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Why independent voices like The Orca are valuable

Mark Milke hopes The Orca plunges back in, and soon.

I’m sad to hear that The Orca is going on hiatus and for both personal and public reasons.

Let’s start with the personal. The late William F. Buckley who founded National Review in the 1950s, was once asked how he could write three columns a week. His answer: He became annoyed at least that often and column-writing was how he could apply salve to such irritations.

As someone who has been involved in advocacy, policy work and authored six books, I fully grasped Buckley’s inspiration and point: The “sand” of exasperation, of observing follies in politics, policy, in the media, academia or just life, regularly provides grains of inspiration for yet another writing exercise. Those can be turned into—one hopes readers agree— “pearls” of columns.

In the case of The Orca, its departing editor Maclean Kay has (mostly) allowed this columnist to take multiple annoyances and convert them to bright, shiny readable objects.

That has included gazing at British Columbia’s cities and finding that politicians and others are repeating the worst mistakes on crime policy from the 1960s to the 1980s; how “no,” BC’s auto insurance rates were never a bargain compared to free-enterprise Alberta and anyone who think otherwise has swallowed anti-math propaganda from ICBC; and why a lightly populated country like Canada needs allies vis-à-vis China and other autocracies.

Along the way, I’ve also been granted room to ponder and provide thoughts on why BC’s highways are in such poor shape; how Canadians might treat our elderly citizens better and why despite media mistake about the Kamloops residential school issue, there is a place for poignant remembrance. I’ve been able to dissect the over-the-top claims of David Suzuki, explain why British Columbia’s name should not be changed, and why Canada and British Columbia more specifically err in attacking free enterprise by loading regulation and taxes on top of entrepreneurs, which is akin to weighing down eagles.

History can teach us…much

The Orca has been terrific about trying to bring in history and facts into modern debates. This matters because man does not live by bread—i.e., data analysis, alone. What people believe also matters. I was often granted space to explain why looking at the 19th century in monochromatic terms (British colonialists bad; original inhabitants flawless) is simplistic, flawed and opposite reality.

An example: Black Californians emigrated to Victoria in the mid-19th century starting in 1858 and found the British governor and others welcoming; meanwhile, some Indigenous leaders opposed Governor James Douglas’ attempts to eradicate slavery in indigenous communities—i.e., no one’s ancestors are perfect. The point: They key to a shared future in British Columbia is being modest about both the sins and virtues of all of our ancestors. Kudos to The Orca for allowing actual history on its website.

Positively, the Orca also allowed me to extrapolate on Winston Churchill’s 1929 visit to Western Canada including the Rockies and greater Vancouver and the paintings he created in both regions. I was even allowed to—in a fit of summer irritation—explain why fellow hikers should learn better manners. I was also able to excoriate Donald Trump and those who tried to explain away the January 6, 2021 attack on America’s Capitol as an attack on our institutions in the Western world which took centuries to build.

As an author, getting publicity is often difficult. The Orca kindly profiled excerpts from my book The Victim Cult. That includes one on Canada’s apology culture and also how early Asian Canadians and Asian Americans took the proper approach to discrimination and prejudice: Fight back but also educate your kids and be entrepreneurial rather than get struck in a permanent, debilitating grievance narrative.

You need alternative media sources

Those personal “itches” which The Orca allowed me to scratch are one reason why I’m glad it has been in existence.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of The Orca but it was a brilliant conception and a useful counter. The fact is that traditional media has declined precipitously since the arrival of the Internet. That’s been both bad and positive.

The unfortunate part of the Internet’s rise is that traditional media seems to have ever-fewer voices and perspective than ever before. That’s due both to budget constraints and too many people in media management and newsrooms who think alike and have little grasp on history or economics. They are often too consumed by today’s headlines and lack curiosity about actual causes for observed effects. Thus, activist X will blame some cause or event for some observed problem and some reporters too often don’t challenge such claims.

Which leads to the positive part of the decline of traditional media: the rise of alternate sources of news and columns like The Orca: the ability to think and write independently and challenge mistaken narratives that otherwise might go unchallenged.

For me, and beyond any personal reasons for having been part of the Orca “pod” a la William F Buckley’s spur to writing columns, that’s been the real value of The Orca: It provided room for informed analysis. It provided a much-needed alternative to error-prone and monochromatic reporting and commentary elsewhere in the media landscape.

I hope one day it returns.

Mark Milke has written columns for The Orca since 2019. He is president of The Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy, a new think-tank that hopes to launch later this year. His most recent book is The Victim Cult: How the culture of blame hurts everyone and wrecks civilizations. You can follow him on Twitter @MilkeMark