaii school board when native schools are the responsibility of the federal government, with the curious involvement of the Premier’s relatives. Instead of it being reported by Palmer as an exposure of strange government happenings, he criticized Mr. Horgan for the way he questioned the premier!

Whatever the reason, Mr. Palmer used to get deeply into issues like this and now barely touches the tangential issues. If you doubt what I said, just ask former Premier Glen Clark.

There are also no radio talk show hosts today with a mandate to hold the government’s feet to the fire. The one or two who dare try must be cautious and anything but persistent.

This is a very important issue because in days gone by, the talk shows and the interplay with the audience were integral to informing voters as to goings-on in the government. Ministers and the premier came on the shows or their absence was noted with derision both by the host and the audience. Ministers learned that that was part of their job, that when you occasionally got the crap kicked out of you, that went with the territory. That’s no more.

The conclusion is pretty obvious – in days gone by the public had from newspapers and radio a good idea of what the issues were and what both the government and the opposition had to say about them.

Now, in Mr. Horgan’s time, he and his party must do it without any help from the media whatsoever – at least none of any consequence – a substantial advantage to the premier going in to the 2017 election.

Horgan made big mistakes

But the NDP can’t lay all their woes at the media’s feet. There are far more matters that they have left untouched, going back to the very beginning, and that’s Mr. Horgan’s responsibility. Horgan’s job – which he’s never really understood – is to oppose, whether or not the press is doing their job.

He made the catastrophic mistake of supporting LNG in all its manifestations, meaning the NDP abandoned issues like fracking, conversion of gas into liquid, transportation of LNG, environmental damage, the nature of ownership, the market situation and more, all without a question much less criticism from the Official Opposition – sheer political madness!

That does not alter the fact that the voting public has been left short of that source of information which media have always provided.

They deliberately don’t do their job because the government is their pal, unlike Mr. Horgan.

Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside

Rafe: It’s the end of the newspaper as we know it…and I feel fine

Rafe- Death of the newspaper has a happy flipside
Nine-year-old newsie and his 7-year-old brother ‘Red’ – 1915 (Photo: Lewis Wickes Hine/Shorpy)

When I was born, well, quite a while ago, R.B. Bennett was Prime Minister of Canada, Herbert Hoover was President of the US, Ramsay Macdonald was Prime Minister of the UK, Simon Fraser Tolmie was Premier of BC, and Louis Taylor was Mayor of Vancouver, my natal city. From then until March 28, 2016 the Vancouver Sun and Province were in our house and, when it was alive, from 1933-53, the News Herald as well. I delivered the Province as a boy, was a proud member of their Tillicum Club and sneered at members on the Sun’s Sun Ray Club with Uncle Ben.

I am not going to spend much time today complaining about the newspapers’ inability to deliver quality. That’s a given and I’m not sure that they would deny that. There’s not enough money, they say, and, not being in the business, I can’t argue with them.

I do know that some very bad things have happened in recent years. At the time I was in government in the 70s and right to the end of the 20th century newspapers held politicians tightly to account and by and large they were pretty even-handed.

BC papers quit doing their job

Something happened just in time for the Gordon Campbell government. Almost instantly upon election, Campbell brought in a catastrophic energy policy which was certain to ruin the environment and ecology in a great number of rivers and put BC Hydro into a perilous financial bind.

Rafe Mair is calling out BC's mainstream media columnists, like Vaughn Palmer (pictured here) for their sloppy journalism on BC Hydro's financial troubles (photo: Weekday on KUOW).
Vaughn Palmer (photo: Weekday on KUOW).

The situation was tailor made for the Vaughn Palmer of yore and we all waited for it to happen. He was the man who by diligence and biting journalism brought down the Glen Clark government on the “fast ferry” issue in the 90s. He was relentless and it showed – he’d expose Campbell too! We waited and waited and it hasn’t happened again to this day, 14 years later. The Vancouver Sun, which always prided itself on the holding governments to account, has given the Campbell/Clark incompetents a free ride, starting with Campbell being tossed in jail for drunk driving.

It was soon clear that the two papers were going extremely easy on the Clark government’s trance over LNG. I often think of what would have happened if this were 35 years ago with Webster, Nichols, Fotheringham, Burns, Wasserman & Co prowling the corridors of power. What in hell had happened since?

Unholy alliance

Then there was an article in the Vancouver Observer that caught my eye because it quoted the publisher of the National Post, flagship paper of Postmedia, making purring sounds about the Oil industry.

