Category Archives: Media

Al Jazeera comes to America

Al Jazeera comes to America


Al Jazeera comes to America

Somewhere in the United States on August 20, 2013, a technician flicked a switch and Al Jazeera America joined the other networks that bring television news to Americans. At that moment, Al Jazeera became the first new source of American TV news in two decades and the first not owned by Americans. Ali Velshi, who has been charged with the responsibility of establishing Al Jazeera America in the US, explains how Al Jazeera intends to be different from its competitors — a difference that he hopes will win viewers, stimulate informed opinion and widen perspectives in a nation known for its insular views (Maclean’s, Aug. 19/13).

Americans, according to Velshi, are ready for Al Jazeera. The existing networks in the United States, in his analysis, have generally “caused Americans to consume news in smaller, less contextualized bites.” They have “sugar-coated the news… provided news that is consumable at the expense of news that is more important.” As for the quality of American news, Velshi notes, “There’s more money behind dumbing it down than there has been behind commercializing real news.”

The general strategy of the traditional networks, Velshi explains, has been to avoid “real news” by chasing the “fast-paced, popular news” that audiences want, then changing coverage “based on audience reaction.” The coverage of “breaking news” is well represented by the major networks, as is “news about celebrities”. So, too, is gossip, sports and political commentary — usually heavier on personal opinion than illuminating information.

This catering to bias, immediacy and popularity comes at the cost of neglecting substantial stories, important documentaries and investigative journalism. Beneath the surface of consumer advertising, commercial sports and adulated stardom that constitutes most American television are a multitude of serious issues awaiting deeper exploration. This is a deficit that Al Jazeera hopes to fill.

The inclination of the traditional US networks to be superficial helps to explain why the foreign policy and co-operation of one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world seems so discordant with international sensitivities. And it also helps to explain why America seems so disconnected from the environmental crises unfolding in and around it.

Granted, complex and debilitating political dynamics in America are obviously a paralyzing component. But the traditional networks have enabled this paralysis by failing to adequately and thoughtfully explore important subjects of national and international relevance. Indeed, by lowering the quality of news and failing to profile the unfolding challenges of important issues, they have earned their share of blame. The obligation of news networks in a modern democracy is to explore subjects of controversy and tension with the aim of informing and eventually resolving differences so that corrective action can be taken, both in national policy and international agreements. Disseminating informed opinion is the only way of manoeuvring through the complexities of a contemporary world and relating meaningfully with the global community.

This is a deficiency prominently obvious in the United States. And it applies most conspicuously to environmental issues. A syndrome of collective indifference has been created by tragic lapses in political bravery, public imagination and media responsibility. So the ominous body of unreported environmental concerns that keeps expressing itself in thoughtful research and insightful books is conspicuously neglected in network news. The need for the public to be informed — the most essential ingredient for a society to be viable — is compromised by the “smaller, less-contextualized bites” that dominate the news. If Al Jazeera is capable of initiating a deeper search below the surface of subjects, a serious exploration beyond the immediacy of the moment, and a sober consideration beyond the borders of the United States, this is a welcomed addition to the nation’s collective psyche — even though it may challenge narrowly held opinions.

This is not to assume that Al Jazeera is going to cover environmental issues with a diligence that is proportional to the enormity of the challenges. In reality, however, almost every subject has a crucial link to some environmental factor, a trend that is becoming increasingly obvious as climates change, ocean fish stocks deplete, species go extinct, ecologies unravel, pollution goes global, resource extraction becomes more contentious, and the search for energy gets more desperate. So any subject that Al Jazeera thoroughly and thoughtfully explores will likely involve and illuminate environmental information.

Perhaps Al Jazeera America will be a maturing influence for the United States. And it may even have global benefits if the ambitions of Ali Velshi and his television news network raise the calibre of discussions in the United States and elsewhere. As we are discovering with sobering regularity, the world is more complicated than we ever thought. So our understanding of it needs to be smartened up rather than dumbed down. Maybe Al Jazeera can help.

How Alberta oil companies bought the BC election - and the media missed it

Media asleep as Alberta oil companies bought BC election

How Alberta oil companies bought the BC election - and the media missed it
Premier Christy Clark tours BC’s natural gas industry during 2013 election campaign (photo: Justin Tang/CP)

I started the week pissed off – make that Tuesday morning when I saw an article in the Province from a guy named Marsden who writes in the Calgary Herald and tells us in British Columbia that we ought to be grateful for the opportunity of transporting Alberta’s Tar Sands – that atmosphere-ravisher and source of catastrophic leaks – to market. I don’t begrudge him his opinion – what I’m sick to death of is the Postmedia press.

