R.I.P. Rafe Mair

Four years ago, I wrote about Dave Hardon, a former friend and business partner who was an important pioneer in British Columbia’s film and video industry. The article finished with:

I used to joke about life’s stages. First, your friends start to get married. Next, your friends begin to have children. A few years after, they’re getting divorced and remarried. Later, their children are having children. Then, the friends begin to depart.

It’s inevitable, but sad. Even more sad when we fail to keep connections to those individuals who really mattered.

People, reach out and touch the ones who have been and are important to you. Soon, connection will be impossible.

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Today is another sad day. We’ll no longer connect directly with Rafe Mair and hear his stories and his passionate advice. He and I had planned to meet again but in the last three months, we never found a convenient time. I kick myself for not following the advice I once offered to others.

He knew this day was approaching but he intended to make his last years meaningful. And, they were. In 2017, Mr. Mair was finishing another book and he was a regular contributor to online journals. Beyond that, seeking to both inform and provoke, he broadcast a series of emails to people on his lists.

Rafe and I communicated often and got together occasionally for coffee at the Lions Bay Cafe, where, he said, they served the world’s best muffins. One time, Rafe introduced me to Grace McCarthy, who had remained his friend since their days in government decades ago. Moments in conversation with two important contributors to British Columbia won’t be forgotten. Both sparkled with wit and wisdom.

Today, I looked over correspondence with Rafe. He particularly encouraged my work on BC Hydro and we’d sometimes share our research and writings before publication. Once, Rafe applauded my bravery for thoughts expressed in an article.

When a former lawyer – who had been the defendant that won a precedent setting libel action in Canada’s Supreme Court – says you’re being brave, it’s time for a rethink. Indeed, wording changes resulted.

I first paid attention to Rafe when he was a Socred Cabinet Minister. As his deputy, Rafe hired Tex Enemark, a man I met numerous times at UBC when he, a law student, was sage of the political clubroom at Brock Hall. Tex and I were somewhat alike. We both knew about a lot of things; the difference was he knew a lot and I knew a little.

I figured any Minister who hired Tex Enemark was going to get good things done and Rafe didn’t disappoint. His work in Consumer and Corporate Affairs was so effective that business groups lobbied for the department’s elimination.

However, even though Rafe was an effective politician, he really came into his own as a broadcaster. At the peak, he enjoyed radio ratings double the audience share enjoyed by today’s market leaders. Not a reticent person, Rafe gave Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith a recap of his political work in 2009:

When I was in government (1975-80) I was Minister, first, for Consumer and Corporate Affairs. During that time I passed more consumer legislation than anyone before or since including licensing Car dealers (with six of them in caucus setting their collective hair on fire) forced the Banks to acknowledge and obey BC laws for the first time, forced serious reporting changes to the Vancouver Stock Exchanges for which they have never forgiven me, licensed Travel Agents and made them create a fund to bring home passengers stranded by bankrupt charter companies and so on.

As Environment Minister I stopped the government killing of wolves, stopped exploration for and mining of uranium and went to Seattle and negotiated the saving of the Skagit River from a raising of the Ross Dam which Seattle was permitted to do under a 1941 deal with the BC government.

As Minister of Health I brought in the Homecare program and Palliative Care…

At the time, Rafe was campaigning against Gordon Campbell’s Liberals. The main issue in 2009 was the same for him as it was again in 2013 and once more in 2017.  What he said eight years ago reflects what he continued to believe this year:

This election, for me, boils down to a single issue – the environment and the plans by Campbell to deface and destroy the province I was born in and love and where 7 out of 8 of my grandchildren live. The energy policy, in which no one but industry had a hand in formulating, will ruin an ever increasing number of rivers…

Rafe didn’t take these positions for his own gain; he’d lost mobility in recent years and wouldn’t be revisiting the rivers and wilderness areas he treasured. Rafe’s aim was to see BC lands preserved for the future. He didn’t oppose using the province’s natural resources but wanted them approached with respect and care so harm would be minimized or, better yet, eliminated. Rafe knew this required strict regulation of industries where quarterly profits often mattered more than sustaining the lands.

In these last months, Rafe’s body was failing him but his mind remained incredibly sharp. In conversation, he could relate a story from fifty years ago as easily as one from last month. His writing remained precise and his analytical skills were strong.

Last spring, Rafe encouraged a number of people in the online world to work for a Liberal defeat. He believed government mishandling of BC Hydro, particularly with respect to private power, was reason by itself but he could recite a litany of other arguments, with ethical failures at the top.

I’m glad that voters unseated Christy Clark’s government for many reasons. Not least among them is that Rafe gained satisfaction of seeing Ms. Clark’s departure from BC politics.

Rafe Mair will rest in peace if we continue efforts to protect the environment that surrounds us.