Rafe- Canada's biggest newspaper chain has sold its soul to oil and gasA little bit of googling and it became evident that the fossil fuel industry was getting even better than a free ride. As is now well known, Postmedia, which includes the Sun and the Province, entered what I indelicately call a mutual masturbation pact with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) while the Province became  a partner with Resource Works, a gathering of the usual industry suspects dedicated to promoting Woodfibre LNG, a potential environmental nightmare.

Knowing this, if you cast your minds back a few years, it explains the almost total commitment of the Postmedia papers to the fossil fuel industry.

But that didn’t do it for me – after all, it was the old gambler’s cry, “The wheel may be crooked but it’s the only wheel in town”. There was nowhere else to go.

More than one wheel in town

I thought some more –  what was obvious was that both papers are boring. Not just boring – put to sleep boring. There’s nothing to look forward to anymore. Readers want to grab the newspaper to look for news and find that both papers are identical and, in fact, if you get the Globe and Mail, you can often see three identical stories in one morning in three different newspapers.

Then it sank in: there was more than one wheel in town after all, I just had to get off my duff and look!

Where once I waited for the papers, now, first thing in the morning, I look at BBC, CNN, CBC, and CTV on my computer and in less than an hour have a good overview of the major news and several stories to return to after breakfast. Moreover, I have infinitely better sports coverage than I would ever get in the newspapers. The short conclusion is that the Sun and the Province don’t really cover politics in a meaningful way anymore and they never were any hell on other news which I now get on my iPad. They just had Luann, Rex Morgan,The Other Coast…

A few will be missed

I’m going to miss a number of columnists, particularly Pete McMartin, Daphne Bramham, Stephen Hume, and Ian Mulgrew. I’m sure I can find them online as well as Luann, Rex Morgan and The Other Coast – the only comics I care about. When the finance minister of the Mair/Conway-Mair household asked if I could justify the cost of these newspapers, I had to confess that I couldn’t. They’d just become two ever-diminishing sheafs of paper which arrive on my lap at breakfast time that I had become used to.   

I’ll continue to get the Globe and Mail, although that isn’t much better than the other two. With the exception of the BC columnists, especially Mark Hume and Gary Mason, I only scan the big kids from the big smoke. With one or two exceptions, they seem afraid to be controversial and are, well, boring. They’re sooooo Central Canada and joined at the hip to the Establishment.

Blogs help fill the void

The problem of how to fill the void remains. What does the ordinary person who grew up with newspapers do now that they are so bad. So far, we’ve just gone on buying them but that will end sooner or later. There are lots of options on the Internet but they’re a lot more trouble than just sitting back with a coffee and opening up your newspaper wherever you want and flipping around as we had always done. We’re going to have to make adjustments.

What’s this going to look like? Many of the large newspapers have online editions – will they be enough to fill gap? And there are newcomers that often tend to be one or two issues only and many of those are excellent but they don’t completely satisfy the news junkie.

I like Zero Hedge because it expands into larger items and also environmental publications such as  EcoWatch and DeSmog Blog.

Locally, there are good general information sheets such as The Tyee, and for environment and politics, I mustn’t forget The Common Sense Canadian. For politics over all, iPolitics is excellent and if you are more of the left wing bent, is probably what you want. There are lots of very good newsletters.

Modern news asks more from the reader

I’ve gone on for a bit now and all I’ve done is scratch the surface and piss off a lot of people who wonder why I didn’t mention them. The point is that news no longer comes in nice cosy packages where you can buy a house, a car, read the sportspage, get a girl or a boy or something in between for entertainment and then read for what passes as news. One has to travel about quite a bit.

This bother has no doubt kept the traditional newspapers on life support. The Internet alternatives aren’t easy for lots of folks. But our kids, the new generation of news junkies, aren’t nearly as troubled by the loss of the friendly newspaper as the adults in the family are. In fact, most couldn’t care less. This is where the newspapers are really in deep trouble. If your business hasn’t got a future generation of customers, it hasn’t got a future.

Nobody wants to pay

There really is no point in trying to assess blame. My own feeling is that they wanted to change but couldn’t figure out how. The last major change I can remember was back in the 1960s when the London Times took the advertising off the front page and replaced it with news. Most newspapers in the world essentially look the same.

The big problem for the Internet’s so-called “newspapers” is, of course, that nobody wants to pay for them and content is difficult to keep out of reach – the Catch 22 being the more you put up barriers, the less it’s read.

