Opinion | Bell Media’s ‘Let’s Talk’ must become ‘Let’s Listen’ following LaFlamme fiasco

Bell Media, in a single stroke, has severely damaged the company’s credibility as the source of the now iconic Bell Canada “Let’s Talk” mental health campaign.

I was among those who participated in the first “Canada AM” “Let’s Talk” special at a time when mental health had yet to reach the mainstream.

The Late Michael Wilson and I were the original proponents of mental health in the workplace — a term we coined in 1998 — and we described our mission as “opening a new front in the ancient war against mental illness.”

Let’s Talk became an unprecedented use of a television network to take mental health deeper into the mainstream of Canadian awareness, understanding and hope.

Our 25 years of analysis and advocacy in which we built the original “business and economic case for corporate investments in the mental health of employees” has shown us that one of a principal source of job stress is job insecurity born of employees’ lack of faith in the competence of the managers and executives running the organization.

By firing CTV news anchor Lisa Laflamme in such a contentious, clumsy, doomed way, the top brass of both CTV and Bell Media displayed an incompetence in, and ignorance of what they were doing: that is, cutting out the heart, silencing the voice and lopping off the face of their own news network.

This enormous blind spot will hangover the state of mind of employees. In terms of faith in the management of the organization and parent company, there is no way for the current crop of leaders to come back from messing-up on this scale.

News anchors have always had a place in the lives of the viewer. Walter Cronkite, for those of us of one generation, is the calming voice of the Kennedy assassination and landing on the moon. Canadians trusted and lived with Knowlton Nash, Lloyd Robertson, Peter Mansbridge.

Lisa LaFlamme is part of that legacy and while television news is changing, and reaching fewer of us, CTV employees will never reconcile destroying faith with customers in such an unexplained and inexplicable way with a “business decision” that made sense.

Lisa Laflamme didn’t only anchor the news for CTV, she anchored the lives of millions of Canadians.

So, it is hard for me, one of the early believers in Bell’s mental health initiative (I worked with them when it was still in the ideas stage), to comprehend how this was handled this badly; why it happened at all. Surely there is more to this story. Stay tuned is my advice.

For Bell Canada, Bell Media and CTV, “Let’s Talk” — at a minimum — must become “Let’s Listen.” These organizations must find out what happened. How did their decision-making process produced such a ghastly result and what is the impact on the mental health and well-being of Bell employees?

They must, as a minimum, ask the question.

As for the “investigation” just announced, my advice to the CTV and Bell executives: forget it, nobody believes you already.

My organization, Mental Health International, will have more to say on this in an upcoming report on “The Quality of Mental Life of Canada’ with specific reference to what we call “institutional behavioural health.”

Scientific data is beginning to give us a road map toward what causes mental disorders and we now know that the behaviour of institutions and their decision-makers are high on the list. The de-anchoring of CTV News — certainly, the way it was done — helps validate that finding.