Categories: Journalism

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15 replies »

  1. Thanks for this Norm..
    Yes I too knew Rafe and fully agree
    With all you say..
    A sad day indeed.
    Rafe, we will all miss you..
    You were a wise friend.
    A lawyer and a humble honourable
    and caring soul..
    I will miss you greatly..
    You made a difference in this Province.
    You put people and nature ahead of profit.
    You were a good man and an example
    to us all…
    Thanks for all you did to keep this Province
    a special sacred place.
    I was honoured to know you.
    J.D. English.


  2. Fare thee well Rafe, thanks for everything you have done for us and BC by giving us a voice and the courage to use it.We will hold your torch high. Love you man.


  3. Comme un dernier rayon, comme un dernier zéphyre
    Anime la fin d’un beau jour,
    Au pied de l’échafaud j’essaye encor ma lyre.
    Peut-être est-ce bientôt mon tour ;… –André Chénier

    Old favourite words. We all go, but some of us leave something of worth. Not a fan of Socred Rafe (guilt by association) but stunned by the depth and energy of his efforts of late. Note his efforts to mentor people to whom he can pass the torch, and how willingly and ably those people have accepted the burden.


  4. Well said, Norm.

    We all knew this day was coming — but were always hoping that Rafe would have a few more kicks at the can. We were buoyed every time he did.

    Thank you, Rafe, for sharing your voice for the good of this province. Through your writings and recordings it will live on for years to come..


  5. Thank you Norm,
    Rafe’s writings and commentary were inspirational. On occasion I would email Rafe to let him know how I cherished his shining a bright light on our environment. On many occasions he would respond…sometimes elaborating on the theme. I will miss him greatly. He’s given us the roadmap. For the long term viability of our planet we’d be wise to follow it.


  6. Norm, thank you for the lovely article regarding Rafe Mair’s life. Rafe Mair worked hard to make B.C. a better place and he will be missed. He really made a difference. Rafe Mair will be missed. His life is an example to others.


  7. Rafe’s life was an evolution that was constantly changing. Always following his heart and his keen sense of right from wrong. Rafe came through his years as Lawyer/ Politiion with an abundance of wisdom and with that wisdom he took on the role of challenger and protector.
    Never wavering from his beliefs, even though sometimes he personally would suffer, he plodded on to protect our province. Rafe was a warrior as brave as a lion but smart as a fox.
    Thanks for caring about us Rafe.
    I wish you peace!


  8. I heard the news of his passing just before walking out the door yesterday morning.
    I was filled with a great feeling of loss and sorrow… yet contentment for a life well lived.
    All day long as I was out, I told people, and each and every time there was sadness with a realization BC had one of her strong voices silenced.
    It was reassuring to know Rafe had connected with you so strongly.

    Let’s do what we can to respect and honour his life by committing to BC’s betterment exactly like the example he set.
    The world was a better place because he was in it.


  9. No matter how ready one should be, it seems one never can be. I never met Rafe in person, but was glad to have disagreed with him in various haunts online. Happily it was only about little stuff like electoral systems or parliamentary procedure that should never be sweated too much; otherwise we (the hundreds of thousands, plus, who’ve been moved by his strong voice) concurred on the stuff that really matters: Rafe’s environmental ethic was rock solid and his legacy mountainously durable.

    It’s a sad day. British Columbia’s fortunate the archive forever includes his audible roar echoing in the mountain peaks like thunder.

    My partner and I, and everyone else, I’m sure, condole with the loss of your friend, Norm.


  10. We’re all given one life, and Rafe rode the heck out of his.

    One word could never adequately sum up any person of course, but if I had to do it my word for Rafe would be depth. Whether of character, courage, conscience, curiosity, curmudgeonliness, or any other attribute, it applies.

    He left us many lessons. Most of us, and certainly the province, would be better for their heeding.


  11. First I had heard of Rafe was on C.K.N.W. not long after landing in Canada. Didn’t always agree but whatever the topic his thoughts and opinions were always worth listening to and considering. B.C. is a better place because of Rafe, for me, a tribute to him would be to do what is right when nobody is watching, and leave the fish alone when they need all the help they can get.


  12. Rafe Mair was one of those people that helped shape our thoughts by making us think. A sense of humour while hurling the wrath to the politicians who deserved the lashes.
    I enjoyed reading his wise comments on Site C, LNG, Clark’s lack of ethics, dinners to the highest bidders and newspapers journalists who sold their souls to support newspapers with political agendas. He used to be a regular feature on CFAX with Ian Jessop.
    Never met Rafe but felt like I knew him. He made each day count and helped make our world a more interesting place.


  13. Rafe and Pat were talk radio. As Pat would often say: often imitated but never the same. And, as these two devils grow their wings, this earth is a better place having shared these two men. And from their shoulders, I saw the world.


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