If I had to make a guess – and I suppose I must– we will carry on with the scads of publications, all the way from trade publications, religious tracts and sports sheets to some whole ones that throw in the news and politics as we are accustomed. We, the public, will get used to that because the new “public” is now about 15 years of age and quite acclimatized to popping all over the Internet to find what they want. Moreover, they can read off a screen where this old fart is easily discouraged by them.

Adjusting just fine

All I can tell you is after two weeks without the regular newspapers, I’m doing fine. I’ve found my favourite comic strips and it’s easy. I get my news from my iPad every morning as I have for some time because I knew I wouldn’t get it in the newspapers. I’m finding that the adjustment has in large measure already been made and I didn’t realize it. It’s nowhere near as bad as quitting smoking, something a heroin addict many years ago told me was much more difficult to quit than hard drugs.

The good side is that I feel cleaner not giving money to newspapers on the take from the fossil fuel industry, which are also deep up the anuses of right wing governments and the greed-ridden polluters that support them in exchange for helpful laws.

I suppose that if an old troublemaker like me can make the dramatic change of tossing away his newspaper, the rest of the world will also adjust and, as it always has, keep spinning on its axis until we blow it to bits or render it uninhabitable.

The trick, as with most things, is overcoming inertia, which I’ve finally done. It feels fine and keep asking myself, why the hell did it take so long?

Now, off to the ‘net to find Luann, The Other Coast, and tiresome old Dr. Rex Morgan.


“In defence of oil industry”: Sun editorial shows Postmedia’s colours


In defence of oil industry- Shameless Sun editorial shows Postmedia's colours

[quote]We will work with CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) to amplify our energy mandate and to be a part of the solution to keep Canada competitive in the global marketplace. The National Post will undertake to leverage by all means editorially, technically and creatively to further this critical conversation.

-Douglas Kelly, Publisher, National Post[/quote]

The National Post is, of course, the flagship of the Postmedia chain of newspapers, Canada’s largest, which includes the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Province. This statement of policy by Mr. Kelly was followed by lengthy memoranda of agreement as to just how Postmedia and CAPP would cooperate.

In addition to this agreement, we have the formal partnership between the Province and LNG lobby Resource Works, set up by a former long-time senior editor of the Vancouver Sun to support and indeed shill for Woodfibre LNG – the highly controversial plant proposed for Squamish. With the Province being wholly owned by Postmedia, we can say that this partnership, along with the one with CAPP, is with the parent company.

Caught red-handed

Postmedia Headquarters (Ryerson Journalism)
Postmedia Headquarters (Ryerson Journalism)

Since I uncovered and published this information here some months ago, I have been watching both local papers for evidence of the consequences of this unseemly marriage. This is no simple task because I hardly expected either paper to be honest and upfront about it, so had to look for distortions which are not always easy to demonstrate. What is even more difficult is determining what the papers failed to print as being unhelpful to their clients. That both of these matters occurred was pretty clear – it was actually pinning it down with hard proof that was difficult. Any damned fool, including this one, could see that the papers were remarkably easy on all aspects of fossil fuel production.

One looked in vain for editorials adverse in interest to the oil and gas industry and, of course, there were no columns to that effect. At the same time, there were constant columns by the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other well-heeled neo-con apologists for industry.

Well, the other day, the chickens came home to roost and I refer you to the Vancouver Sun editorial page – Thursday, February 25, 2016. The headline reads: IN DEFENCE OF OIL INDUSTRY.

Allow me to read from the editorial – taken from the online version of the editorial, published Feb. 24, with the headline, “New campaign in support of Canada’s oil industry a worthy undertaking”:

[quote]The nation’s energy sector is faltering, not just because of weaker global oil prices — inevitably a temporary situation — but because it gets a bad rap from activists and others who do not seem to have noticed the environmental advances the industry has made nor that its products continue to be in high demand.

And so, it comes as welcome news that a campaign is being launched to better present the industry’s case. Oil Respect, sponsored with “a very modest” budget supplied by the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, “is about the facts, respect for workers, respect for the environment and respect for an industry that has done so much to provide Canadians with jobs, government services, and a higher standard of living.”

The campaign’s sponsors want the public to start defending the sector through petitions, social media and appeals to politicians. It wants the politicians to stand up more strongly for energy “development and transportation via pipelines, both across Canada and for export to new markets outside our borders”.[/quote]

Later, it mentions its partner Resource Works as promoting resource-related industries. Allow me to digress because you will remember Resource Works stated in the beginning that they were doing no such thing but simply bringing individuals and groups in the community into civilized conversation with one another, blah blah blah. Truth is not a big deal with these guys.

