22 Aug 2017

CBC Radio badly off track with
too much personal storytelling

During CBC Radio’s 81 years  the public broadcaster has been the country’s most important life-line, unifying the nation and helping us understand each other and the important issues of the day.

I am lucky to have worked at the CBC for more than 25 years. I held several positions, including Canadian Editor of The National, working as an investigative journalist, as a radio documentary producer, and as an editor with National Radio News.

Today CBC Radio is more important than ever. With newspapers failing to do their job, journalism in Canada is in crisis. Media organizations are failing to provide communities with news and analysis that is necessary for democracy to function properly.

(Note: If you too disapprove of what’s happening to CBC Radio, I’ve provided emails at the end of this article where you can send your protests.)


CBC Radio is proud of the success of its podcast, Someone Knows Something which explores cold cases after people have disappeared. 
As always, I’ve been listened to Radio One this summer. My favourite programs, which include The Current, As It Happens, The Sunday Edition and Ideas, are doing a good job.

However, I’m puzzled and dismayed by most of about a dozen new summer programs. A couple of them – the Doc Project and Now or Never  – provide some interesting stories told from a personal point of view.

Too much “personal issues” radio

Otherwise, the remaining 10 new programs are not the kind of shows that should be so prominent on the CBC. Too many dwell on the sad stories of people who have had a difficult life. People ramble on about their feelings. There’s lots of talk about “human connections”, and advice for people with problems.

Here is a sampling:
  • Love Me with with Lu Olkowski. “Deep down we all just want to be loved, so why is it one of the toughest things to get right?” says the program description. “Love Me is a podcast about the messiness of human connection.”
  • Road Trip Radio, both a podcast and on Radio One, is described as “a family friendly podcast celebrating all things Canada!” Produced by the team behind CBC Radio’s This is That, most of the episodes have been humourless and an embarrassment. 
  • Out in the Open with Piya Chattopadhyay. The program claims to tackle one timely subject each week with “energy, wit, and journalistic rigor.” A recent episode: “Hair Care: Shaving, waxing, threading, plucking, sugaring, electrolysis.”
  • Sleepover with Sook-Yin Lee. “In each episode one stranger takes the spotlight and presents a problem from their life. The other two offer advice and bring up related experiences from their own unique perspectives.”
  • Seat at the Table with Isabelle Racicot and Martine St-Victor. “A weekly talk show where the hosts bring you honest conversations with guests shaping pop culture.” One episode featured an interview with Laura Wasser, Hollywood's divorce lawyer.  

8 Aug 2017

Do you know a community that
might like a new newspaper?

(Note: Please forward to any folks that might like to look into setting up a paper.)

News outlets in Canadian communities are falling like bowling pins.

At least 171 media organizations in 138 communities closed between 2008 and this January, says the Local News Research Project, a project led by Ryerson School of Journalism.  By comparison, only 51 new outlets opened.

The loss of media is so severe that a special report submitted to the House of Commons Heritage Committee was entitled: “Local news poverty in Canadian Communities.” 

“Local news poverty, we argue,” project co-ordinator April Lindgren writes, “is greatest in communities where residents have limited or no access to timely, verified news about local politics, education, health, economic and other key topics they need to navigate daily life.”


Small communities such as Markdale, ON and Canmore, AB lost their local papers while cities Guelph, ON and Nanaimo, BC were among the largest centres to be hit.

Newspapers have been crucial for the development of Canada for more than three centuries.  But “free” news from for-profit papers is coming to an end.

19 Jul 2017

Corporations are beating us up;
can we develop a more just system?

Aggressive capitalism is kicking the crap out of us,  so we should see if we can start a public conversation about the need for an alternative political and social system.

It’s shocking that capitalist businesses have become so dominant. They literally rule the world In Canada, the low-profile Canadian Council of Chief Executives is all powerful when it comes to influencing government.

We see corporate greed all around us. Four out of 10 Canadians – many of them earning around $11 an hour – can’t pay their bills but Canadian corporations are sitting on at least $630-billion in cash they’re refusing to invest in the economy.

Unfortunately, even when many people know about the damage caused by capitalism, they feel a totally alternative political system is such a distant possibility, that they don’t bother discussing it.


Of course powerful people fearful of the threat of a social upheaval have demonized the words socialism and communism. This scares the hell out of many people.

Mainstream media are owned by corporations that seldom, if ever, report on alternative political systems. If ideas aren’t laid out before the public, they really don’t exist.

PEOPLE ARE FED UP

Despite the lies and badgering that comes from corporations and the wealthy, people in several countries are fed up with traditional politics. They’re fighting back against corporations and governments that are joined at the hip.

