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At this point, you almost have to feel sorry for Mirko Bibic.

If you’ve never heard of Bibic, that’s partly by design. A former managing partner of the law firm Stikeman Elliott, he joined BCE Inc. / Bell Canada in 2004 as vice-president of regulatory affairs. While his bosses seemed to revel in the public attention that came with their jobs, Bibic slaved away in the backrooms, stickhandling such files as the company’s $3-billion takeover of Astral Media through the mind-numbing approval processes of the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Even when he ascended to the top job at BCE in January, 2020, he seemed more interested in the minutiae of telecom regulatory policy than chasing the spotlight.

Then this summer someone below him thought it would be a good idea to get rid of Lisa LaFlamme. Presumably, they figured that, since the chief CTV National News anchor had always been a model corporate citizen, she wouldn’t make a fuss. Instead, LaFlamme turned out to be a canny arsonist. On her way out the door, she threw a grenade behind her into Bell Media, exploding it like a munitions dump.

And as the blaze has grown over the past two weeks, it has given off both heat and light, threatening to singe any executive who comes too close, including Bibic, while simultaneously illuminating the way power works in Canada, and its limits.

The story, after all, began as one of power: In announcing LaFlamme’s departure, Bell Media suggested its own clout had been eroded by “changing viewer habits.” As if to prove the point, as the story unfolded none of the principals turned to traditional broadcast TV to get their message across.

Instead, LaFlamme broke the news of her dismissal with a 2:15-minute homemade video, recorded on an iPhone and posted to Twitter, where she has more than 130,000 followers. In taking her message to Twitter, which remains the favourite social media platform of journalists even as they decry its toxicity, LaFlamme guaranteed that colleagues across the industry would grant her an empathic reception. The video’s surprising nature – her disarming frankness and apparent vulnerability – meant it would be widely shared. (It has now chalked up more than 4.6 million views.)

And posting the video allowed LaFlamme to dictate the terms of the narrative without having to answer any questions from pesky reporters.

The Bell executives didn’t stand a chance. It took four days – four excruciating days of not talking to the press on the record – before Wade Oosterman, the president of Bell Media, and Karine Moses, the senior vice-president of content development and news, tried the same straight-to-the-people route as LaFlamme, extruding a tortured statement about corporate regret that was posted to the Bell Media PR Twitter account (11,700 followers). The online hordes ate them alive.

One week later, underlining how the crisis was expanding from Bell Media to the wider BCE Inc., Bibic weighed in with his own online letter, insisting LaFlamme’s dismissal had nothing to do with ageism or sexism, as had been alleged. He posted it to the favourite social media platform of CEOs: LinkedIn.

Which is to say, in his battle with LaFlamme, he brought a knife to a social media gunfight.

And even on that friendly platform, he was getting pummelled, with hundreds of critical comments.

He didn’t seem to understand that, in the new media ecosystem – the world where Bell must learn to thrive, or die – power resides in stars such as LaFlamme, individuals who have forged connections with viewers and speak directly to them. Bibic may be at the top of the BCE org chart, but in a Tiktok-dictated, audience-first world, if you don’t have a public brand, if you don’t have a personal relationship with your audience, what’s your value? What power do you have, really?

On the same weekend Bibic posted his corporate cri de coeur to LinkedIn, you could see the limits of power even among those on LaFlamme’s side. Dozens of high-profile Canadians decided to show their support through the old-fashioned form of an open letter, which excoriated Bell for dumping LaFlamme allegedly because “one thing changed: the colour of her hair.”

Among the signatories: singers Anne Murray, Jann Arden and Sarah MacLachlan; author Louise Penny; and a host of former politicians, including Kim Campbell, Gary Filmon, John Manley, David Crombie, Lloyd Axworthy, Kathleen Wynne and General Romeo Dallaire. Fair enough, I suppose: They saw an injustice they wanted to correct.

Still, it had the effect of reinforcing the notion of a cozy, elite class that protects its own.

And there were others on the list who should know better – people who, in trying to help LaFlamme, actually kneecapped her.

Among them were Peter Donolo, the vice-chair of PR firm Hill + Knowlton Canada; Susan Smith, the principal and co-founder of Ottawa lobbying firm Bluesky Strategy Group; and Anne McGrath, the national director of the NDP.

Other boldfaces included Heather Reisman, the CEO of Indigo Books & Music; Leslie Quinton, the vice-president of communications for Ubisoft Montreal; long-time investment banker Ted Larkin; and Nancy Lockhart, a corporate director whose current board appointments include George Weston Ltd., Choice Properties REIT and Atrium Mortgage Investment Corp.

Sure, some of them are public figures, but at heart they’re backroom creatures like Bibic. By mounting a campaign, they exposed their power to the light, where it could read as cynical, transactional. Because it was hard to not recognize that all of them have reason to lobby for favourable news coverage – on behalf of their clients, their organizations or themselves. If LaFlamme were reinstated, she would owe her position to them.

And at the same time, it was hard not to wonder where these same power players were over the past month, as a number of young women journalists, including women of colour, were harassed and targeted with death threats.

The open letter in support of LaFlamme began: “Sometimes when something happens to one of us, it feels, in a very profound way, as though it has happened to us all.”

It’s interesting to note on which occasions we see ourselves in others, on which ones we don’t, and when we choose to exert what power we have.

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