Failure to disclose

Why Rafe Mair gave Sun and Province a stay of execution
The Vancouver Sun and Province building

It’s considered common decency for anyone in a formal debate to state any special interest they might have in the subject matter. If a person was asked to debate as to whether or not we should bring in stricter laws about banks and did not tell you that he was a bank president making big bucks, you’d obviously be shocked and thereafter have a difficult time believing anything that bank had to say. The same rule of honourable debating applies even to newspapers.  Even large, smug chains. Yes, even the largest chain in the country.

It’s not my position that newspapers can’t have opinions. I wish they didn’t and in a better world they wouldn’t and would just give us unbiased news. But they have expressed opinions for a lot further back than I can remember and have always editorially supported a political party at election time.

It’s one thing, however, to brand yourself as a Liberal, Conservative, NDP or Green sympathizer, but quite another to secretly have a written deal with one of the parties to support them at all times. In the latter case, which is here, you become utterly untrustworthy in all things.

Upon the failure of anyone else to disclose their interest when debating a public issue and a newspaper editor found out, you can imagine the stern lecture he would give the poor miscreant in the next day’s lead editorial. Newspaper editors are very good at spotting and condemning evil in others.

A matter of trust

No matter what Postmedia does, I can’t imagine that any Canadian citizen with an ounce of brains is going to trust anything they say about the fossil fuel industry henceforth.

Rafe: How does Oil-boosting Postmedia boss get into news Hall of Fame?
Paul Godfrey (Samja Frkovic/Flickr/Victoria Rose)

Lest you think that they are just being good public advocates for common sense let’s go back to that editorial again. The Vancouver Sun, hence Postmedia, supports politicians standing up more strongly for “energy development and for pipelines to export the sector’s products to new markets”. Tell me, Mr. Editor – and, while you’re at it, Paul V. Godfrey, CM, President and Chief Executive Officer of Postmedia – does this mean that Postmedia doesn’t support the Paris Agreements and, in fact, that we should increase our use and consumption of fossil fuels and, of course, export more and more of them so that those countries famous for throwing the noxious crap into the atmosphere have more fuel to work with? (You might remember, Mr. Godfrey as the president who, while laying off hundreds of Postmedia staff last year in order to cut back on costs, pocketed just under $1 million in bonuses for himself).

What this all comes down to is credibility. None of us are close to perfect and we all make mistakes. Postmedia, far from being perfect, not only makes mistakes but makes them deliberately as part of corporate policy. They then pass themselves off under the high moral precepts of journalism to the public.

Let me conclude with this: Would you personally pay hard cash to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to buy a newspaper they put out, examining in detail, for your edification, the fossil fuel industry?

Well, in fact, that’s precisely what you do when you buy the Vancouver Sun, the Province, or, of course, the flagship National Post.

Sic transit gloria mundi.


So long Ed Murrow and hard-hitting mainstream journalism

The late, great Edward R. Murrow - father of hard-hitting, mainstream journalism
The late, great Edward R. Murrow – father of hard-hitting, mainstream journalism

It’s fascinating to watch the print media in its death throes. In a way, I feel like dancing on Postmedia’s grave but somehow that doesn’t seem appropriate. I devoutly wish it hadn’t happened but, slow and painful though it may have been, it has.

Newspapers have been with us, for better or worse, for too long to be tossed aside like, well, yesterday’s newspaper. One can wade in with praise or vitriol, depending on one’s own obituary preferences, but to what end? The eminent journalist, Paul Willcocks, in a recent Tyee article, advised that it’s time to sit back, take a look around, and start making some decisions. Right, but first we must know what we want and what our choices are.

Lingering advantage

Newspapers bring many things, much of which is irrelevant except to those to whom it isn’t. If you’re in the market for a house or a car, those sections are invaluable; if not, you skip scores of pages to get to the Comics or Sports Pages. I’m going to assume that like me, it’s Public Affairs you’re interested in.

Since the arrival of radio in the 1920s, the papers have been on a slide when it comes to reporting news. They’re just too slow, their lingering advantage being the ability of the consumer to consider matters at leisure. To me, that “lingering advantage” has been important – TV and radio needs more. They try and sometimes succeed with talking heads, but it’s not the same as the Sunday Papers by the fire. The sad truth is, there just aren’t enough “Sunday by the fire” folks to make it pay.

