27 Sep 2017

Here's why YOU need to give
climate groups a 'kick-in-the-butt'

   This article is for the many thousands of individual Canadians who give $-millions each year to environmental and conservation groups. 
   When it comes to fighting climate change*, you’re not getting your money’s worth. I’ve monitored the environmental movement for five years and draw the conclusion that the biggest and wealthiest groups are seriously letting down the Canadian public with weak and disjointed campaigns.
   Unfortunately, groups are never held accountable by institutional donors or media. It’s now up to concerned Canadians to see if you can influence them to do a better job. 
(See the bottom of this article to find out how you can help.)

   Note: * I’ve decided that the term “climate change” no longer describes the devastation the earth is experiencing. From now on I will use the term “ecological collapse.”

When I wasn’t paying attention, another environmental group – Blue Dot  – came into existence, joining the many other large Canadian groups claiming it has the right strategy to help save Canada from environmental devastation.

An initiative of the David Suzuki Foundation, Blue Dot says it “focuses on building a ground-swelling of support to convince Members of Parliament to introduce “a gold-standard federal environmental bill of rights.”

Blue Dot also urges municipalities to adopt a pro-environmental position, and it hopes to pressure Parliament to amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include environmental protection.

Hey, this shouldn’t be hard! Just kidding. A dozen or so other groups have been working on the same goals for at least a dozen years with little success.

With only 115,000 individual members – but still growing – and modest funding, I don’t see how Blue Dot can be more effective than any of the others in fighting ecological collapse.

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Canada is seriously failing to meet its carbon emission reduction targetsMoreover, a government that claims to be fighting ecological collapse supports development of the tar sands.

“Canada, which represents one half of one percent of the planet’s population,” writes an angry 350.org head Bill McKibben “is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.”

Scientists say that if the world is to hold global warming to below 2 C this century every bit of fossil fuel should remain in the ground. A two-degree increase could spell catastrophe, scientists warn — through drought, ocean rise, crop failure, wildfire, flooding, and disease.

Faced with this frightening information, you would think that the environmental community would be well organized and have effective strategies in place.

Not so.

With the creation of Blue Dot, Canada has at least seven networks and 17 groups that claim to be fighting ecological collapse.

The groups seldom, if ever, work together. In fact, they are just as likely to see other groups as rivals. They don’t tend to share campaigning information. They compete for funding. The bosses protect their own isolated empires.

The largest groups have tremendous capacity. Six of the largest groups employ roughly 200 people. The approximate number of employees are in brackets:
  • The David Suzuki Foundation (60), 
  • Environmental Defence Canada (25), 
  • Greenpeace (20), 
  • Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (18), 
  • World Wildlife Fund of Canada (36), 
  • and Pembina Institute (42). 
And some have identical goals and similar campaigns.

5 Sep 2017

Angry CBC listeners demand fewer mindless personal-story programs

Note from Nick: Because I worked with CBC for more than 25 years and have great loyalty to quality public broadcasting, I regret that I need to take CBC Radio One management to task in an aggressive manner. But when considerable damage is being done to the network and managers refuse to answer basic questions, I feel I have no alternative. 

Long-time CBC Radio One listeners upset over summer programming that featured a dozen shows about personal concerns and peoples’ problems will be listening carefully this fall to see how many of those kinds of programs are in the line-up.

Hundreds of traditional Radio One fans strongly agreed with my blog of two weeks ago, in which I blasted CBC management for broadcasting the mindless and banal programs.

Hmmm ... then why are people turning it off ?
More than 75 people took the time to write protest letters to CBC management and more than 400 people registered their concerns on social media. CBC Audience Services has always said that one protest represented the views of perhaps 1,000 people, so it’s likely that many thousands of regular listeners are opposed to the personal-oriented programming.

Hundreds of people said they no longer listen to Radio One, while other said they turn the radio off as soon as they hear one of the selfie-like programs.

