One of British Columbia’s largest community newspaper chains quietly added a right-wing opinion journal first launched by a former B.C. Liberal Party staffer to its network last year, but won’t disclose any details about the acquisition.
The Orca, first launched in 2018, is now owned by Glacier Media, which owns approximately 20 community newspapers across British Columbia, as well as a dozen other publications in Western Canada. No public announcement of this acquisition was made.
The Orca’s new “about” section notes that its content is syndicated in “publications in the Glacier Media chain.”
Reached for comment via email last week, Glacier’s vice-president editorial Kirk LaPointe (himself a former Vancouver mayoral candidate with the right-wing Non-Partisan Association) told The Maple: “We acquired control of The Orca late last year. No terms were disclosed. We didn't announce the acquisition, except in a veiled way in [an] announcement of our new editor and an expanded business wire.”
LaPointe did not give a precise reason for why the acquisition was not announced, but explained: “We did a soft relaunch of it. I recruited about 40 contributors and it took time. Our aim is to build British Columbia’s best site for commentary.”
The Orca’s original editor was Maclean Kay, who previously worked as B.C. premier Christy Clark’s speechwriter between 2012 and 2017. The publication pitched itself as offering commentary from a “free enterprise perspective,” echoing the B.C. Liberals’ (now “B.C. United”) self-branding as a “free enterprise coalition” of federal Conservatives and Liberals (the party changed its name this year due to the confusion caused by its old Liberal moniker). Kay served as editor of The Orca until May 2022.
Alongside its opinion columns, the publication’s regular content included YouTube shows hosted by right-wing political partisans like Jordan Bateman, vice-president of the anti-union Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), and George Affleck, a former NPA councillor and BC Liberal candidate. The shows appeared to have extremely limited uptake, with episodes often fetching under 100 views each. The Orca's YouTube channel stopped broadcasting these shows following Kay’s departure last year.
Guest contributors to the publication’s opinion section include Matt Lau, an economist at the right-wing Fraser Institute, and Jock Finlayson, a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, as well as ICBA president Chris Gardner. A rare political voice from outside the publication’s right-wing orbit is B.C. Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau. Notably absent from The Orca’s regular content are pro-labour voices.
In the past month, under Glacier’s ownership, a majority of The Orca’s contributors are either right-wing political partisans, real estate developers, other right-leaning business executives or advocates, or pro-fossil fuel lobbyists.
Recent contributors include LaPointe, Bateman, Mike McDonald — Christy Clark’s former chief of staff — Carson Binda of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, Suzanne Anton, a former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister and NPA mayoral candidate, Gavin Dew, a former B.C. Liberal leadership candidate, Stewart Muir, CEO of the pro-fossil fuel lobby group “Resource Works,” and real estate developers Michael Geller and Gil Yaron. B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon himself penned a piece of partisan propaganda for the publication in April.
The Orca’s other recent commentary articles include calls for lower taxes, and opinions in favour of liquefied natural gas.
Not all of the publication’s contributors have clear partisan leanings, however. The site’s roster of regular writers includes Rob Shaw, a widely respected (and generally regarded as impartial) journalist in B.C.
LaPointe did not respond to questions about The Orca’s apparent right-wing political leanings and concerns about partisan commentary filtering into Glacier’s community news publications. Examples of partisan, pro-fossil fuel and anti-tax content from The Orca have made appearances on the websites of Glacier-owned newspapers in recent months.
The Orca’s “about” section on its website claims that the publication seeks to “build and benefit from the broadest roster of contributors in order to help shape the public affairs experience.”
“We draw upon experts and decision-makers in business, public life, culture, technology, law, medicine, research, journalism, the academy and community to discuss their fresh perspectives and prescriptions on contemporary issues and ideas,” it continues. “We intend to present common sense for the common good.”
The Orca's ethics policy states that it is a member of the National Newsmedia Council of Canada (NNC), which “deals with matters concerning fairness of coverage, relevance, balance and accuracy.”
Given the lack of disclosure about the acquisition, it is not clear how much (if anything) Glacier paid to acquire The Orca. Glacier’s most recent shareholder reports did not mention The Orca by name.
In 2020, Glacier shut down one of its flagship news publications, the Vancouver Courier, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides Glacier, the other major newspaper chain in B.C., Black Press, is also under right-wing ownership. Its namesake and majority owner, David Holmes Black, was a supporter of and donor to the B.C. Liberal Party during its most recent stint in government between 2001 and 2017. He unsuccessfully made a proposal to build a $22-billion oil refinery in Kitimat, B.C.
Editor's update, June 26, 2023: Five days after this story was published and nine days after The Maple sent its request, Kirk Lapointe responded to The Maple's questions about The Orca's apparent right-wing political orientation. In an email, Lapointe wrote:
"I'm diversifying The Orca's roster week by week. Our main columnist is Rob Shaw, who is a centrist political voice. Monday we have a column from Khelsilem, Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau is a regular contributor at least monthly, as are Patrick Condon on urban planning, Elisabeth Cooke on LGBTQ issues, Sharon Gregson on child care, Sonia Foley on social issues, Mario Canseco on public opinion, and on and on. I encourage them to write and write often to offset the extensive file we have through BIV of business-related columns, most of them admittedly quite pro-business. That being said, many of the themes on housing have been to support affordable stock and incentives for below-market stock. We've been critical of the local Vancouver government, hardly a left-leaning enterprise."
Disclosure: The author of this article was a regular paid contributor to a Glacier Media-owned community newspaper between 2018 and 2022, and was nominated for a journalism award as a result of work contributed to that newspaper.