Part of that “lingering advantage” is, or rather was, the opinion columns. Again, the talking heads are OK but just can’t match the ability to get you to sit back, in a place of comfort or perhaps need, relax and read a provocative article on something that interests you, cast it aside for a moment if the phone rings then pick it up again when you wish. This, I daresay, is why, along with sheer habit, most of you buy the newspaper.

Newspapers gave up what they did best

One article which gave me pause for thought was in a recent Globe by Marsha Lederman, who came to newspapers’ defence, her theme being that they held the government’s feet to the fire and did a wonderful job of keeping the Establishment honest. What this did was remind me that newspapers were indeed singularly well-placed to do just this and the problem was they hadn’t been doing it for years. It happens so seldom now that when it does occur, it stands out like a nuclear blast on a barren desert.

There have been some great examples of journalistic courage, integrity, and persistence – the most memorable being Watergate. There have been others and some closer to home. But perhaps Ms. Lederman can remind us of the last time the Globe and Mail actually got involved in a big exposé.

They were involved, all right, with Brian Mulroney and the bag full of money from Karl-Heinz Schreiber of the Airbus scandal but they no sooner got close to the mark and they abandoned ship and allowed Mulroney to get away with blue blooded murder.

One of their writers, the estimable Rick Salutin, even demonstrated that the Harper government retained a lawyer to set out the terms of reference for investigating Mulroney, that the terms of reference were a laughable whitewash, whereupon upon the lawyer was, with indecent haste, appointed Governor-General of Canada. It was a hell of a story but led by the “establishment man”, Andrew Coyne, the good ‘ol boys circled the wagons and insisted that Prime Minister Mulroney and lawyer Johnson were nice, decent Canadian boys whose actions really ought not to be questioned on solemn matters like this. It was really just another amazing coincidence for which Canadian politics is famous. Mr. Salutin suddenly wasn’t writing for “Canada’s National Newspaper” any more.

What happened to Vaughn Palmer?

Mainstream Media Ignoring Real Story on BC Hydro Debt, Skyrocketing Power Bills
The Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer

Moving closer to home, the Vancouver Sun, during the NDP decade, were relentless in digging out scandals and near-scandals and it’s been fairly said that the government was brought down by Vaughn Palmer and his relentless exposure of the fast ferry scandal.

That was the high-water mark for hard-hitting, investigative journalism, because the moment the Liberals came to power in 2001, the gloves were back on.

Follow the money

I stop there because it’s not my purpose today to lay out all the sins of the media but simply to remind everyone that Ms. Lederman is quite right to say that the print media can and often does a helluva job in holding the establishment to account – but, for some reason, these days  that all but stops if they get too close to the mark.


Perhaps the clue can be found in Vancouver. Big advertisers could see that, in fact, they were financing the wasting of their own money. They would give the paper millions of dollars to advertise a product and pay good money to political parties and the next thing they knew the government they supported was having the shit kicked out of it by the principal political writer for the paper they also supported. This was nothing new but now business saw the ways and means to retaliate, big time.

Advertising executives and their clients are not known for their love of democratic principles like free speech if they, in any way, interfere with their livelihood. I can’t speak for the writers but I can say without hesitation from my own experience that until recent days a decent talk show host wouldn’t tolerate interference from an advertiser or management for a second.

Then, almost overnight, trumped up reasons for firing became the order of the day, along with refusal to renew contracts and deliberate failure to bring on aggressive, young successors. There is the occasional hero like Ian Jessop of CFAX in Victoria, but they are on a short rope and don’t need reminding.

Blame the Internet

Whatever the reasons and however it was done, by the turn of this century, the muckraker was gone. A tough interview was no longer to be seen and editorials took on all of the excitement of a Sunday school sermon.

The inevitable happened. People stopped listening to radio and buying the newspaper. The owners gave all sorts of reasons, mostly that it was the fault of the Internet, but the fault was in themselves not the stars.

Revenues plummeted and, one by one, previously impregnable corporations found themselves groping for partnerships and buying a smaller companies in the vain hope of increasing their cash flow. The harder the executives tried to stem the flow the worse it got.

What will save the mainstream media?

Why Rafe Mair gave Sun and Province a stay of execution
How long before the lights go out on papers like the Sun and Province?

Probably nothing, because they have no ability to make the difficult decisions needed. To put it bluntly, there’s no money available for them to recapture the respect of the public by going back to doing what Ms. Lederman says they are so skilled at.

