It’s impossible to blog about politics in BC without acknowledging the passing of Rafe Mair.
While his radio career stretched three decades, Rafe’s radio hey-day was the 1990s. He set the agenda on major issues. His editorials were must-listen radio for anyone involved in politics. Back in those days, you had to have the dial at CKNW 98 during Rafe’s editorial or you were going to miss something. Either you would cringe, have a sigh of relief, or cheer – particularly if the other guys were being gored that day. He left an indelible mark on the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord debates. Where he arguably was the difference-maker was stopping the Kemano Completion Project, advanced by Alcan, in the mid 1990s. His advocacy was followed by then-Opposition Leader Gordon Campbell opposing the project, which made it virtually impossible for the NDP government to lend its support.
The CKNW talk radio line-up of the day was impressive. Rafe set the agenda, but he was followed by Bill Good, then later on by Phillip Till. Rafe’s passing highlights the current day fragmentation of our media landscape. There is no dominant medium, nor any journalist today, that has the bully pulpit like Rafe did, or Jack Webster before him.
In politics, Rafe, then a Liberal, helped organize the “majority movement” during the Barrett years, where the free enterprise side of the spectrum rallied forces, ultimately, behind Bill Bennett and the Social Credit Party. Rafe found his way onto the ballot in 1975 and served under Bennett for six years. His departure in 1981 was highly significant as it proved to be a seminal moment in BC politics. The Socreds had modernized its party apparatus and surprised the NDP in a bellwether seat. No governing party had won a by-election since 1981 until Christy Clark did so in 2011, and the by-election Rafe created in 1981 sowed the seeds of Socred victory in the 1983 general election.
It’s noteworthy that Rafe’s post-politics career had an early setback. Originally signed on as a radio host with CJOR in 1981, he was supplanted by former NDP Premier Dave Barrett a few years later and relegated to the midnight shift on CKNW. He worked his way back up the line-up all the way to the top. At that time, he was in his 50s and had to reinvent himself. It must have taken a lot of perseverance and humility.
On a personal note, my parents knew Rafe from high school and UBC. My Dad and Rafe ran against each other for head of the Zeta Psi fraternity and engaged in many political debates, I’m told. In 1991, the Rafe Mair Show invited the youth wings of the Socreds and the NDP onto their show in the pre-election period. As a young organizer for Gordon Wilson’s BC Liberals, I was outraged! Why weren’t the Liberals invited? (Of course, we had no seats in the Legislature at the time). So I did what anyone would do in this situation, I faxed Rafe Mair and demanded to be in the show. He agreed. Along with my team of young Liberals – Bruce Young and Christy Clark – we appeared on his show from the CKNW studio at the Plaza of Nations. I was nervous and absolutely terrible, intimidated by the legendary host. At the first commercial break, I mentioned who my parents were and, at that point, Rafe’s tone changed and took it easy on us. Thanks for that Rafe. Years later, my father passed away, and though he and my Dad had not kept in touch very much over the years, he was kind enough to note his passing on his show, a kind gesture of a broadcaster at the top of the heap, remembering an old friend from days gone by.
Just returned to the wet coast from a six week sojourn through the South Pacific – retirement is great! So I didn’t get to read your tribute to Rafe Mair until today. Your story reminded me of one event that included Rafe while he was, I think, Minister of the Environment, or whatever it was called in the late 70s. I was involved at the time with the Canadian delegation to the old International North Pacific Fisheries Commission. At an Annual meeting in the late 70s in Tokyo, Rafe joined the delegation to keep tabs on we Feds, I guess.
Anyway, I recall Rafe wanting to see something of Japan, so I accompanied him, with a couple of others, on a train trip to Nara. I have never forgotten how excited Rafe was about this expedition, and how close he kept to our small group – he didn’t want to have to find his own way back to Tokyo!
Anyhow, small events make lasting memories, and I always appreciated his gratitude for my escorting him to Nara that day and, more important, getting him back to the familiar territory of the Imperial Hotel.