BCE board of directors had better hope that their companies aren't also tarred by Lisa LaFlamme firing

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      On August 21, nearly a week after Bell Media announced the replacement of Lisa LaFlamme as chief news anchor of CTV News, a respected retired senator issued a blistering tweet.

      Former general Roméo Dallaire predicted that the "abrupt and callous dismissal" of LaFlamme will have "significant fallout"—and not only for the network.

      "When women who have risen to positions of authority are abused in such a manner, young people—both women and men—learn the same misogynist lessons I was raised on three generations ago," Dallaire declared. 

      "If we as a society care at all about respect, fairness, and equality, we cannot stand by silent and watch as double standards are exercised by male-dominated institutions that support ego-driven old-boys' club thinking," the retired senator continued. "This is the stuff of the past. We must break the cycle. We should have a hell of a long time ago."

      He went on to reveal that his wife, Marie Claude Michaud, "was also cruelly ousted from a top position she held for 25 years, where a male would certainly have been kept on".

      Dallaire was one of several signatories to an open letter published in the Globe and Mail blasting Bell Media for the ouster of LaFlamme.

      This letter, which was also signed by former prime minister Kim Campbell and former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, has upped the ante for BCE, the parent company of Bell Media.

      Shortly before the letter appeared, BCE and Bell Canada president and CEO Mirko Bibic issued a statement saying that the vice president of national news, Michael Melling, had gone on leave pending a workplace review.

      But it's hard to conceive that Melling made the decision on his own not to renew LaFlamme's contract.

      Bibic, who became BCE's CEO in 2020, most certainly would have signed off on the decision as his boss.

      So that raises questions about his future. 

      Bibic, a trained lawyer, is a long-time BCE employee, rising up from chief legal and regulatory officer in 2004 to CEO in January 2020.

      This promotion came one month after he was photographed in a bar with Ian Scott, chair of the CRTC, which regulates the telecommunications sector.

      This meeting became a matter of public controversy in March when TekSavvy filed a complaint to the federal public sector integrity commissioner.

      That didn't prevent the Royal Bank of Canada from appointing Bibic to its board of directors on August 1. He's a member of the bank's risk and governance committee.

      BCE and Bell Canada executive Mirko Bibic's meeting in a bar with CRTC chair Ian Scott was mentioned in a TekSavvy complaint to the federal integrity commissioner earlier this year.

      BCE directors have links to other companies

      The chair of the board of BCE and Bell Canada is Gordon M. Nixon, the former long-time president and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada.

      Nixon is also lead director of George Weston Limited, which owns Loblaw Companies Limited (owner of Shoppers Drug Mart, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, T&T and many other businesses) and Choice Properties Real Estate Investment Trust.

      If Bibic remains president and CEO of BCE, will there be any blowback for Loblaw, given that George Weston Limited's lead director is the chair of BCE and Bell Canada?

      Will the controversy spread to the Royal Bank of Canada, which has gone out of its way to present itself as female-friendly through its branding.

      Another director of BCE is David P. Denison, who, like Bibic, is a director of the Royal Bank of Canada. He's also former president and CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and cochair of the University of Toronto Investment Committee.

      Is Denison going to come under pressure from university officials, faculty, or even students to dump Bibic as CEO to contain the LaFlamme story from continuing to tarnish BCE and Bell Canada's reputation?

      Robert P. Dexter, chairman and CEO of Maritime Travel Inc., is another director of BCE, as well as a director of High Liner Foods. Is he going to be worried about the fallout for other businesses that he's associated with by keeping Bibic as president and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada?

      And on it goes for other BCE directors, including former EY executive Louis P. Pagnutti, former Air Canada CEO and Scotiabank director Calvin Rovinescu, Lenbrook Corporation chair Robert C. Simmonds, and Wittington Investments Limited president Cornell Wright.

      It's worth noting that Wright, like Nixon, has a connection to George Weston—Whittington Investments is its principal holding company.

      But the biggest danger to BCE and Bell Canada's reputation is if any of the five women on the board decide to quit in protest of the decision to oust LaFlamme as chief news anchor in favour of Omar Sachedena, who is nearly 20 years younger than her.

      These women are:

      * Katherine Lee, a former president and CEO of GE Capital Canada and now a director of Colliers International Group and Public Sector Pension Investments;

      * Monique F. Leroux, chair of the Industry Strategy Council and former board chair of Invetissement Québec;

      * Sheila A. Murray, chair of Teck Resources Limited and a former president of CI Financial Group;

      * Karen Sheriff, a former president and CEO of Q9 Networks Inc. and currently a director of Emera Inc.;

      * and Jennifer Tory, former chief administrative officer of RBC where she was responsible for the brand, among other areas. She also happens to be the sister of Toronto mayor John Tory.

      If one or more of these five women agree with Dallaire that LaFlamme was treated disgracefully, they can fix this problem quite easily.

      They could stand as a bloc within the board and demand the reinstatement of LaFlamme or, at the very least, the firing of Bibic. And if they don't get their way, they could quit the board of BCE en masse, cementing their reputations forever as powerful advocates for women's equality.

      They would likely then become sought-after directors of other corporations that want to buttress their reputations in this area.

      It's rare for news stories to last more than two or three days. Monday (August 29) will mark the second full week of the LaFlamme firing.

      If BCE and Bell Canada directors think that this issue will taper away from public consciousness, they're probably sadly mistaken.

      As we say in this news business, this story has legs. But it's possible for these directors to lance this boil quickly by firing Bibic and reinstating LaFlamme—if she'll even consent to returning following the humiliation that she endured after 35 years of loyal service to the corporation.

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