It’s easy, and often fun, to point out the idiotic decisions media moguls have made in the past 20 years. But it’s no longer fun when you see the president of Postmedia preside over massive lay-offs while he pockets almost $2 million while the shareholders say nothing. When the same Postmedia makes faustian pacts with the fossil fuel industry, where each pledges to kiss the other’s backside on cue, and the public sees an industry pledged to inform people fairly and accurately climbing into bed with the most controversial industry in the world, it’s game over.

The world will get by without Woodward and Bernstein and without Edward R. Murrow. It won’t be as good a world, it won’t be as honest a world nor as promising a world…but it’s the world we’re going to have to get used to.

Rafe: How does Oil-boosting Postmedia boss get into news Hall of Fame?

Rafe: How does oil-boosting Postmedia boss get into News Hall of Fame?

Rafe: How does Oil-boosting Postmedia boss get into news Hall of Fame?
Paul Godfrey (Photo: Samja Frkovic / Flickr – Victoria Rose)

In the news recently was an item about Paul V. Godfrey, C.M., the President of Postmedia, the largest newspaper chain in the country, owning some 15 papers in major centres plus a slew of community papers across the land. M. Godfrey has been admitted to the Canadian News Hall of Fame.

I have one or two questions for Mr. Godfrey, arising out of investigations I’ve been doing in recent months.

Mr. Godfrey, can we agree that Postmedia wholly owns the Vancouver Province, the Vancouver Sun, and the National Post, which circulate in Vancouver?

A question has occurred to me, Mr. Godfrey: Does Postmedia have some sort of deal with the Fraser Institute whereby you give that organization a great deal of coverage on almost every issue that deals with fossil fuels and the environment?

Now, a couple of years ago I would have been scared stiff to ask that question for fear of being sued for the inferences likely to be drawn from it. However, after the stranger deals of yours I have uncovered in the last few months, I realize that you are in no position to get too excited about questions along this line.

Nothing to worry about, says Fraser Institute

What piqued my interest recently was an article in the Vancouver Sun by the Fraser Institute assuring us that we had no need to worry about LNG tankers on our coast. The writer advised that the only major oil spill in the last 20 years was from a Ferry, not a Tanker so relax everybody.

I’ll not devote too much time to this absurd declaration but simply ask why the Fraser Institute doesn’t tell the whole truth and, secondly, avoids examining places where there’s a lot of tanker traffic, unlike BC where there is very little?

The fatal flaw in the Fraser Institute’s presentation comes in a few little words in one paragraph which talks about “The oil spills at sea”. This is similar language to what Woodfibre LNG uses, as does the self-declared expert – from the industry, I might add – Captain Stephen Brown.

The problem with this and similar pious declarations is obvious: Howe Sound, the Fraser River, Saanich Inlet, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Douglas Channel, Hecate Strait and so on are not at sea, or the high seas, in the words of WLNG’s Byng Giraud, and I would direct the learned gentleman to such places as the Bosphorous and the Dardanelles – to name but two places which more replicate what tanker traffic will face on the BC coast. Indeed, if the Fraser Institute would just subscribe to gCaptain (free) and read of regular tanker mishaps all over the worldn they might not spout such tendentious shit.

The question I ask Mr. Godfrey is:

[quote]Does Postmedia or any of its papers have a deal with the Fraser Institute similar to its one with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers? Or the formal partnership with Resource Works, the less than truthful advocate for Woodfibre LNG?[/quote]

Postmedia partnered with LNG lobby

My interest in this matter arose out of the partnership deal between the Vancouver Province and Resource Works. I admit my involvement – I, along with most citizens of the area, am vigorously opposed to WLNG.

When I read Resource Works’ mission statement and saw that the Province was a partner in their nefarious venture, I was horrified. This was so unethical and so contrary to the formal and informal principles that have always guided the newspaper industry that I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I must tell you, Mr. Godfrey, that when my findings were I printed here, the publisher Damien Gillis and I were concerned that it was some sort of strange mistake, even a hoax, and that we’d be sued. We took the chance – nobody else in the media was prepared to – and when no denial came from Postmedia or the Province, we had to assume we had struck paydirt.

Composite of Resource Works "Partnerships" page
Composite of Resource Works “Partnerships” page

In following through on this revelation, I discovered that the National Post, through its publisher, Douglas Kelly, had pledged its troth, in truly loving terms, to the fossil fuel industry!

