Vancouver Zeitgeist
Reflections on Vancouver, British Columbia and other topics, related or not

 

That relic of the 1970s,
Ted’s dead

But Byfield’s work
predeceased him with Link

December 26, 2021

Ted Byfield founder of Alberta Report

More through a forceful personality than coherent vision, Ted Byfield
helped propel a movement that went, ultimately, nowhere.

 

His demise two days before Christmas hardly complemented the season but, at 93, he did live a long and full life. He leaves scads of children and grandchildren, not to mention “what-a-character” anecdotes. Yet as a Christian conservative journalist/activist, did Ted Byfield achieve any lasting accomplishment? The movement credited to him seems to have died with his son Link in 2015.

Raising his sons as his disciples, Ted established a control-freak residential school when they reached school age and then the predecessor of Alberta Report, a control-freak magazine, when they reached career age. Initially even the magazine had residential school aspects, with some of the staff (dollar-a-day volunteers) living in shared accommodation and taking part in shared meals and recreation. The legend attributes these institutions to Ted’s Christian vocation. The reality might have more to do with his ability to brow-beat people. That seems to explain why a group of his inexperienced teachers and students agreed to try canoeing in rough waters one day in 1978. All 13 died.

I worked at the magazine in the early ’90s. Besides layout and proofing, my duties included getting routine blame for ongoing fuck-ups committed by two personified ongoing fuck-ups who benefited from Byfieldian favouritism, just one of the magazine’s worst-I’ve-ever-encountered workplace superlatives. One of the fuck-ups must have been overpaid in his previous stint as a dollar-a-day guy. The other was a Marxist editor who was so fucked up that he brought out the maternal instinct in the mean little editor who was the newsroom’s top-ranking non-Byfield.

That mean little editor was one of AR’s “obvious” cases, in this example an obviously frustrated careerist who deeply resented Byfield overlordship but lacked the guts to seek employment elsewhere. Frightened that new ideas might diminish his mean little stature, he responded to story suggestions with outright hostility.

As for the ongoing fuck-ups, Byfieldian favouritism eventually created a third by promoting a tiresome neo-con-who-absolutely-could-not-write-a-sentence to a tiresome re-write-editor-who-absolutely-could-not-write-a-sentence. Yet soon after his promotion the ingrate left on bad terms, publicly denouncing the magazine as irrelevant and ridiculing an anti-abortion group led by Link’s wife.

 

Some controversial stories from Alberta Report

Alberta Report didn’t fear controversy, especially on issues regarding
natives, homosexuals and abortion. But other aspects of the Western
world’s social revolution bypassed the Byfield mindset.

 

Another favoured ingrate was the spoiled Marxist fuck-up. To rationalize an EI claim for quitting, he denounced the magazine as “racist.” This, to an employer that coddled his laziness for nearly a decade from a communist who stated that the Ukrainian famine’s five million deaths were justified. But the allegation secured the EI that preceded his OD.

Some other characters included the most obvious moral hypocrite I’ve ever encountered. This Bible-punching evangelical would abandon his wife and five or six or so kids in Nelson for months at a time to indulge his twisted fascination with Edmonton’s hookers and homos. The Byfields considered the borderline retard an idiot-savant. They were half right.

Ted’s wife provided another negative superlative: the worst case I’ve ever encountered of boss’ wife syndrome, a condition typified by thoroughly unreasonable, incompetent interference and all-around foul behaviour. Her unfashionable beliefs notwithstanding, Virginia could have inspired later generations of newsroom Karens.

But Ted and Virginia somehow did a good job with Link. He was easily the country’s best political and social commentator. An exceptional writer and sometimes capable of great insight, he was also (when he remembered to be) a true gentleman.

From my understanding of the magazine’s history, it was Link who gave AR an articulate voice. Under Ted and Virginia’s direct management, the magazine could only have expressed confused eccentricity. A transitional period followed with Byfieldism diluted by standard-issue MSM-types. Then Link moved in, after a few hippie-ish gap years.

That was when the Mulroney Conservatives left a Western political void and weird social movements hadn’t fully triumphed. Nearly impossible to believe now, people like Preston Manning, Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney and even to a slight extent Ralph Klein seemed to offer hope. The time was right for some kind of Albertan activism and Link, much more than Ted, was the man to give it a voice.

 

Stephen Harper and Preston Manning in 1988

Ted’s personality and Link’s voice supported Harper and
Manning, but their combined efforts dissipated into just
another political party. (Postmedia file photo)

 

If Ted helped create the early Reform movement, it was through his personality. But he was really a spent force by the early ’90s. He acted much older than his mid-60s age, with dotage-hinting conversation that emphasized ancient anecdotes. His weekly columns were often nonsensical, with made-up accounts about what he imagined was happening in Alberta.

During that time he and Virginia normally worked from their Edmonton home or Vancouver boat. Despite their corporeal absence the newsroom suffered mightily.

AR’s modus operandi recruited impressionable novice reporters (often pleasant but bland Alberta Bible Belt-types, and almost always men), then indoctrinated them to craft little essays disguised as news stories. On being assigned a story/essay, a novice would be given one or maybe a few names from a very small list of people willing to talk to the magazine and say what the magazine wanted to hear. As for longer-lasting writers, the tiresome neo-con-who-couldn’t wouldn’t, ever, interview someone he didn’t already agree with.