Where the hell are the sharp-eyed journalists of old that would have eaten this guy alive? Our local guys are almost all let go. We have no political cartoonist unless you count Harrop in the Sun, who’s incapable of drawing faces, and we have two editorial pages that serially kiss the ass of business. On the question of cartoonists, where is Krieger, who is brilliant? The last time I asked that question the Province sued me – yet, I ask again, where is Krieger?

I ask the editors of the two excuses for newspapers this simple question: would you please scour the morgue and find me one line of criticism editorially or by your two political columnists of fish farms, “run of river projects” and the slow-but-steady bankrupting of BC Hydro, of pipelines and tanker traffic? Just a line.

I recognize that Palmer and Smyth have families to feed and kids to educate and were I in their shoes I probably would write what my editor wanted and I would ignore topics that were, wink, wink, off limits. But, gawdamitey, Palmer almost singlehandedly brought NDP premier Glen Clark down and did so by holding his feet to the fire. Nothing sensational, just good old journalistic skepticism.

What happened? Ten years on the NDP’s case but, since 2001, 12 years of canoodling with the Liberals!

The week got worse when Damien sent me some stuff about out of province corporate donations from oil barons to both the BC Liberal Party and the NDP.

And where did he get this information? From the Vancouver Sun? Nay.

From the Province, then?

Nay again, it was from 24 Hours the throwaway free paper which, along with Metro and the occasional bit in the BC section of the Toronto Globe and Mail (it is very occasional), are the “journals of record” for this news-starved province.

One man, Allan Paul Marking, an Alberta Oil dude, gave $150,000 to the Liberals. Alberta oil companies Encana and Cenovus gave them $68,000 and Texas based Spectra Energy gave $33,000. Many made donations to the NDP too, just in case.

No one can be surprised at these gifts – after all it’s all neat and legal. What I do criticize is the lack of mainstream media attention.

This isn’t brain surgery here. The man who pays the piper calls the tune. If you think that this money doesn’t make Premier Clark think nice things about them when she’s making her pipeline decisions, you must believe in the Great Pumpkin.

What is extraordinary about all this is that for the public to get the truth they must read online journals like this one and, which, along with many others, do a first class job. They may not get the readership of the Postmedia papers – yet – but that’s because the old papers do stuff on cars, stock markets, real estate, etc, that are beyond the ken of these websites.

It’s bad enough that we have such crappy papers that rely on “foreign” columnists, but the killer is that the great issues of the world pass unnoticed and uncriticized. The press has unusual protection, constitutionally giving them wide freedoms to keep the “establishment” reasonably covered, yet they consistently flout these rights and have become house organs for big business, government and the “establishment” in general.

It is truly to weep.


Why Rafe Mair is cancelling his Sun, Province subscriptions


On Thursday, July 4, Mr. Gordon Fisher, publisher of the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, printed a full page letter to subscribers, telling us that the cost of the papers will increase on August 1, then gave us the economic reasons for his decisions. He wants us to stay subscribers and pledges rather vague changes that will take place.

Mr. Fisher, we will be cancelling subscriptions in September and think you should know the reasons.

Mr. Fisher – If I don’t want a critical look at fish farms; if I don’t want a critical look at highways tearing up farmland; if I don’t want sharp investigations into the private river power policy that has driven BC Hydro to the brink of bankruptcy; if I don’t want an evaluation of what is called “fracking”; if I don’t want a sharp-eyed evaluation of pipelines; and if I don’t want a careful and questioning evaluation of tanker traffic, then I don’t need to pay you for not getting these things when I can sit in front of my turned-off computer and not get the same non-coverage for free.

I understand your money problems but I would like you to tell us why all of the matters I’ve just raised have not had one line written about them by Mike Smyth and Vaughn Palmer, two excellent writers.

I just want you to be fair, sir, and evaluate what excellent work these and others did on the NDP during their decade and why they have given the Liberals a free ride since 2001.

On the face of it, if these writers were to be “muckrakers”, in the best sense of that word, you would surely increase your readership substantially. Moreover, it would not cost you a dime. But that’s not the reality, is it Mr Fisher?

The truth is that these writers and others have been muzzled, because otherwise you would lose huge sums from advertisers.

Look at another related subject. The day was when op-ed pieces were parcelled fairly between proponents of a scheme and this opposed. Your editorial sheet is run by a Fellow of the Fraser Institute, Fazil Mihlar, and while that shouldn’t deprive him of his position, surely it places a heavy burden on you to make sure he gives fair play. The fact is that private power producers, pipeline and tanker people seem to get an op-ed piece whenever they so wish.

To level that playing field costs you nothing – unless it’s advertiser support.

Wayne Moriarty, editor of the Province called me after I had made observations similar to those above and he asked, plaintively, “Rafe, you don’t think I tell my writers what not to write do you?”

