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!”


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.

4 thoughts on “Rafe Mair on mainstream media a decade after leaving CKNW

  1. I am a huge Rafe Mair fan. This is the one guy in British Columbia who really gets it. He clearly understands that for all the good work he did in government, and make no mistake, he was an exceptional minister. He is even more valuable to the good of this province outside of government, using the media as his bully pulpit.
    I learned from Mr. Mair like no one before or since.
    Today, I returned for the very first time to CKNW since Mr. Mair was fired. I have to say, it was pretty good, but it will never return to the levels to which he took that station. The intellectual prowess was enticing and certainly not just on environmental matters!
    Cheers Rafe, I consider you not just an icon, but a true British Columbian and Canadian hero -and I do not say that lightly.
    You are the gold standard and are still sadly missed.

  2. It’s a sad day when you can’t buy an objective newspaper, when the radio talk shows try and convince me that ‘bike lanes’ are the most important issue and when most of the media is owned by fewer and fewer companies.
    No one to take on the real issues. It’s soft ball questions when a REAL issue is discussed. I guess I was spoiled when the likes of you and Webster were my morning mentors.
    As for the present talk shows they have been degraded to tabloid talk, not worth the time

  3. Sunday, 07 July 2013 01:21 posted by Gerry

    I used to always look forward to your show back when I was a law student in the early nineties driving around between courthouses.

    Then one day you came on the air and explained about mental illness and how there was no shame in seeking help. Wow! This was the first time I had ever heard any public person speak about this. Your words encouraged me to get the help I needed and begin the process of coming to terms with my own mental health.

    Keep speaking up Rafe. I never miss your columns and you’ve got my greatest respect.

    Saturday, 06 July 2013 18:52 posted by e.a.f.

    You were most likely fired because they knew you were going to report/comment on things the government/corporations wouldn’t like. Unfortunately these people forgot that at some time blogs would take over a large market share.

    Your column is still required reading for me.

    For those who think trains are the way to go for transporting oil, have a look at today’s news regarding the 72 car train with oil. Half the town is gone, oil/chemicals in the water, etc.

    Yes, we need oil. However, pipelines are not the way to go. If it is going to be shipped by train, safety needs to be improved. As for using the tar/oil for export, totally out of the questions. The more you ship, the more chances of something going side ways.

    Ya, modesty was never your strong suit, but when you’re hot, you’re hot and might as well let the world know. No one else is going to do it for you.

    columnists today couldn’t hold a candle to the ones in the 60s and 70s. A lot of my opinions were formed by those previous writers, including Wasserman.

    Saturday, 06 July 2013 10:44 posted by Norm Farrell

    The BC Hydro transmission line fiasco, the numerous scandals at BCiMC, Pavco, health authorities, BC Ferries, Pacific Carbon Trust, the education ministry and elsewhere won’t get much attention from Bill Good, Vaughn Palmer and others in the corporate media. Talking about those issues would ruin the chance of paid appearances they enjoy in front of industry groups and quasi public organizations.

    The conflicts of interest that are so obvious get almost no attention from colleagues. When mainstream media reports, the public interest matters only if it doesn’t conflict with private interests of the people providing us the story.

    Rafe’s willingness to speak out unreservedly increases my respect for him.

    Saturday, 06 July 2013 06:55 posted by nonconfidencevote

    I used to listen to CKNW reliously everyday.
    Now, when Phillip Till and Bill Good are on i change the channel.
    Its a shame that a station with so much history, so much pride has become a sad mockery of itself.
    When the last executive responsible for the demise of this station, the last ass kissing “reporter”, the last as kissing ” talk show host, has been fired due to low ratings…..
    Then and maybe then I will come back.
    But not today.

    The Main Stream Media everywhere deserves to die a slow ,agonizing death…….. wait a minute 🙂

    Keep up the good fight Rafe, you’re needed now more than ever

    Friday, 05 July 2013 12:13 posted by Marvin Rosenau

    Rafe, you are a titan.

    Thursday, 04 July 2013 05:44 posted by Hawgwash

    Of Corus the issue is not just a BC one…

    Wednesday, 03 July 2013 09:33 posted by woodstover

    My parents listened to Webster, I listened to Raif, good thing I have no children because there is no one to listen to now.

    Wednesday, 03 July 2013 09:00 posted by Carol Pickup

    Hello Rafe Mair; Just wanted to thank you for your honest, insightful journalism. Excellent investigative reporters are few but you are one of them. The courage to tell the truth regardless of the fall-out that you have experienced is rare.
    We need more people of integrity like yourself to clean up the horrible mess the neo-Liberal Campbell/Clark government has created in B.C. As a third generation Canadian and resident of our beautiful province, I am ashamed and dismayed with the state of our political system and both our provincial and federal governments.

    Wednesday, 03 July 2013 07:08 posted by Evil Eye

    In reply to Mr. Logan.

    Of course the mainstream media don’t report on major financial blunders the BC Liberals made, they are part of the “corporate con-job”.

    Herr Goebbels had it right:

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the Province and the mainstream media can shield the people from the political, economic and/or environmental consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the Province and the mainstream media to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the Province and the mainstream media.”

    The Vancouver Sun and Province are latter day Pravda or Völkischer Beobachter and the once mighty NW’98, nothing more than a parochial Radio Moscow.