4 Jul 2017

Here's why papers don't deserve support; money should go to committed Internet sites

News Media Canada – formerly the Canadian Association of Newspapers – has submitted a proposal to Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly for a whopping $350-million a year to prop up the journalism of the country’s struggling 105 dailies.

The publishers are asking for:
  • $175-million of our tax dollars per year to subsidize the first 35 per cent of the salaries of hundreds of journalists who are paid $85,000 or less, including luminaries such as the Globe and Mail's  columnist Margaret Wente, who creates her own reality, and the National Post's right-wing reporter Christie Blatchford. 
  • And $90,000 a year to help each of these newspapers improve their presence on the Internet – a request that comes 18 years after Kijiji and others began grabbing their classified ads. This reveals their ineptitude to successfully get on the Internet themselves. 
I’m against this proposal for a number of reasons, including the fact that the self-important papers want to be the only ones getting government support. They apparently never thought of approaching the dozen or so small digital media groups that have worked hard over the past few years to establish themselves.

But I have a more fundamental problem with the newspaper industry.

21 Jun 2017

Liberals take first small step toward rebuilding the CBC, but there are many miles to go

The federal government has taken the first step on a long road toward what hopefully will be the restoration of the CBC as Canada’s most important public interest and cultural institution.

For nearly 10 years the Harper government forced the CBC off track from its original goals of promoting culture and the arts, providing quality news, and facilitating a national discussion.

Harper refused to adequately fund the Mother Corp. In one fell swoop in 2012, the Harper government cut the CBC budget by $115-million over three years.


Harper very likely would have wanted to sell off the CBC but that would have caused a national backlash. Instead, he appointed seven Conservative lackeys and donors to the CBC Board with the idea of keeping the broadcaster in check.

But now, with the world pretty much in a state of chaos and false news coming at us from many directions, a strong CBC has never been more important.

On Tuesday Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly announced the government is ending the long-time practice of appointing friends of the government to the CBC Board of Directors and, instead, introducing a new system.

Joly named nine prominent Canadians with various backgrounds from across the country who will recommend people they feel capable of serving on the Board to the government.

Currently three positions are vacant on the Board, and the second term of CBC President and CEO Hubert Lacroix expires at the end of the year.

18 Feb 2017

Ineffective 350.org divestment campaign should give way to direct corporate actions

Students at Dalhousie University in Halifax are a determined lot. Campaigning against the burning of fossil fuels, they have occupied the office of school president Richard Florizone.

The students also created a six-foot-high dinosaur to signify that investing in pollution-causing industries is a skeleton in the university’s closet.

Divest Dal is one of at least 34 academic-based campaigns across the country pressuring administrations to divest holdings in fossil fuels on ethical grounds.

However, the Dal effort suffered a setback when the Dal administration announced it would not sell off an estimated $20.5-million in fossil fuel holdings.

“We did not accept the Board’s no vote . . . .” says Laura Cutmore, a Divest Dal organizer, in an email. “We will continue to campaign towards divestment for as long as it takes.”

Students at Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS) protesting.

Divest Dal works with the support of 350.org  by far the largest group in the world involved in campaigning, and they have a lot of faith in 350.org’s leadership.

350.org, which operates gofossilfree announced with considerable fanfare that the campaign urging institutions, mostly universities, churches, and pension funds to divest their endowment holdings in fossil fuels is working well.

Canadian 350.org organizer Cam Fenton wrote in an email: “In a matter of years it has grown from a student led campaign on a few campuses to something that is impacting some of the largest political and financial institutions on the planet.”

The 350.org website claims that “our movement is strong and the fossil fuel industry is fighting for its life.”

Whoa! Not so fast.

28 Jan 2017

We shouldn't weep for broke but lying mainstream media

What a difference some 50 years has made in one of Canada’s most important and powerful industries!

Back in 1970, the Senate of Canada called an inquiry to investigate the exorbitant profits made by Canada’s handful of media barons.

Skinflint media mogul Roy Thomson had declared that owning a radio or television station was like having a license to print money. He added that owning a newspaper was even better, because a license was not required.


The Senators hummed and hawed, and made some recommendations that were mostly ignored by the powerful media owners, who continued to make big profits.

How times have changed. 

A report from the Public Policy Forum of Montreal released on January 26 says the Canadian news industry “is reaching a crisis point as the decline of traditional media, fragmentation of audiences and the rise of fake news pose a growing threat to the health of our democracy.”

Whereas the 1970 report was entitled “The Uncertain Mirror”, the new appeal for support is called “The Shattered Mirror.”

Now mainstream media are unable to sell enough advertising to provide the amount and quality of news coverage that once seemed routine. So the giant corporations are humbly appealing to the federal government to provide support for various media and make adjustments to the media landscape.

