Rafe: Heavy oil advertising, editorials taint Canadian mag The Walrus

Rafe: Heavy oil advertising, editorials taint Canadian mag The Walrus

Rafe: Heavy oil advertising, editorials taint Canadian mag The Walrus
Enbridge is a major Walrus sponsor (Photo: Damien Gillis)

I am afraid I really am a gloomy Gus today. It has just struck me that there is an absence of good guys in the world. Whether it’s big business or government they mostly do it to us and reek of self interest.

We don’t seem to have anybody we can trust anymore. There was a time when, while you couldn’t trust the newspapers, you would be able to find within the paper columnists that weren’t bought and paid for. They consistently gave you points of view that challenged you and made you think. Thank God for online papers like this one and thetyee.ca and for all of the renegades who put so much time and effort into blogging.

Whether on-line papers and bloggers have yet achieved the kind of circulation that will really move public opinion I don’t know but  they are a ray of light in an otherwise bleak picture.

And then there were three

My printed purchases now are down to three.

I subscribe to the Atlantic because it does have excellent articles and entertains and make me think too. I am looking forward to the forthcoming issue where Hillary Clinton apparently criticizes the foreign policy of President Obama and has spent every waking moment since trying to explain to the president that she really didn’t mean it.

I also subscribe to the Guardian Weekly because it provides excellent columnists and great, what British refer to as leader writers.

A couple of years ago I was turned onto a Canadian publication called the Walrus. This magazine is unique in that it refuses to accept my cancellation.

Enbridge features heavily in Walrus

Normally when I read it, I just get angry at how Toronto-centric it is. It is a view of the rest of Canada from a Toronto point of view, tailored to Toronto prejudices. This last particular issue was a huge departure because it had an article on Andrew Weaver, the BC Green party MLA. It was only a page long but there was something real and truly British Columbian. It was not terribly interesting and if you lived in British Columbia not a very new story but it was about the West Coast and that, for the Walrus, is unique.

What I had hoped to get from the Walrus was controversy. I was led to believe that there would be articles on the environment and critical of things like the Tar Sands and so on. Well, the latest issue that I have, September 2014, is anything but.

The first two pages are a huge double page ad by Enbridge. Enbridge appears again with another full-page ad and also as a sponsor of various things in which the Walrus is also involved in such as lecture series (in Toronto, of course.) There is also an insert on aboriginal art, sponsored by, guess who?

I suppose you take your advertisers where you can find them and I’m sure the Enbridge people have nothing whatever to do with the content of Walrus. Well, I wonder.

Waxing poetic about the Tar Sands

One of the feature articles this month, lo and behold, is called “If We Build It, They Will Stay” by a man named John van Nostrand. Van Nostrand’s claim to expertise is that “he is an architect, an urban planner, and the founding principal of the Planning alliance in Toronto”. (Really, I’m not making this up!)

This article looks at the whole north of Canada as one belt of resources to be exploited. British Columbia is noteworthy for a large entry at Kitimat called liquefied natural gas. Next door to it in Alberta is oil, gas, and bitumen.

When you read the article, the section on the Tar Sands is almost religious in its zeal. It could have been written by the PR department of, say, Enbridge. Needless to say there is not a critical word about any of the environmental concerns many of us have about LNG and the Tar Sands.

Now, could this have anything to do with the fact that Enbridge is such a big advertiser?

Surely only a cynic would think that. Then, of course, sensing a touch of cynicism in the back of my mind, I went back over the ads in the Walrus. They have very few  traditional ads. There was one from Subaru and the only other typical national ads I could find was were RBC and Rolex. Everything else are little ads inviting me, for example, to go to dinner at the Royal York Hotel or see Madame Butterfly at the Four Seasons Centre for the performing arts in Toronto.

Walrus’ charitable nature

Not wishing to be unfair, I thought I should take a look on the masthead and see if there were any mission statements and things of that sort. I thought it might also tell me a bit about who these cats are running this magazine.

Well, there was a surprise in store for me. It says the Walrus Magazine is a project of the charitable, nonprofit Walrus Foundation.

Now one’s first reaction would be, well charitable organizations have got to take their money wherever they can find it. Except that’s not usually how it works.

A magazine put out by charity is usually very careful not to get involved in controversy. It may write articles that are thought provoking in nature but they are in very careful not to take money from people who have a large axe to grind. One of the reasons for that, of course, is that they don’t want pressure put on them to make certain that their articles don’t offend the ” money” folks. Let me assure you there’s no danger of that happening here!

Now, I am going to admit this is not the world’s biggest deal. I frankly don’t give a rats ass what the Walrus  publishes, whose backside it kisses or who it’s target audience is. It can, for all I care, get its money directly from the Mafia.

What I find so disappointing is that here is an opportunIty for a Canadian publication to make an honest effort to expose to Canadians, Canadian issues.

A blow job for the industry, financed by the industry

“If We Build It, They Will Stay” was a glorious opportunity to lay before for the Canadian people the whole issue of northern development particularly with regard to resources. The article stretches from the the Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador and should open up a lot of controversy, provoking a lot of intelligent conversation. It is, rather, to put it somewhat indelicately, a blow job for the resource industry in a magazine that is obviously financed by the resource industry.

What is really worrying, is that there maybe some Canadian out there that doesn’t recognize this. Of course, Enbridge is banking on this.

As I said when I started, I’m grumpy today and that’s largely because there are so few places to go where you can get information that will lead you to further information and then on to a healthy public debate.

If the Walrus does nothing else, it adds fuel to the argument that the electronic and print press in this country is captive to “big money” and in the case of the Walrus, is not even very subtle about it.