Here’s a sample of the letters to CBC Managers Susan Marjetti, Executive Director, Radio and Audio, for English Services, and Heather Conway, executive vice-President of English Services:
  • “I am a huge fan of the CBC. I listen to CBC Radio One exclusively, practically 24/7, and have done so for 40 years or more”, writes Penny Tomlin of Victoria, B.C. “I have been so disappointed with the programming this summer — most especially with Out in the Open, Sleepover, Seat at the Tableand Love Me .” 
  • “I used to recommend CBC Radio to anyone who would listen – no more” says Diane McLeod. “I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I still listen at all. I suspect that you are losing listeners.  Given the rambling and shallow nature of most current CBC Radio programming, in another three months, you will have lost me, as well.”
  • From Judy Waytiuk, Words, Ink: “As a one-time journalist with the CBC, later with private television, than as a veteran print journalist and freelancer, I beg you: please bring current affairs programming at Radio One back to its roots: intelligent incisive interviews on serious issues of the day, provocative documentaries about matters of genuine social significance (and no, methods for hair removal on personal body parts is not socially significant in any way).”  
  • “This kind of programming is not what we should be getting from our public broadcaster,” writes Tusia Kozub. “We need political analysis, programming about current issues like climate change and immigration, in-depth Canadian and international stories and interviews. The young, intelligent people that you are trying to attract will be interested in these subjects.  CBC radio is dumbing down; loyal listeners will leave. Please, CBC, don't become anti-intellectual. We need you more than ever.”
  • “When will you bring back the thought-provoking programmes you once aired?” asks Isabel Hinther. “When will you realize that you're losing loyal listeners with these new shows? As a long-time listener, I feel abandoned, with fewer and fewer intelligent, interesting shows to listen to. I've always fought to keep the CBC but unfortunately, am feeling less inclined to fight for the new format.”
Many people noted that the same type of personal-interest interviewing is showing up in some long-time programs, particularly The Current and As It Happens.

Others took the CBC to task for not having a radio program devoted to climate change and the environment. CBC Vancouver produces an excellent podcast, 2050: Degrees of Change with weather expert Johanna Wagstaffe. However, managers of Radio One do not promote the Wagstaffe podcast and have not added it to the regular radio schedule.

One sure thing is that, no matter what plans they have for the fall, CBC managers made a serious mess of the summer schedule by broadcasting so many storytelling programs.

People want Dispatches back

Several people wrote that they miss Dispatches with Rick MacInnes-Rae, which ran reports about issues in many parts of the world.

Programs for the fall season will be introduced over a period of a few weeks. One bright spot for  traditional listeners is the fact that The Sunday Edition with Michael Enright is expanding from two to three hours on Sunday morning. The program has been given additional producers.

Also back is Out in The Open with Piya Chasttopadhyay, which received mixed reviews. It moves to 12 noon on Sundays.

Another bit of good news for many radio listeners is that the controversial program Someone Knows Something is coming back only as a podcast. in the fall but  -- unless the CBC can be convinced otherwise -- it's likely to run on radio next summer. The first series will explore the murder of two black teenagers in Mississippi in 1964. The second one will look into the murder of an Ontario man – by an exploding flashlight – in 1996.

Two other podcasts have been announced:
  •  Alone: A Love Story is described as being “a memoir about love and the fallout from cheating.” Experienced CBC producer Michelle Parise “believes she was sold a dream and she bought it. But one day, nine years later, she woke up to an empty bed.” Ten exhilarating episodes!
  • The Fridge Light, which CBC says “offers a fascinating look at the hidden stories of food”, will be hosted by food writer Chris Nuttall-Smith. “Each episode is devoted to exploring one story, with all its twists and turns.”
I asked Susan Marjetti in an e-mail if CBC has research that shows the public wants this kind of personal-oriented programming. I also asked her to explain how well Radio One is making the transition to broadcasting on the Internet.

Marjetti declined to answer my questions.

Many of the people who wrote to the CBC asked serious questions, but received what amounted to a form letter in response

When CBC managers are secretive – as they are about personal-style programming – they usually are up to something they don’t want to share with the public or critics. Management is in the practice of circling the wagons and holding meetings during which they tell each other how great a job they're doing.

CBC managers have big dreams

It appears the managers are on an end run to increase empty-minded personalized storytelling programs because they believe they appeal to young people much more than to traditional information-oriented programming. Advertising now accompanies some podcasts, and the CBC may have visions of hundreds of ads raking in hundreds-of-thousands of bucks that would help solve the Corporation's funding gap.

Knowing the CBC well, I’m sure the Corporation has some self-serving research that says they can do great things with the podcasts. But I doubt this will end well for listeners or the CBC.

Dozens of media organizations and individuals are out there fighting to see who can get the most clicks. CBC Radio One’s podcasts are not doing particularly well. CBC places only seven podcasts on the iTunes list of 100 most popular podcasts. Only two of the summer programs made the list – Someone Knows Something at 26 and On Drugs at 36.

In the meantime, it appears that the cynical radio managers have little concern about the integrity of Radio One broadcasting and the fact that they are losing thousands of loyal listeners.

Instead of putting huge resources into personal-interest journalism, CBC should be developing substantial programs and have faith that all age groups will listen to high-quality programming.

Research compiled by Statistics Canada shows that young people pay attention to news more than is generally believed. In 2013, 35 per cent of people age 15 to 34 followed the news daily. Seventy-eight per cent of the group followed the news several times a month or several times a week.

The CBC has experienced numerous disasters in the past. The expansion of this embarrassing and mindless programming must be pulled back before Radio One is damaged permanently.

After much of the fall schedule has been introduced, a citizens’ committee will conduct research and issue a report if the programming is judged to be sub-standard.


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Thanks Nick

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.


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.