The report does not provide a specific prescription to bring corporate media back to health. Nothing in the report could even begin to provide the billions of dollars that would be needed to restore newspapers to what they were say 10 years ago. That was before corporations fired more than 10,000 journalists. 

8 Nov 2016

I'll bet you didn't know you own billions of dollars in coal stocks

Sometimes huge issues just slide along under the radar until, all of a sudden, they blow up. The shock can come from a brown envelope slid under a door, a “scoop” in the media, or an opposition politician discovering a serious failure in government.

I’m waiting for an explosion to occur at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. This organization has assets of $287-billion and provides pensions for the 19-million Canadians who pay into it.

The Investment Board is dangerously gambling and putting our future in danger by investing billions-of-dollars in risky fossil fuel companies. Moreover, the Board is knee deep in unethical investments in the coal industry.

Coal sludge from a North Carolina site mined by Duke Energy.

The collapse of a huge cooling pond dam at a coal mine in North Carolina during Hurricane Matthew last month didn’t cause a stir in Canada, but it should have. The facility in question is owned by Duke Energy – perhaps the most vilified energy company in the United States – and the Pension Fund Investment Board is heavily invested in Duke.

Earlier, a Duke pond leaked dirty effluent into a North Carolina river.  The company paid a $102-million fine continues to face numerous law suits while it is involved in a $3-billion clean-up. The loss had an impact on the Canadian investments.

1 Nov 2016

Why are our environmental groups
supporting weak climate targets?

Canada is far behind many other countries when it comes to meeting its carbon reduction targets. We have an “inadequate” ranking on the international mechanism tracking carbon emitters, says Climate Action Tracker.  Many other countries/regions, such as Norway, the European Union, the United States and China, are well ahead of us.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s recently announced that all Canadian jurisdictions must adopt a carbon pricing scheme by 2018 with a minimum price of $10 per tonne. The price must rise to reach $50 per tonne by 2022. The goal of reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 will not get Canada anywhere close to its promises to the United Nations.

The Canadian targets are “nothing short of a disaster for the climate,” says Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

Canadians probably believe that our major environmental groups are busy lobbying and pushing the federal and provincial governments to do much more. But no, this is not the case.

Strangely, while many individual groups carry out excellent and productive projects, the country’s environmental community is doing very little to pressure governments to do a better job.

No group criticizing the government

A survey of the top 20 or so environmental organizations shows – from what I could find – that not one group is conducting an ongoing, strategic campaign lobbying the federal government for not doing more.

Young people on Parliament Hill protesting pipeline construction, but when it comes to fighting climate change, environmental groups have decided not to campaign against the Liberal government. 




Some groups have made one-off statements criticizing the government, but these do not constitute a campaign.

Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart did say that “thirty per cent by 2030 isn’t good enough. We have to go farther.”  But it does not seem that the organization will be lobbying governments re carbon levels.

25 Oct 2016

Young activists win 'badge of honour' with civil disobedience in Ottawa

Ninety-nine young environmental activists achieved their goal on Parliament Hill on Monday by carrying out acts of civil disobedience. The boisterous group climbed over restricted-area police barricades near the Peace Tower.

Those arrested were part of a group of 200 protesting the possible construction of the Alberta to B.C. Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

Some carried a giant banner reading: “Climate Leaders Don’t Build Pipelines.”

The 99 arrested were taken to a police station where they were issued citations and told not to appear on Parliament Hill for three months. They will not have criminal records, but police took their personal information. It’s unclear whether the information will go into a police database.

Protest spokeswoman Amanda Harvey-Sanchez, a third-year University of Toronto student, told media that pipeline approvals are a deal-breaker for many younger voters who helped propel the Trudeau Liberals to a majority government in last October’s general election.

One of the 99 protesters arrested in Ottawa. 
Fully intent on breaking the law, many of the 200 protesters on the Hill had been schooled in what they should and should not do during their law-breaking task. Called Climate 101, the protest was specifically for young people. It was organized by 350.org, a leading climate change fighting group.

Facing protesters on Parliament Hill is a routing activity for police – some 25,000 people were on the Hill a year ago to oppose climate change.  http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/organizers-say-over-25-000-at-ottawa-rally-for-climate-change-1.2679364

But for most of those arrested, Monday’s experience was their first brush with the law. When police officers placed a hand on their shoulder, there is no doubt their stomachs were churning.

However, it’s likely that many of those arrested will be ready to take part in future aggressive actions to protect the environment and slow climate change. They’re angry that the battle to slow global warming is being lost.

They don’t trust Trudeau 


First of all, environmentalists do not trust the Trudeau government to do the right thing and stop approving fossil fuel related projects. A go-ahead for Kinder Morgan is their biggest fear.