SKENE, Wayne (1941-2015)

Author Tags: Transportation

Born on February 5, 1941, Dennis Wayne Skene died in Surrey after a lengthy illness on July 5, 2015. "Wayne’s fate," says editor and friend Brian Scrivener, "was the curse of Cassandra, in Greek myth—an analogy that he himself made more than once--gifted with prophesy, yet condemned never to have those prophecies fully appreciated."

A former radio and television manager within CBC, Wayne Skene published a critical assessment of the CBC's future in Fade to Black: A Requiem for the CBC (Douglas & McIntyre, 1993) and an examination of the results of airline deregulation since 1988 entitled Turbulence: How Deregulation Destroyed Canada's Airlines (Douglas & McIntyre, 1994).

Based in White Rock, he subsequently co-wrote Premier Mike Harcourt's memoirs entitled Mike Harcourt: A Measure of Defiance and he examined Ontario Hydro, Hydro-Quebec, BC Hydro and other electricity companies in Delusions of Power: Vanity, Folly and the Uncertain Future of Canada's Hydro Giants (Douglas & McIntyre, 1997).

[BCBW 2015] "Transportation" "Media"

Remembering Wayne Skene

by Brian Scrivener


I first met Wayne Skene when Scott McIntyre called to ask if I’d edit Wayne’s first book, Fade to Black. I was at the time Douglas & McIntyre’s go-to freelancer for what D&M editor Barbara Pulling referred to as Grumpy Old White Guys.

At first meeting, Wayne did, indeed, fit the GOWG mould—the hipster leather jacket, the self-assured swagger, the don’t-mess-with-me demeanour with a touch of a scowl. This guy’s going to be a hard case, I thought.

But I’d missed the softness around the eyes, the vulnerability hidden behind the tough guy exterior. Wayne, as I would come to discover, was one of the most sensitive, passionate people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. And his was not a self-absorbed passion—it was a passion for the world, for ‘Truth, Justice, and the Canadian Way’ that he saw under siege all around him.

Any conversation with Wayne was a roller-coaster ride of passions great and small—he’d fulminate against the rise in coyote predation of family pets in Caulfeild; then switch to despondency over our collective blindness to injustices all around us. In the acknowledgments for Fade to Black, Wayne thanked me for tempering his “rage”—yet that was not the right term. ‘Exasperation’ might be more accurate, or ‘incredulity’ that others could not or would not see what he saw, or were not motivated to do or say anything about it.

And it was this blindness toward—or, more accurately the willful, tacit societal agreement to disregard—forces in our society that were eroding the values that we hold dear, that became the focus of the books that Wayne would write.

When we started, Wayne was an accomplished writer, but he had not yet experienced the scope that a book allows for a thoroughgoing expression of ideas. When I gave him feedback on his first chapter, suggesting he amplify or strengthen his position, he replied, “Do you mean I can say that?” In his books, Wayne found the perfect medium into which to pour his expansive research on a subject, his incisive grasp of its essential discontents, and his ability to construct an uncomfortable though incontrovertible analysis of what was wrong and what ought to be done about it.

Looking back over the books that Wayne wrote, I am struck by how prescient he was, how relevant his topics still are today, and how intransigent are the issues that he singled out.

The subtitle to Fade to Black was A Requiem for the CBC, and we are all too aware of how the protracted death watch for that beloved institution continues to this day. Next came Turbulence: How Deregulation Destroyed Canada's Airlines--again, an interpretation to which those of us who have the misfortune of flying regularly can still relate. Similarly, a present-day observer of Canada’s giant Hydro utilities would have to acknowledge that the title of Wayne’s book, Delusions of Power, is still an accurate take on their behaviour, and that the terms in that book’s subtitle--Vanity, Folly and the Uncertain Future—still apply.

Wayne’s fate was the curse of Cassandra, in Greek myth—an analogy that he himself made more than once--gifted with prophesy, yet condemned never to have those prophecies fully appreciated.

Each book I worked on with Wayne was a Grand Adventure for me—an education, an enlightenment, an affirmation—and I believe they were a catharsis for Wayne. Along the way, he consistently honed his writing skills. I’m certain that Mike Harcourt, whose memoirs Wayne co-wrote, was delighted to be perceived as being as articulate as Wayne made him appear to be.

And yet it would be a disservice to Wayne to leave an impression of him as something of a curmudgeon, tiresomely bewailing the inhumanity of humanity. He was also a warm companion, a good friend with whom to raise a glass or two and talk of family or the richness of life, not just its shortcomings.

I said to mutual friend Paul Grescoe, when I learned of Wayne’s passing, that I cannot help but think that the world is often too hard to take for those, like Wayne, who see it too clearly. Would that we had more like him—we need them now more than ever.