My response was, “You don’t have to, Wayne”.

I have pretty good personal experience in this department having been fired three times in my radio career and by countless papers and magazines. Please don’t take this as whining – I’m proud that I stuck to my guns and I acknowledge firstly that the media bosses have a right to use whomever they please and, secondly, sometimes I may have been fired for incompetence.

I don’t yearn for the impossible – Alan Fotheringham, Jack Webster, Jack Wasserman and Pat Burns are gone. Yet what they did wasn’t rocket science but sound journalistic skepticism – a commitment to holding the feet of all in authority’s feet to the fire.

You won’t permit this sort of criticism, although Vaughn Palmer especially did much to expose NDP errors such as the “fast ferries” and looked with a jaundiced eye at all propositions put forward by those in authority. One might, I think, fairly infer that you dare not make things difficult for a “business-oriented government.”

You feel obliged to cater to the wishes of advertisers and spike your own guns and expect us to help you stay afloat.

Count us out.

Rafe Mair on Mainstream Media a Decade after Leaving CKNW

Rafe Mair on mainstream media a decade after leaving CKNW


Rafe MairIt was ten years ago that I was unceremoniously dumped by CKNW, where I had been for 19 years – nearly 16 as the morning host.

What does that have to do with an environmental web page?

Modesty is not my long suit and I believe that had I stayed, the general public would have been infinitely better served on environmental issues.

A Judge once said to the great Lord Birkenhead, “I have read your brief but am none the wiser.” Birkenhead replied, “Perhaps not, Milord, but much better informed”.

There is no point re-hashing the reasons I was dumped – just let me say it was shameful.

I had three pieces of good luck/good management.

First, when the media got wind of what was happening, two days before NW dumped me, I issued a press release so that they knew what the story was.

Second, timing. I couldn’t have managed it better myself – Brian Coxford ended the 13 minute session of the evening news with two segments.

Segment #1 showed my wife Wendy, friend Russ Fraser, myself and our Labrador waving and smiling (actually Clancy was more wagging his tail) as we took our sailboat out of Thunderbird Marina, while the second showed the “brass” at CKNW putting their hands in the lenses to keep from being seen. Perfect!

Thirdly, the people were magnificent. They were so pressing with their kindnesses. The phones, including my private number, rang all day. Wendy and I scampered to London for a few days and came home to a job offer and the news that I was to receive the Hutchison award for Lifetime Achievement at the forthcoming Jack Webster Awards. I will never forget Christie Blatchford’s column – she was at the Globe – when she said the station ought to have told the lady to “blow it out her ass”.

As it is now, I’ve been airbrushed out of CKNW’s history.

To give you just one example, I delivered a book as a present for Simi Sara after she was hired last year as the afternoon host. I have always tried to encourage women to break through the “glass ceiling” and she is good. It took the station 6 months to deliver it from the front desk to her office! Simi was embarrassed contemplating what I must have thought. The problem, you see, is that under the payout agreement 10 years before, I was not allowed on the 20th or 21st floor of the Toronto Dominion Building without the written approval of the manager! I had broken the rule! Can you imagine the mischief I might have done!

What this is all about is the environment. CKNW as a station now has about a 9 share of the market (meaning, on average, 9% of the market’s radio audience is listening to the station at a given time), with Bill Good at 6 in my former slot. Over the years I was there the station was consistently in high teens and I was often over 20.

CBC, with Rick Cluff in the morning, out-polls Phil Till (a class act, incidentally, as is Jon McComb, who should have taken my show). If I’d been out-polled by anyone I would have considered my options, including jumping out the 21st floor (come to think of it, I wouldn’t do that because I’m scared of heights!).

Look at what has happened in the past 10 years to coverage of environmental issues. To combine a book by Mike Smyth and Vaughn Palmeron the slow but certain death of BC Hydro would be unprintable, not because of the nature of the comment, but because neither of them has written a real word on the subject. In fairness, neither has anyone else, but Palmer and Smyth are supposed to be the heirs of Marjorie Nichols and Jim Hume, to name two.

When I was in Cabinet, I felt the lash from Fotheringham, Webster, Nichols, Burns, Hume, Barbara McClintock – the list is all but endless – every day. Webster was so tough that Premier Bill Bennett would only allow half a dozen ministers to be on his show!

I must admit I was slow to some issues – notably The Kemano II project – but I did get to it and the issue was duly aired. And we received the coveted Michener Award for our efforts.

I was slow to the Campbell Energy Plan, which was declared in 2002. I got there, however, in 2003 and have hammered it since then. The man who put me straight is well known to the media but asked me not to name him.

Think on this: BC Hydro is now technically bankrupt because Campbell forced them to buy all their new power from private power companies at more than double the market price and about 10 times what it costs Hydro to make it itself!