    The Sun and Province and those who work within are tainted with the corporate evil that oozes daily from the pages printed.

    George Orwell had it right too:

    In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

    Wednesday, 03 July 2013 00:26 posted by Kevin Logan

    Its an interesting point Rafe repeatedly makes, as does Mr.Anderson and Damien, as well as myself for that matter, about the complete lack of coverage on BC Hydro debt and fiscal mismanagement.

    Take for instance the “STUNNING” post election revelation that the Transmission line in the north, originally estimated to cost BC hydro approximately 175 million, is now registering at, wait for it 750 million dollars. YUP, thats right almost a Billion dollars and near 5times the original estimates.

    To put that in perspective, the BC Ferries cost overruns at the centre of BC NDP defeat, was merely one third of that amount.


    Yet, absolutely no coverage on the issue.

    Or rather the odd mention here and there, not a never ending front page story of liberal incompetence. Not to mention the “timing” of revealing this near billion dollar boondoggle AFTER the election.

    In fact the entirety of the BC Fast Ferries Fiasco amounts to about half of the dollars involved in the transmission line travesty, and one of the companies holds the longest most offensive Private Power contract the Liberals continue to ignore the existence of.

    The liberals get away with this due to MSM as Rafe says

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 22:17 posted by Johns Aghast

    How Enbridge intends to get heavy duty equipment into a spill in the forbidding terrain where the pipeline is proposed to go?
    Probably by the same means they used to get heavy equipment in to build the pipeline.
    Why not build a Railway along the ROW. After all, if a twice as long BC Railway sold for less than 1/10th the projected cost of Gateway then it shouldn’t be much of a problem to access spills by rail!

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 22:03 posted by Evil Eye

    Gordon Campbell ushered in the the great “con” era in BC; he was a willing puppet for the corporate “robber barons” who firmly believe that the peoples BC, was their own personal domain for profit.

    The neo-conservative economic values are nothing more than window dressing for Fascist government.

    Campbell’s game plan (as Lucretia Borgia who is now our unelected premier) is to bankrupt BC and let the corporate Fascists buy what is left of our once great Crown corporations at firesale prices.

    As recent history has shown, most of the mainstream media could be bought and they sold themselves to the Fascist elements like the cheap whores they are. Even the NDP have their price and evidence is mounting that the recent loss was not due to incompetence; in fact no politician or mainstream political party could be that incompetent to lose an election to a political with such odious members. The NDP loss was well planned.

    No Rafe, you had to go, you were the one person, who would say “f*** you, I will report the truth.” A phone call here, a luncheon there & the corporate coup was complete, you had no chance and Bill boring became the voice of the Corporate Fascists & the death of truth.

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 18:03 posted by ron wilton

    In the early 90’s I had decided to give the ‘civilized’ world a pass, so I built a little cabin in the woods in a very remote part of British Columbia.

    I had two wood stoves, one for heat, t’other for cooking, water from a mountain stream, an outdoor privy, a good dog, a good woman and a good peaceful, quiet, easy life.

    The river was full of fish, the clearings were full of huckleberries, the fields were full of flowers and the woods were full of bears, cougars, coyotes and other critters.

    Then a ‘friend’ gave me an old Delco 12 volt push button car radio and a battery.

    I hooked up a couple of wires from the battery to the radio and got a lot of static. My ‘friend’ suggested I run a wire from the aerial plug on the radio and up the side of the cabin as high as I could go.

    The radio responded and as clear as if he was sitting in my cabin having morning coffee, the gravelly voice of some guy named Rafe Mair was railing about the Aluminum Company of Canada drilling a tunnel through Indian territory, flooding burial grounds and drawing down the waters of some river that would eradicate spawning salmon.

    I was hooked. I ‘had’ to listen to Rafe every morning to see if he would….

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 18:02 posted by Karla Lysne Broadfoot

    i don’t know what my late father had against you so many years ago.. (regional politician) but he would almost spit your name.. i think now tho that you would be totally on the same side..

    if i am to be chained to a bulldozer it would be my great honour to be alongside of you…

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 17:49 posted by Roger B Jones

    You are right, modesty is not your strong suit. However, that really has nothing to do with your commitment to seeking the truth on air.
    I have been generally pleased with your coverage of “disability issues” over the years. In fact, I did an interview with you many years ago regarding CSIL ( Choice in Supports for Independent Living). This is a fantastic government program that helps people with disabilities live independently. Although it has been extremely successful, for some strange reason the provincial government is not very supportive and the users are continually threatened with the prospect of cutbacks or elimination of CSIL funding.
    Since the demise of your presence on CKNW, it has become increasingly difficult to expose government incompetency in the mainstream media.
    Keep fighting the good fights, and we can overlook the ego!
    Roger B Jones
    “The Ability Guy”

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 17:06 posted by sandra Gagnon

    By the way my sister was Janet Henry
    Did’nt find anything. Just a parcel plate but no D.N.A
    and a necklace that matched one of her photos
    Thanks a million for doing the show on our missing women
    Sincerely Sandra Gagnon

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 17:04 posted by sandra Gagnon

    I remember you being so kind to my sister and I
    we done the 6 week segment on our missing women. You told me i was one of the strengest women you ever had on your show. Thanks for your compassion
    Take good care

    Tuesday, 02 July 2013 14:43 posted by Chris Hoffman

    I used to listen to you on radio. Keep speaking up.

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