Being a curious sort of bugger, I followed through and, lo and behold, came across the two agreements between Postmedia and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), certified by documents. The first came by way of a Powerpoint-style presentation pitching Postmedia’s offer to CAPP for a nationwide editorial and ad campaign.  The presentation was leaked online, picked up by Greenpeace, then published by The Vancouver Observer last year. The other is a deal between the Financial Post and CAPP – freely available on parent Postmedia’s website.

I have repeatedly made these findings public – or as public as one can when no newspaper will print them – and in the absence of a denial from Postmedia concluded, hard as it was to believe, that these agreements were for real even though they demonstrate that Postmedia are little more than humble shills for the fossil fuel industry.

Bearing in mind that the Sun, Province and National Post, and a dozen other daily papers in Canada, belong to Postmedia and take their marching orders from you, Mr. Godfrey, it must surely be fair to ask: How can you defend managing your papers so as to burnish the image of the fossil fuel industry, of all groups?

This obviously includes avoiding stories which would be harmful to your partners in that filthy industry. When the fix is in, what the media does not report is even more important than what it does.

Special treatment for Fraser Institute

Perhaps there is no deal or nudge, nudge, wink, wink, understanding with the Fraser Institute. If that’s so, the question is obvious: Why do they get so much coverage in your newspapers and why don’t less right-wing think tanks get any, or at best very little? I guess you’d be pretty hypocritical to agree to brown-nose industry no matter how destructive they are and at the same time give equal time to those who care about sentimental things like the environment, the atmosphere and global warming.

Forgive a final question, Mr. Godfrey:

[quote]Considering your lovey dovey relationship with Resource Works and, even worse, with CAPP, and the journalist’s duty to report to the public free of any interest in conflict with that duty, aren’t you just a tad embarrassed at entering The Canadian News Hall of Fame?[/quote]

Rafe- Canada's biggest newspaper chain has sold its soul to oil and gas

Rafe: Canada’s biggest newspaper chain sold its soul to oil and gas


Rafe- Canada's biggest newspaper chain has sold its soul to oil and gas

Well, fellow friends of freedom of the press, what now?

Agreements between Postmedia – the country’s largest newspaper chain – and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), plus an equally disgraceful deal between the company’s Vancouver Province and the LNG industry have permanently stained the organization’s journalistic credibility.

Postmedia is broke and then some. That, however, has never been an excuse for losing your moral compass. I can’t imagine Postmedia forgiving an embezzler because he was broke, yet they’re happy to abdicate journalistic standards and morality because they’re unable to pay dividends.

We all know about the obsequious and idiotic editorials the Postmedia press did while falling all over Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the recent election. Added to this list is the Toronto Globe and Mail which, while not directly linked to the fossil fuel industry so far as I know, is obviously wed forever to the right wing and it’s acolytes.

Recent Vancouver Sun editorial headline
Recent Vancouver Sun editorial headline

Newspapers have long taken an editorial position in favour of one party or another, loftily insisting that it was the “view of the newspaper” as if it had been revealed by the Delphic Oracle, not dictated directly from the publisher. This, however, is the first time in my memory that newspapers and newspaper chains have formally locked themselves into agreements with one side of a highly contentious issue. Their loved one, the fossil fuel industry, is condemned by every reputable scientist as harmful to the environment and a serious contributor to climate change. We know we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels but that effort must be supported by government and all reasonable people, including responsible news outlets.

When you read your newspaper, apart from the obituaries, you can’t believe a damned thing. It’s worse – you don’t know what’s not printed and should have been.

Once a newspaper is committed to a controversial view, it’s like a clock that strikes 13 – it can never be trusted again. Even the mildest “puff” pieces may well contain propaganda. Unquestionably, Postmedia coverage of controversial issues relating to fossil fuels and the industry can never be accepted in light of their commitment to CAPP.

What about those things not covered?

For example, where in the mainstream media have you read any serious questioning – let alone criticism – of “fracking”? Or the impact of extraction of the natural gas on water, air and the climate?

Where you seen any criticism of LNG tankers in the far too narrow Howe Sound and Fraser River?

Woodfibre LNG- Shady PR firms, lobby violations, fraudulent owner - Is this the kind of business BC wants to welcome
Sukanto Tanoto (right), the man behind the proposed Woodfibre LNG

Where have you seen any criticism of, or questions about Sukanto Tanoto, the crooked tax-avoiding, forest-destroying, owner of  Woodfibre LNG?