Who in the media has told you about this? How many editorials or columns have you seen on this subject in the past 10 years? The Hume brothers, Scott Simpson, Gary Mason and one or two others have stood back and commented, but not harshly and never demanding that their political commentators colleagues hold the government’s feet to the fire.

Let me give an example of what this uncritical “journalism” has not done. The proposed Enbridge pipeline goes through some of the wildest territory known to man – the Rockies, the Rocky Mountain Trench, the Coast Range and the Great Bear Rainforest. The calamitous Enbridge spill of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River teaches us that cleaning up a spill is well nigh impossible.

Why has no member of the media, except me, asked how Enbridge intends to get heavy duty equipment into a spill in the forbidding terrain where the pipeline is proposed to go? Doesn’t this seem like a pretty basic question?

Is the real answer that Enbridge knows it can’t clean up a spill anyway, so no sense talking about the matter?

I once raised these issues and the Province’s publisher, (I swear in tears), asked “do you really think I tell my writers to write?”

“Wayne, you don’t have to,” I replied.

What newspapers or broadcasters have informed you about fish farms? I got fired at 600AM for hammering at the bastards. Alexandra Morton is a hero and has carried this issue entirely on her own shoulders and such reporting has been pooh-poohed by the newspapers, who apparently give the Executive Director of the fish farmers’ lobby an op-ed piece when requested.  As they do with the private power people, the oil pipe builders and the Fraser Institute.

Let me close with this.

I have no idea whether or not I would have made a difference but I can tell you, I covered those and other environmental issues when I was on air and no owner even hinted at what I should do or say.

When I’m asked about my broadcasting career I say “ I was BC Broadcaster of the Year, was twice short-listed for the Michener Award, I in fact won the Michener, the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award, am in The Canadian Broadcasters Hall of Fame – during which time I was fired three times!”


The Importance of Forgetting in the Digital Age


We live in an Information Age so we should be able to adequately inform ourselves, make thoughtful decisions and act on matters of importance. We certainly have enough environmental problems to solve these days. Yet we have been eminently poor at addressing most of them. Why? One of the answers may reside in the complex character of the Information Age itself. Professor Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the New Digital Age (Drew Nelles, Globe and Mail, May 4/13), provides some ideas that lead to possible explanations.

Forgetting, as Professor Mayer-Schonberger notes, is a blessing. It frees us from the oppression of perfect memory, clears the clutter of endless details and allows us to find the illuminating clarity of deep insights and the guiding principles of broad perspectives. Without forgetting, we get lost.

Getting lost seems to be the malaise of our time. The endless details provided by a world of ubiquitous digitization and manic consumerism creates information overload, a barrage of discriminations and choices that are numbing and debilitating. Even worse, such an onslaught of details is demanding and distracting — an insistent and addictive noise that always requires attention. Some of this notion is explored in Delete.

“For almost all of human history,” the professor writes, “collecting information and storing information was time-consuming and costly, and therefore we stored as little as possible.” Finding information was correspondingly difficult. All this has been changed by the digital universe of computers, the internet and search engines. Information is amassed easily, stored quickly, retrieved almost instantly, and never forgotten. Such huge amounts of accessible information has a debilitating quality.

“Human forgetting actually performs a very important function for us individually as well as for society,” Professor Mayer-Schonberger notes. “It lets us act and think in the present rather than be tethered to an ever-more-comprehensive past. The beauty of the human mind and human forgetting is that, as we forget, we’re able to generalize, to abstract, to see the forest rather than the individual tree.”

The overload of current information debilitates us in two ways, neither of which seem to be intuitively obvious. First it locks us into an eternal past because information is always drawing us backwards in time, always away from an existential present — a process that Drew Nelles describes as “an era of endless archiving”. This overload of information is ultimately debilitating because it seems to be endless. So final decisions are conveniently deferred because more information always lurks somewhere in the depth of new research and digital searches. Even scientifically credible opinions on important subjects such as global climate change and the health hazards of pollutants are always made uncertain by the promise of more current and relevant information. Conclusions are forestalled by the digital dissemination of a seemingly infinite variety of opinions, all to be weighed and judged against other conflicting opinions. So firm decisions and remedial actions always await an elusive finality that never comes. Information, in other words, can be paralyzing.

