October 9, 2017 11:22 am
Updated: October 9, 2017 10:43 pm

Former B.C. broadcaster Rafe Mair dies at age 85

WATCH: He began his public career as an MLA and cabinet minister, but Rafe Mair is most remembered as a take-no-prisoners radio talk show host. Ted Field looks back at the life and career of a broadcasting legend.

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Legendary broadcaster and political commentator Rafe Mair has died at the age of 85.

Mair is remembered as a provincial cabinet minister, opinionated public voice, and above all as a radio host who spent much of his career at CKNW.

Mair joined the station in 1984, and quickly drew a massive following. His show drew nearly unprecedented ratings in the 20 per cent range, with hundreds of thousands regularly tuning in during his 19-year run.

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Mair was known for his infamously bristly on-air personality, cutting and insightful questions, and his tendency to grill those in power.

Nevertheless, he never lacked for guests – politicians and opinion makers drawn to his massive audience and reputation.

Mair left CKNW in 2003 after his show was cancelled, and has since worked for a variety of radio, TV, and online outlets like the Tyee.

Political career

Mair was born and raised in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale, and attended the University of British Columbia where he studied law. He practiced as a lawyer from 1953 to 1968.

In 1975, he was elected to the B.C. legislature as Social Credit MLA for Kamloops, and served as a cabinet minister for Bill Bennett where he handled the health and education portfolios.

He served as B.C.’s delegate to the patriation of the 1982 constitution, however is remembered for his vocal opposition to the 1992 follow-up Charlettown accord. He is credited with helping drive B.C. to one of the highest rejection rates in the country of the subsequent referendum.

WATCH: Former CKNW reporter, and current Global BC reporter, Ted Field, talks about B.C. broadcasting giant Rafe Mair, who has died at the age of 85.

Political activism

Mair was also active as a political commentator, known for his conservative leanings shot through with a Green thread.

He has been an outspoken critic of B.C. hydro, and is remembered for his passionate activism against the move to private run-of-river power generation plans.

In 1994, he won the Governor-General’s Michener Award for public service journalism for his work opposing the completion of an Alcan hydroelectric dam, on the grounds that it would destroy the local salmon population.

Mair’s Twitter account confirmed the news of his passing Monday morning.

Tributes are already pouring in on social media.

Rafe Mair remembered

Those who worked with Mair are remembering a man who was both inspiring and infuriating.

Veteran The Vancouver Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer spoke on CKNW’s The Jon McComb Show Monday morning.

LISTEN:  The Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer talks to CKNW’s Jon McComb about the death of Rafe Mair

“People used to go on his show even though they hated his guts frankly, as you know, because there was no avoiding going on and at least trying to have your say.  You didn’t always get a word in edgewise, but that was part of the experience as well.”

Palmer also spoke about how Rafe led the “no” side on the  Charlottetown Accord in 1992.

“Again, you know, Canada rejected Charlottetown but the rejection of that constitutional reform proposed by Brian Mulroney, the rejection margin in British Columbia was higher I think even than it was in Quebec. And again, it was Mair.”

Former CKNW reporter George Garrett remembers the legendary broadcaster as someone who was always pushing the envelope.

“He was always in the courts and he lost a few, but he’d tell you a lot about the ones he won,” he said. “He joked that when he started at CKNW the libel insurance was $10,000, and when he left it was a $100,000 deductible.”

Even as a politician, Garrett said Mair was a strong defender of what he believed in.

“He knew more about than most people did, even though we had politicians from all sides of the spectrum all wanting this Charlottetown Accord to go ahead, but not Rafe, he fought it to the end and it never did get passed.”

In 1995, constant criticism in Rafe Mair editorials about the impact on the salmon led then-Premier Mike Harcourt to revoke Alcan’s water license, to divert a large portion of the Nechako River in the Kemano 2 power project that was halfway built.

The ‘Rafe Mair Free Zone’

Former Terrace Councillor David Hull said Mair was such a staunch opponent to the Kemano Completion Project that he gave councillors a headache.

“Rafe Mair would be on the radio every bloody day going on about how bad it was and we saw this as a big jeopardy to our future,” he said.

It reached the point where council wanted to take action – and they did on Dec. 12, 1994, when the city voted to declare Terrace a “Rafe Mair Free Zone.”

The motion passed unanimously.

“It made the point of the day,” Hull said.

Hull added it certainly wasn’t enforceable, but it was tongue in cheek to a degree and that he admired Mair for his passion and knowledge.

“I liked him as a cabinet minister with the Socred government and I liked him as a talk show host, he really did bring the feet to the fire.”

-With files from Gord Macdonald, Jeremy Lye and Emily Lazatin

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