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Legendary B.C. broadcaster Rafe Mair dies at 85

Rafe Mair left politics for a career in radio in 1981.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

B.C. broadcasting legend Rafe Mair, a former provincial cabinet minister who became an outspoken radio talk-show host in Vancouver, has died at the age of 85.

The former lawyer made his mark on the political scene when he was elected as the Social Credit member of the legislature for Kamloops in 1975. He served as a cabinet minister under then-Socred premier Bill Bennett, but surprised colleagues when he resigned from cabinet in 1981 to join Vancouver station CJOR.

In 1984, Mr. Mair joined popular Vancouver radio station CKNW, where he would rule the airwaves for the next 19 years. The avid fisherman tackled topics from politics to environmental issues.

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Mr. Mair himself made headlines when CKNW fired him in 2003 over using foul language in staff meetings and strained relations with management.

"RIP Rafe Mair 1931-2017," his Twitter account and website announced on Monday.

A biography on his website points to Mair's diverse interests, awards and accomplishments, including being an author of several books. "Basically, though, Mair is a political junkie and, because he's been there, a highly skeptical one who combines gut reaction with pungent reaction punctuated with what has been called his 'wicked sense of humour,'" according to the biography.

In semi-retirement at the age of 78, Mair and documentary filmmaker Damien Gillis co-founded an environmental website in 2010 called The Common Sense Canadian. "I have a restless and healthy mind," Mr. Mair said in an interview before the website's launch. "And I want to stay engaged in the public debate."

He continued to make his views known over the years, including a posting on the Common Sense website on Sept. 20. "From the time Damien Gillis and I became colleagues in The Common Sense Canadian we had an outlet and were able to provide it to others," Mr. Mair wrote.

His many fans praised him on Monday. "He worried about the health of Howe Sound, which provided the stunning panorama beyond the Lions Bay condo he shared with his cherished wife Wendy," Tyee founding editor David Beers wrote in an online tribute. "Rafe Mair will be remembered as the conscience of British Columbia. In that role, he never did back down."

CKNW talk-show host Jon McComb tweeted: "The voice of a giant has fallen silent. I will forever cherish your friendship and encouragement."

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Mr. Mair also attracted his share of detractors. In 1995, the Terrace Standard reported that the City of Terrace declared a "Rafe Mair Free Zone," taking issue with his opposition to the ill-fated Kemano hydroelectric expansion project.

Alex Rose, a communications consultant and writer, recalls Mr. Mair tearing into him at the CKNW studio. Mr. Rose was a consultant who supported the Nisga'a Treaty, but the combative broadcaster disagreed. "I was naive. He went ballistic. It was a rude awakening for me," Mr. Rose said in an interview.

Still, Mr. Rose said he respects Mr. Mair for his passionate defence of wild salmon stocks and his criticisms of fish farms and the Kemano expansion proposal: "He was a brave advocate to protect B.C. wild salmon and he gets full marks from me for that."

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About the Author

Brent Jang is a business reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. He joined the Globe in 1995. His former positions include transportation reporter in Toronto, energy correspondent in Calgary and Western columnist for Report on Business. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway student newspaper. Mr. More

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