Second — and this seems to contradict the first — an overload of detailed information locks us into an ever-unfolding present, an attribute that, at first glance, should be to our advantage. But it has a dangerous pitfall. In Professor Mayer-Schonberger’s metaphor, an overload of detail commits us to attending to the trees rather than the forest. It mires us in minutiae. We never reach the macro because our attention is always diverted to the micro. Indeed, these mountains of minutiae displace a concept of future. The consequences of collapsing stocks of the ocean’s fish, of pandemic reef death, of marine acidification, of deforestation and weather extremes become distant concerns disconnected from the present by interminable detail. Political governance, located somewhere in an abstract and disconnected future, provides no incentive for people to vote. The enticing pull of massive quantities of detail — information overload — is so confining and debilitating that it cripples our ability to reach the distance and separation needed for perspective. So we forfeit our future to inadvertence, relinquishing our fate to an unplanned unfolding that exposes us to the worst of options.

This was a serious enough problem in the past — our history is littered with the wreckage of civilizations that were incapable of imagining the trajectory of their thinking, their actions and their technologies. For us, the problem is far more serious because the impact of our behaviour is global rather than local. As we have gained increasing amounts of control and influence, we have gained increasingly amounts of responsibility. So we are earning the burden of being the de facto stewards of everything. We cannot enjoy the freedom of letting nature take its course because we have manipulated the flow of rivers, subverted the intrinsic ingenuity of forests, crippled the regenerative power of wild salmon, despoiled the generosity of oceans, enslaved the fields to our crops, polluted the cleansing breezes of air, hurried the slow time of leisure, and traded our innocence for the oppression of information.

Because we cannot afford to forget, we have created a society in which we cannot generalize, anticipate and plan. We cannot learn from history because it has been displaced by the insistence of the immediate. And we cannot plan for a future because it is excluded by the pervasive power of the present. Perspective eludes us because we are mired in a cacophony of detail and complexity. The wisdom that our circumstances demand evades us. So, unable to forget and remember, we muddle and procrastinate our way into an uncertain future.


Mainstream media ignoring real story on BC Hydro debt, skyrocketing power bills

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

I find myself in complete empathy with H.L. Mencken, when he said “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

I read Vaughn Palmer in Friday’s Sun, where he said, talking about the challenges facing Bill Bennett (not the real one but the one now in charge of BC Hydro), saying his mandate is “to minimize rate increases to consumers.” Palmer counters, “Yet Hydro needs to manage soaring debt, rising costs and billions of dollars worth of spending in unresolved deferral accounts. Plus it is being pressured to deliver gobs of clean, cheap power for an expanded liquefied natural gas industry.”

Vaughn – where the hell have you been?

I’ve defended the pussycat approach you and your colleague Mike Smyth have taken towards this government for some years, saying that, unlike me, you have mortgages and education fees for your children that I don’t have thus I shouldn’t criticize the ongoing corporate blowjobs you have given and continue to give the Campbell/Clark government. No more.

BC Hydro is in a terrible way, as are we, its shareholders. And many, starting with Dr. John Calvert of SFU and other academics along with environmentalists like Tom Rankin, Damien Gillis and me – and most notably economist Erik Andersen – have been saying as loudly as our limited public outlets will permit that the Campbell/Clark government has forced BC Hydro into making deals with private companies for energy they don’t need yet must take at a cost at least double the market price and up to ten times what they can produce it for themselves. AND, these contracts are now in the range of $50-60 BILLION.

Where the hell have you and the government sucks that employ you been on this issue? A little one-liner in your column implying that this is something surprising that perhaps we should investigate. Golly, gee whiz, look what I found Mommy – a suspicious looking expenditure by BC Hydro that maybe, just maybe we should have a look at!

The scandal is not just the government and the private companies that just financed their re-election – not just the woefully inept Opposition Party – but YOU! Yes, Vaughn, you and those who employ you bear ultimate responsibility for covering this up, going back to the beginning of the Campbell/Clark government that connived to create these secret pay-offs.

I, personally, bear some of that responsibility, for it wasn’t until 2005 that I started questioning this energy policy. I interviewed David Austin, the lawyer for the Independent Power Producers for several years and never questioned closely these secret deals. I admit that and I’m ashamed of it. But I did start to ask questions, penetrating questions and, hearing no honest answers, persisted.

I repeat, Vaughn, where the hell have you and the mainstream media been? How can you now just slough the matter off with sort of a dreamy observation that BC Hydro has some bills to pay?

BC Hydro is broke, Bust. Bankrupt. At least it certainly would be were it in the private sector. Its only salvation is that it can raise its rates to the long-suffering ratepayers.

Now, in the June 15 Weekend Sun, Scott Simpson and Derrick Penner do an interview with Rich Coleman, who is in charge of getting Liquefied Natural Gas rolling. Good Grief! Can’t anyone ask a question? A real question? One slow pitch after another!

Of course the Liberals are to blame as are the NDP for being a pitiful example of what an Opposition is supposed to look like, both in the Legislature and on the hustings.