Editors often ordered the reporters what to write. No matter how obediently they complied, however, editors savaged their work with re-writes—to more bluntly hammer home the little essay’s lesson, or to show the novices who’s boss (providing special gratification for the mean little editor) or to translate the tiresome neo-con-who-couldn’t’s garbage into English.

The re-writes were multiple, sometimes starting with the terror-faminephile fuck-up, then again with the mean little editor before getting finished off by one or another Byfield.

Link, in contrast with his parents, was a very good writer. But much was misconstrued in all that re-writing, accidentally or deliberately. The editors, Link included, would characterize people unfairly, add dubious or false info and even invent fictional quotes from fictional people. The latter tactic was most favoured by the tiresome neo-con-who-couldn’t.

And all that was just the prelude to Saturday’s Byfieldian re-write of the entire magazine. The ordeal was sufficiently onerous under Link. When he relegated the family duty, his parents’ bizarre concepts of journalism really spewed forth.

Until they finally tired themselves out late Saturday night, Ted and Virginia would re-write (usually badly) every headline, subhead and photo caption, scribble extensive and downright stupid text revisions into the margins of laser proofs, swap the order of stories, juggle the order of photos, demand replacement photos and generally impose one hell of an 11th-hour shitstorm. Sunday morning was the mop-up deadline for our one- to three-person production crew. That crew was, for a while, fucked up by either or both of the former dollar-a-day fuck-up and the atrocityphile fuck-up (whose fuck-ups might have included deliberate sabotage).

Those not enjoying Byfieldian favouritism got little respite from Virginia’s personality disorder.

Nor did the routine enhance credibility. Those little essays, dubious to begin with, then self-indulgently re-written and revised, squandered the Byfields’ message.

And what was that message, except Ted’s mindset? That mindset shut down somewhere roughly in the ’70s, leaving the magazine oblivious to the social revolution’s subsequent progress.

Wide-open immigration, for example, hadn’t much affected Alberta before Ted’s cognitive closure. So this demographic replacement with enormous political, social and cultural consequences rarely rated mention. Meanwhile Albertan cities, like all their Prairie counterparts, already showed precocious signs of the urban shitholes that came to characterize Canada. AR missed that entirely, along with much else.

Ted once wrote that he hoped to encourage a kind of national consciousness among Albertans. But the magazine more commonly expressed Yankee Wannabeism, a sentiment that overwhelmed AR when Link turned it over to his brother Mike, a U.S. Navy veteran. Ted and Virginia were both half-American Easterners. At any rate, that sad Canadian malady commonly afflicts social conservatives and especially neo-cons.

 

Link Byfield at Alberta Report reunion

Link Byfield far surpassed his father as a commentator
but generally remained limited to the old man’s worldview.
(Photo: John Ulan/Epic Photography)

 

Even Link, an intellectual giant by Canadian standards, adhered to his dad’s stunted perspective.

Bright minds hardly thrive in such an environment. That might explain why the magazine graduated an alumni of nobodies. One guy held a top job with the early National Post, but that doesn’t necessarily signify much (beyond provoking extreme jealousy from the mean little editor and really, really especially from the tiresome neo-con-who-couldn’t). Another grad was NP’s Vancouver columnist, who brought to mind Michael Valpy’s nothing-ever-happens-here dispatches to the Globe and Mail from Harare. The Post still publishes another ex-AR guy regularly, although at best he functions slightly above mediocrity. Additionally, NP used to publish the tiresome neo-con-who-couldn’t. (Can he now? Did he ever stop inventing fictional news sources?)

Fictional news sources were the Calgary Herald’s stated reason for firing another ex-ARer. Yet another, this guy an AR “obvious” in the egomaniac category, used to and maybe still does write incoherent columns lionizing himself for the Calgary Sun.

The mean little editor found some work writing speeches for Kenney, a now-hapless character who dares not speak candidly. Ironically, as a speechwriter the mean little editor faced controversy for some previous AR comments that reflected burgeoning awareness of post-’70s Canada—comments that he would have flatly rejected in the early ’90s.

So much for Ted’s proteges. His movement fizzled out with Manning in obscurity, Harper running an interregnum that barely slowed the social revolution and Kenney flailing in defeat, a fate that will continue even if he’s re-elected.

Still it would have been interesting to watch Link, for all his limitations, had he been able to win elected office with the Wildrose Party that he co-founded. That would have been a rare opportunity to watch a man of genuine convictions trying to function in politics, especially as the mainstream became increasingly weird. Such was not to be, and maybe a contributing cause was the demographic upheaval that he all but ignored. Then cancer hit him way too early.

So whatever activism Ted spawned died with Link. Maybe the Christian conservative’s closest remaining heir would be “proud Jew” Ezra Levant. Another self-made man, another genuine character too with his own faults, Levant might even be considered an AR alumnus based on a bit of early writing. Like Ted did, he runs a media outlet of his own creation that’s far from mainstream but, unlike most of the dissenting blogosphere, isn’t quite marginal. For all its limitations Rebel News might be the last bastion for a socially conservative Albertan viewpoint.

RIP Ted.

RIP Link.

RIP Canada, West and East.

How’s my blogging?