Opinion

Why I’m Supporting the Rafe Mair Memorial Fund

In politics and media, Mair left a legacy that deserves a lasting recognition.

By Paul Willcocks 8 Nov 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Paul Willcocks is a journalist and former publisher of newspapers, and now an editor with The Tyee.

For a couple of years, my work week started with a Monday morning chat with Rafe Mair in front of tens of thousands of his listeners.

I was a freelance reporter and columnist in the B.C. legislative press gallery, and Mair tapped me for a weekly talk about politics and policy.

It was always an exciting way to start the week. Radio and TV interviews are generally shaped by the producer, who talks with the host and comes up with a list of topics, and then goes over possible questions with the guest. Nice, because it lets you prepare a little.

But, despite the best efforts of producer Shiral Tobin, it didn’t always work that way with Mair.

Sometimes he stuck with the planned topics.

But if Rafe read a story on a new, big topic on Monday morning or had been thinking about an issue on the weekend, the plan was out the window and we were off into uncharted territory.

Which, at least for me and hopefully for listeners, made a much more interesting hit.

And while radio interviews are usually predictable — a question from the host, wise answer from the guest journalist, and repeat — Rafe had a different approach. I always felt he was ready to pounce, either in support of an answer, or in outrage that I could have missed the point so badly. I might suggest a cabinet minister had failed to fully grasp an issue. “Come on,” Mair would say. “He’s hopelessly incompetent, and just doing what industry tells him.”

It was fun, energizing, a challenge. Mair was generous with his advice, praise and support. And I was, remember, a freelancer. He reached out and offered me a chance to reach his big audience.

Rafe Mair wasn’t a journalist. He was a crusader, and the media, like politics, was a way to fight for the causes he believed were so important with honesty and commitment.

And he was mostly right. I was fooled by the slick sales pitch for run-of-river power projects, which made them out to be small scale and environmentally friendly. Mair forecast the environmental damage, big costs for consumers and guaranteed profits for corporations. Seven years ago, he warned of the threat to BC Hydro’s finances posed by the former government’s policies. Five years ago he forecast the natural gas glut that made the LNG industry a pipe dream.

For more than 10 years his Tyee column provided a platform that let Mair write whatever he wanted, from fighting the now-cancelled Northern Gateway pipeline, campaigning for wild salmon and offering his views on everything from the concentration of power in the prime minister’s office to B.C. politics. (And if Adrian Dix had taken Mair’s advice in 2013 the election might have been quite different.)

After Mair died last month at 85, The Tyee — with the support of his wife Wendy Conway-Mair — decided to launch the Rafe Mair Memorial Fund. We’re raising money that will support original reporting on environmental stories and provide a fellowship to allow an emerging environmental reporter to dig deep into an issue, with support and mentoring from senior journalists and editors.

I think Rafe would have liked the idea. If you can, please take the time to check out the fund and make a one-time or monthly contribution.  [Tyee]

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