But the mainstream media and their neutered columnists are as much to blame as is the lily-livered Opposition. You have never even questioned this so-called “run of river”, private power policy, just as you have never questioned salmon farms, pipelines and tankers. You have let it happen and thus it happened. Now, it would seem, you will give Coleman and company free rein as they try with LNG to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – and fail.

All of you should at least admit it, late in the day though it is, and start telling the people the truth and force the government to do the same.


Vaughn Palmer’s wrongheaded defense of private power projects


Wow! The Vancouver Sun has been a-burst with environmental issues, two on the front page February 6.

Let’s first back up to Vaughn Palmer’s ill thought out column of February 4. It’s nice to see Palmer has finally sacrificed his virginity and tackled the Independent Power Producers’ (IPP) obscene contracts foisted by the government on BC Hydro. Before we rejoice at Palmer’s brain transplant we must recognize what tripe this column was.

Palmer defends gross overpayments to IPPs on the grounds that the contracts were granted at a time when electricity prices were much higher, which ignores the standard practice of tying contracts to prices at the time of sale. Certainly that would make matters riskier but that’s the name of the game in business.

Then Palmer attacks us skeptics by making the case that we will welcome these IPPs when we are short of energy, which Palmer sees in the immediate future. This is not so as Economist Erik Andersen has demonstrated. (You would see more of Andersen’s work if the Fraser Institute’s house organ, The Sun, would publish his work).

Mr. Andersen recently wrote in a letter intended for The Sun, but unpublished thus far, “When one sees value in a deliberately created surplus of anything costly, it can only be from ignorance of need. For decades, BC Hydro has an unbroken record of estimating provincial demand well in excess of recorded demand. The BCUC (BC Utilities Commission) recognized this several times in the last century but BC Hydro keeps coming back.”

Palmer also ignores the huge debt to IPPs by reason of these shameful overpriced contracts, which stand at over $50 BILLION and rising. It doesn’t seem to bother “Poodle Palmer” that if in the private sector BC Hydro would be in bankruptcy protection at best and that as of now BC residents owe about $16,000 per man, woman and child because of Hydro’s massive $70 BILLION in debt and contractual obligations.

Naturally, Palmer ignores the huge environmental cost of these projects; moreover, he neglects to mention that the IPPs are mostly out-of-province and out of Canada companies who – and these dots connect – take all the profits straight out of the pockets of ratepayers who will be dinged with ever-increasing rates to cover the costs of these government-cosseted corporate leeches.

The lead headline in The Sun of February 6 leads into a report that the federal government is ill-prepared for a tanker spill and talks about such a thing as “unlikely” – even though the Department of the Environment, scarcely made up of tree-huggers, assert that spills are a certainty.

That’s two certainties – a spill is certain and there is no way it can be cleaned up.

In Ancient times, Cato the Elder ended every speech to the Roman Senate, whatever the subject, with “Carthago delenda est” (Carthage must be destroyed”.) Eventually the Senate got the idea and Carthage was destroyed.

We must imitate Cato and wherever appropriate pronounce the essential truth about oil spills from pipelines or tankers: NOT IF BUT WHEN!

Environment Still an Afterthought to BC Media in Election Run-up

Environment still an afterthought to BC media in election run-up


Mike Smyth gave us a full page story of his interview with Adrian Dix in the Sunday Province without a word on the environment!

What’s with these guys at Postmedia? Are the thousands upon thousands of hits that organizations like the Wilderness Committee, and yes, the Common Sense Canadian, garner meaningless? Can it be that a handful of NDP supporters visit our websites 1000’s of times a day?

For reasons that escape me, Dix is getting a free ride in the capitalist press.

At least Fazil Mihlar, when he was editor of the Sun’s editorial pages up until recently, kept the faith with the far right, as this Fellow of the Fraser Institute flooded the op-ed pages with articles by anyone who’d kiss the ass of the fish farmers, coal miners, pipeline companies, the tanker people and so on. And we’ve long given up on star Suncolumnist Vaughn Palmer’s ability to ask a tough question of anyone or say something that even barely qualifies as controversial – but Mike was beginning to draw some blood in both major political camps.

There is, evidently, a strong aversion in the mainstream media to talk about the environment and I can only guess why. Was the Kalamazoo spill by Enbridge too complicated to deal with? And the 800+ other spills by this wretched despoiler of the outdoors?

Is the question of the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline too difficult to analyze, the issues being the same as the proposed Enbridge line?

Are we having trouble dealing with dilbit, the chemical-laced bitumen that it is proposed to be piped through our mountains and valleys into tankers to ply the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest? Is it too time consuming to let readers know of the disastrous difference between bitumen spills and the stuff with which the Exxon Valdez polluted our waters and killed our fish and birds?

