Opinion Column

Late cabinet minister-turned-pundit Rafe Mair's career was as predictable as a hurricane

By Steve Burgess

Rafe Mair. (Glenn Baglo/Postmedia File Photo)

Rafe Mair. (Glenn Baglo/Postmedia File Photo)

“Stay in your lane” is a popular expression these days, typically thrown at people who are expressing opinions outside their area of expertise. Essentially, it's a fancy way of saying, “Shut up.”

Rafe Mair was unable to stay in his lane. Mair didn't have a lane. The former Social Credit cabinet minister was all over the road from right to left, and all over the map from law to politics to government to talk radio to journalism. Mair died Monday at the age of 85, ending a career that was about as predictable as a hurricane track.

Who else but Mair could trace a 30-year path from a cabinet position under Social Credit premier Bill Bennett to a regular columnist slot at left-wing online magazine The Tyee? Mair may have been fiercely opinionated — you don't become a top radio call-in host by repeating, “Can't we all just get along?” — but he was not inflexibly dogmatic.

He had the shocking and frequently unwelcome tendency to adjust his political views as new information came in, or simply because he had given an issue more thought. Partisans hate that. But Mair was nobody's political poodle. He was increasingly driven by a powerful concern for the environment. Mair refused to sign on to the idea that business interests must always come first and we'll try to clean up the environmental mess later.

Mair could be intemperate, to put it mildly. The man could make Donald Trump look like a UN ambassador.

And, sometimes, his employers suffered for it. Once, he wrote a Tyee column ripping strips off the Province newspaper for its shabby treatment of political cartoonists and, in doing so, made some errors of fact. The Province pounced, and the resulting legal settlement cost The Tyee some money it couldn't afford.

Another Mair-related case went all the way to the Supreme Court. After Mair said some nasty things about anti-gay crusader Kari Simpson on his CKNW show, Simpson sued Mair and the station. The 2008 Supreme Court ruling redefined the issue of defamation in Canada, allowing commenters greater leeway in criticizing public figures. It's not Mair's only legacy but it's not a bad one.

Mair's last bugle blast was a call for B.C. independence. But, while Alberta separatists usually want to go it alone so they can do what they like with their oil, Mair thought B.C. should split so we wouldn't have to put up with pipelines, fish farms and other environmental hazards.

Mair recently wrote that the federal government was telling B.C: “Go f--- yourselves.” Mair wanted to return the favour.

He'll be missed.