About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

8 thoughts on “Rafe: Heavy oil advertising, editorials taint Canadian mag The Walrus

  1. Rafe, If the only alt media you find useful and not stomach churning, then I’m surprise that you haven’t gone postal. I’m sure that you didn’t mean to imply that that’s the case. I have no doubt that, like myself, you have plenty of useful sites linked. Are any of them perfect? Nope. And I do appreciate your sentiment, believe me. Of course, You and I could talk about it and discover that a thing that makes someone good is to me a thing that makes that someone bad, and vice versa. There’s no fix for that. But I would add, along those lines, that, I feel, the best we can do is keeping caring. Caring is knowing. Stay interested. And treat media the way you treat food. You know it’s industrial and might not deliver all the goodness your body needs. Compensate, not by giving in and eating anything anywhere, but by using a few tricks and just being smart. Balance is always wise. Get the veggies, including leafy greens, into your diet. Don’t eat exclusively at McDonald’s. Eat fruit. Try to eat more organic. You’ll stand a better chance of finding more of what you need by actively caring. The answer is out there.

  2. The Ostrich
    As a species I sometimes wonder if we most resemble the ostrich. If we duck our heads, ignore the problem for long enough, it will just, maybe, hopefully, please, go away. Or perhaps our approach is more like Bill Clinton’s solution to gays in the military – don’t ask, don’t tell! After all, if nobody talks about it, it isn’t there, is it?
    My brother-in-law, a house painter and his friend, who is working in the Alberta oil patch sum it up this way: “it’s been about 150 years since the Industrial Revolution and we’ve done this much damage to the environment. We might get another 100 years out of it all.”
    At a church luncheon, a fellow parishioner relates to me his experience of reading about the poisoning of the St Clare River at Sarnia. “I was there the night the company put that stuff in the ground and supposedly sealed it off.” There was pain in his eyes and no doubt, in his heart and in his soul. I stated that it was amazing how many people I speak with, ordinary people, blue collar workers, who understand that we are gradually destroying the planet. He casually observed, “there will be a revolution.”
    It’s hardly unlikely that for some inexplicable reason, I am the only guy who has these conversations. It is more likely that most of us see the truth for what it is. We are gradually, speeding up, speeding up, speeding up, destroying the very planet that gives us life. Suicide or madness? Take your pick, I can’t figure it out.
    I wonder who our political leaders talk to? Do they have these conversations or are they shielded for their own protection? They don’t appear to be losing much sleep about it all as the oil companies drill away, as the auto manufacturers continue to turn out the gas combustion engine, as poisons are released into our rivers, lakes, oceans, landfills – anywhere the millions upon millions of barrels of poisonous waste can be hidden for awhile. Long enough, they hope, to finish making the money, packing up and leaving the deadly stuff behind. Perhaps, like Chernoble, the animals will have another paradise, free of humans, in a future that may be as inevitable as the prediction of my house painter friend – a hundred years or so.
    Is it possible to change a future that is rushing towards us virtually unhindered except for sporadic demonstrations and vocal minorities who are often perceived as “radical”, “inhibiting progress”, “tree-huggers”, “terrorists”, “trouble – makers”, etc? Most days are like today – I simply have no idea whether we have the rational or empathetic ability to slow down, stop and possibly reverse the race to the “end of the human race.”
    Joe Wiseman

  3. The Walrus.
    Cozying up to the Oil Industry……. the last desperate act of a failing magazine? One only hopes so.
    I read the prevoius comments and was dismayed by the revelations about Canadian Geograpic. Mind you I let THAT subsciption lapse after one too many photo op “stories” about BC’s flowering alpine glades….( BC is beautiful! I get it!)

    Sold their souls for the almighty oil dollar………They only have themselves to blame.
    Blogs forever!

  4. My mother has been getting the Walrus for years, except that she recently cancelled her subscription because the oil industry has made up the bulk of the advertising for quite a long time now. She also cancelled a long-term subscription to Canadian Geographic for the same reason. CG had an issue earlier this spring that focussed on oil and gas. They apparently received quite a bit of mail asking for a more balanced issue, giving equal time to renewable energy sources. Their response was to say that a conversation on the subject was definitely important in the editorial letter of a second issue fully devoted to oil and gas. Nearly all of the advertising was oil and gas. I wonder how many subscribers they lost?

  5. That’s nothing, Rafe. The previously respectable magazine Canadian Geographic has gone much farther over to the Dark Side, but partnering (actually getting fully naked into bed) with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and producing an “educational” module for school children on “energy” (guess what that means!). http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/blog/posting.asp?ID=778

    They published two theme issues, one in June 2013, and again in June 2014 (Oil Month?) on “energy”, the euphemism for mostly fossil fuel extraction. So I cancelled my subscription – but like you, to no avail; I still get all their stuff. I wrote this piece about the issue here in the Vancouver Observer — which I would rate up there with the Tyee as an accurate version of reality. http://www.vancouverobserver.com/opinion/why-im-cancelling-my-canadian-geographic-subscription

    Now, the venerable Toronto-based anti-air pollution organization, Pollution Probe, has gone completely over the the fossil fuel industry, and is plugging extraction industries like mad (it’s in the second link above.

    I think, actually, that this is a sign of a) desperation (the writing is on the wall that Enbridge probably won’t go through) and also b) how incredibly incredibly profitable the oil and gas sector has been over the years (they could buy the Eiffel Tower for $50 billion and put it on top of Mount Everest for another $50 billion and hang an Enbridge billboard from the top for 30 seconds of gross earnings).

    This is the New Times, in my opinion: really powerful, entrenched vested interests (political and corporate) against the growing, uprising, colossal power of WE THE PEOPLE! And we’re gonna win…..

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