What about LNG? (Liquified Natural Gas) Is it beyond the abilities of the Sun and the Province to deal with the environmental issues surrounding fracking, which, by drilling first vertically, then horizontally, pumps out gas from between layers of shale? Where do the enormous volumes of water required for this process come from? After it’s laced with poisonous chemicals and the result pumped underground to crack open the shale, where does it go? Into the water table? Are there potential consequences of stability to the earth’s crust – such as this recentreport from the BC Oil and Gas Commission suggests?

What about fish farms? The Province and Sun have avoided this issue like the plague, with the notable exception of Mihlar, who seems to have given a free pass to the fish farms when they wanted the op-ed page.

What of the desecration of farmland, especially in the Delta area?

Adrian Dix has taken stands on these issues – sort of. He’s against Enbridge but silent on Kinder Morgan. If Kinder Morgan proceeds there will be unbelievable risks from tankers in Vancouver Harbour right out until the open ocean is reached.

The NDP have approved of LNG plants for the northern coast. Does this mean that they are unconcerned about the threat pipelines pose to the fauna and flora they pass through? Does this mean they have satisfied themselves that fracking poses no environmental concerns?

And with the same concerns applying to Kinder Morgan as with Enbridge, how can Mr. Dix condemn the latter while being undecided about the former?

Mr. Dix seems to be concerned about fish farms, but what would he do about them?

And what about the private power catastrophe which has ruined or will soon ruin some 75 rivers while bankrupting BC Hydro? Mr. Dix seems to be against them but what would he do about them? Hydro is presently on the hook for $50 BILLION dollars from these thieves in three piece suits.

Meanwhile, another multi-billion-dollar Hydro boondoggle and environmental calamity awaits us with the proposed Site C Dam – which wouldflood over 12,000 acres of farmland and wilderness to provide subsidized electricity to new mines and gas operations. The NDP has been on the fence at best with this massive project.

Mr. Dix seems to believe that a clean fight is on its way. Is this because he doesn’t want the Liberals to deal with the little matter of outright forgery he committed to save Glen Clark’s scalp in the Pilarinos scandal?

Politics is a blood sport in BC and will be in spite of the hypocrisy of Mr Dix.

The Common Sense Canadian, being devoted to environmental issues. will likely support the NDP in the May election but this doesn’t mean we support handling Mr. Dix or anyone else with kid gloves.

All we really ask is for an informed public, something apparently anathema to the Postmedia and David Black papers.

Get with it you guys – the environment is a huge issue and you have a duty to get it in all aspects on the table.

Fractured Land Crowd Funding Campaign Hits Target

Fractured Land crowd funding campaign hits target!


Following a last-minute outpouring of support from around the world, the crowd funding drive for Fractured Land achieved and surpassed its target late yesterday. The campaign surged past its $50,000 goal around 6 pm January 18, finishing with $52,520 by the midnight deadline. Remarkably, close to two thirds of those funds came within the final 3 days of the campaign.

Fractured Land, a feature documentary film-in-production, co-directed by Vancouver filmmaker Fiona Rayher and myself, examines our key energy challenges through the eyes of a compelling, young First Nations law student from northeast BC. In a recent Globe and Mail story, reporter Mark Hume described Caleb Behn as “one of B.C.’s bright, emerging native political leaders”, working to “move the debate over oil and gas development away from the confrontational front lines and into the living rooms of the nation.”

At a time when conventional funding sources for documentary films are drying up, crowd funding has become an important new tool filmmakers can leverage to make their projects happen. As we learned through this process, running a successful campaign is a team effort – and demands a significant commitment of time and resources. Our team included talented designers, organizers, and hardworking volunteers, led by our digital media strategist Hilary Henegar.

Crowd funding is not only a valuable fundraising tool, but an ideal way to build an audience for a forthcoming film, as well as a strong social media presence. Our campaign was successful in both regards – the weekly reach of our relatively new facebook page climbed to a quarter of a million people (a thousand-fold increase from just a few months ago!) and garnered close to 2,500 page “likes”, mostly in the past few weeks. We’ve received hundreds of questions about when the film will be finished and how people can see it (answer: likely early Fall, via film festivals, public screenings and broadcast television).

The campaign undoubtedly benefited from all the tweets we received from eco-celebrities – actor and fracking critic Mark Ruffalo, Gasland director Josh Fox, author and activist Naomi Klein, founder Bill McKibben, and socially-engaged Canadian pop star Bif Naked. We were also helped by Occupy Wall Street’s twitter feed and the official Idle No More facebook page. National Geographic explorer-in-residence Wade Davis, who appears in the film along with a number of the above people, donated 40 copies of his Sacred Headwaters book to the cause, which crowd funding donors snapped up.