Where have you seen any careful evaluation of the government’s secretive deal with Petronas? And where the government’s “due diligence” was?

Where have you seen the even mildest criticism of premier Clark, her inarticulate toady, Rich Coleman, and their gross exaggerations and bungling negotiations on LNG?

When was the last time you read a columnist in any of these papers be even mildly critical of either government on energy issues?

We’ve all seen the recent resignation of Andrew Coyne, as editor of the National Post after they spiked his election column for the venal sin of criticizing Harper and the Tories. For some reason, Coyne decided to be half an honourable man and kept his column.

Television can hardly be relied upon.

Global TV is owned by Shaw Media. Due to their connection, they and Corus Entertainment are considered to be “related” by the CRTC. Corus, also controlled by the Shaw family, owns radio station CKNW which, under them, abandoned its longstanding reputation for holding the “establishment’s” feet to the fire in favour of good manners unto servility.

CTV is a division of Bell Media (BCE), Canada’s premier multimedia company, with leading assets in television, radio, and digital, and owns 15% of the Toronto Globe and Mail – which has already shown its loving attachment to the Conservative Party. Now, to add to the media incest in Canada, Bell Media (BCE) is in partnership with, guess who – well done, you got it – Corus Entertainment in HBO and other deals.

Not only is there no media outlet in Canada independent of the “establishment” – there is not even an opposition newspaper worth noting. In Great Britain, at least there have long been papers that supported a favourite political party and independents. In the United States, there are Democratic and Republican papers and some independents. This carries on into TV.

Postmedia Headquarters (Ryerson Journalism)
Postmedia Headquarters (Ryerson Journalism)

My first conclusion is that every Canadian must understand this situation. The news is going to come strained through the establishment sieve and we must all know that and take the credibility of all the mainstream media as one would a declaration of innocence by a child with sticky fingers and jam all over his face.

Secondly, we must watch with care how the media treats the new government. Don’t get me wrong – they must have their feet held to the fire every bit as much as any other government and we at The Common Sense Canadian will do that.

What concerns me is will the mainstream press look at Trudeau through the Conservative party prism?

On the other hand, Liberal coffers are full of oil money – will this mean that the media will see them as safer than the NDP and go easy on them?

Thirdly, it’s going to take more work by Canadians to get a fair assessment of public affairs. Reliable blogs must be found and relayed to others. There are plenty of them with all manner of points of view from far-right to far-left and everything in between.

There remain a number of features for which newspapers will have some value, like the weather, the comics, special features and advertising of things we’re interested in. Whether or not that’s worth the price they ask is highly questionable.

What we do know is that their reliability for fair, independent news coverage is worth two times the square root of sweet Fanny Adams.

Be wary of Postmedia editorials endorsing Harper

Rafe: Be wary of Postmedia editorials endorsing Harper

Rafe- Be wary of Postmedia editorials endorsing Harper
Headline from Vancouver Sun’s recent endorsement of the Conservative Party (Postmedia)

Rafe Mair here – may I have your attention for a moment?

When you’re advised how to vote, common sense tells you to ask whether or not this is advice comes from a bias based upon strong personal financial commitments.

The Vancouver Sun and Province,  both wholly owned by Postmedia, have declared that we should vote for Stephen Harper for economic reasons. Their cousin, the National Post followed suit in a last-minute Conservative endorsement today. It’s therefore critical that we understand where these papers are coming from.

Newspaper editorials are written by an editor on instructions from the Publisher. Postmedia has a huge commitment in this election, creating an enormous conflict of interest, thus cannot possibly be seen as remotely independent.

I have carefully documented this conflict in the Common Sense Canadian and those articles are freely available in these pages.

The fact is that the Vancouver Province is an official partner with an outfit called Resource Works, an organization dedicated to getting approval for an LNG plant in Squamish at the head of Howe Sound.

More than that, Postmedia’s flagship paper, the National Post, is on the public record as supporting the fossil fuel industry without reservation.

In sum, the owners of the Sun, the Province and the National Post are not, as they allege, independent journalists, giving you their considered, unbiased opinion, but publicly committed shills for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Woodfibre LNG (run by a big-time tax evader) and the development of fossil fuels in such manner as industry wishes.

The Canadian voter, in my respectful opinion, would be wise to bear this in mind when considering the editorial opinion of any paper owned by Postmedia, specifically the Vancouver Sun, the Province, and the National Post – all of which circulate in British Columbia.