We’re beyond the era of slaving away behind the scenes for a few years and coming out with a completed documentary. Our team is actively building a “transmedia” project around the film. That means that our social media tools, website, youtube channel, etc. become a forum to engage the public in a discussion about our energy future and how Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can work together to heal historical fractures and confront our key challenges going forward.

So you don’t need to wait until the Fall to be a part of Fractured Land. Building on the social media presence and audience we’ve built for the project during the crowd funding campaign, we’re now very well positioned to continue growing this dialogue, starting immediately.

The campaign also provided the media a reason to discuss the project and issues it deals with. We had a number of good stories in the Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Vancouver Observer and Yukon News – each of which spotlighted fracking and larger, inter-related energy and Indigenous issues. Interestingly, we were able to do what we did largely through online media – with the exception of Mark Hume’s Globe and Mail story (which has a significant online presence beyond its traditional print reach), the coverage and traction we received derived almost entirely from the Internet.

While our team certainly believed in what we were doing and very much so in the film, it’s fair to say we were all pleasantly surprised and deeply humbled to exceed our target. This past week required a full court press and it was very rewarding to see everything click into place on the final day.

Sometime Friday afternoon we began to realize that we just might pull it off. There was a genuine excitement amongst our supporters, rooting us on, demonstrating how invested they felt in our success and in helping to share Caleb’s story with the world. In the end, that’s probably the mark of a good crowd funding campaign – when your supporters become a part of your team.

There are a number of possible reasons for this last-minute rally. It could be interest in fracking, the ramp up to the BC election, Idle No More and indigenous politics stoking the national interest in these matters. We also released a new trailer this week, which we would have and should have done sooner, but for the fact we’re also busy trying to shoot this film and document all the events and people and stories going on right now that pertain to it.

Our eventual success was likely a combination of all these factors gelling together at the right moment.

Besides being incredibly heartened by this vital support for our film – and knowing that we now have what we need to finish it well – I’m happy to see that these issues are becoming interesting to a broader public. I’m pleased to know this film has the possibility of being commercially successful and seen by a lot of people. I’m also thrilled to see how this crowd funding medium can really work.

It’s been a huge learning curve and a lot of work – more then we were honestly able to commit while being full throttle chasing our story and finishing shooting the film. So to see it all come together is a very nice feeling.

I also believe it’s a testament to Caleb and the fact that he is such an inspiring, young leader, to whom so many people can clearly relate.

Our whole team is incredibly thankful to everyone who has supported our campaign. We are building a platform to engage these issues on a much larger stage and we hope you will join us there – and come see the film when it’s finished. Stay tuned!

The Early Editions's Lee Rosevere and Shiral Tobin at the 2012 Webster Awards (photo by Dave Thomson)

Rafe on Webster winner Shiral Tobin and the decline of CKNW


How is the absence of environmental coverage in the media related to Shiral Tobin, who recently shared a Webster Award for “BEST FEATURE STORY – RADIO”?

Simple – when Shiral was my producer on CKNW and later did the night show for them, ballsy radio was still in vogue.

Before I go further, let me state up front that I was fired by CKNW in 2003 in a disgraceful way. I have never been bitter about this – just angry that they tried to destroy my personal reputation in doing so. I must also reveal that Shiral and I are close buddies. For example, when I was fired in 2003, Shiral, then working for the CBC, rose from her sick bed and, flagrantly flouting CBC rules, held a press conference to support me against the disgraceful behavior towards me.

Here’s where Shiral comes into the story.

A year or two before I was fired and before Corus had bought out CKNW, I urged the station to give the late night show where I had started to Shiral. They agreed and Shiral was given the show and she did a terrific job. Issues flew across the airwaves. All Shiral needed was a vacancy to happen.

Abruptly, Corus, now in charge (the new boss’ previous job was running a meat packing plant) promptly fired Shiral, reasoning that they could do re-runs of my shows for free.

My comment, on air, was that, in Wilde’s words, they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Shiral came with me to 600AM after this as my producer and was fired along with me when the manager – a devotee of ancient popular music – heard from his golfing pals that we were doing too much on fish farms.

CKNW’s collapse since 2003 has been catastrophic. Whereas they had a  15%+ of radio listeners in those days (I was about 20%) they now have a 9% share running third behind CBC’s Early Edition, where Shiral now plies her trade.

This is a crying shame. CKNW used to be the opinion setter in the community. Where they once had the public listening and arguing, they now have bland. They were a station with regular internal spats but even large spats were quickly forgotten as everyone wanted one thing: #1.

The station had a glorious chance to start the recovery process when Christy Clark left and the afternoon show opened up – by hiring Shiral. That’s what would have happened before Corus.

Now the great irony – one of the reasons CKNW is gasping for air is Shiral is now opposite them at the CBC and kicking the crap out of them.