By Christopher Turner
Legendary news anchor Lisa LaFlamme has dominated Canadian headlines since she revealed that her contract had been cancelled and she would no longer fill the CTV National News anchor chair. (Uncomfortable for a journalist to be the subject of the story rather than the storyteller!) LaFlamme, who said she had been “blindsided” by the decision, made the announcement “with a range of emotions” in a video posted to Twitter on August 15 that has now been viewed millions of times.
Ever since the news broke, controversy has raged over whether LaFlamme was a victim of ageism and sexism, as a 58-year-old woman with grey hair. (She says she stopped dyeing her grey hair during the pandemic shutdown.) Current and former media personalities have begun speaking out against an alleged toxic workplace culture at CTV and Bell Media (the parent company of CTV News), while the response from media and the public has been supportive of LaFlamme and highly critical of Bell Media.
Bell has flatly denied the accusations of discrimination, saying the move was the result of a “business decision.” But that hasn’t cooled the flames, with the story making headlines across Canada and around the world. The headline from British-based The Guardian flagged both Canada and the ageist angle with its story “Anger as Lisa LaFlamme dropped as Canada TV anchor after going grey.” An opinion piece in the Washington Post began with “‘Does she or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.’ If you are old enough to remember this 1956 ad for Miss Clairol…you understand what happened to Lisa LaFlamme.”
Even beauty company Dove Canada climbed on the bandwagon…sort of, with a new #KeepTheGrey campaign. It doesn’t specifically mention LaFlamme, but was launched after LaFlamme’s departure and reports that CTV executives had questioned her decision to stop dyeing her hair. A company representative has said, “There is a lot of discussion about ageism right now and Dove wanted to harness that energy for good.”
While people rage over the issues, let’s take a moment to remember the individual person: Lisa LaFlamme. In recognition of her incredible contributions to Canada’s media landscape throughout her 35-year career, here are 10 things that you might not have known about her.
1. LaFlamme was born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario
LaFlamme was born on July 25, 1964, in Kitchener, Ont., to David and Kathleen LaFlamme. After she graduated from St. Mary’s High School in Kitchener, she spent 18 months in France, before returning to Canada and enrolling at the University of Ottawa.
2. She began what was to be a high-profile career in broadcasting as a summer ‘fill-in’
She began her career as a summer ‘fill-in’ in the newsroom at CTV’s Kitchener affiliate CKCO after graduating from the University of Ottawa in the summer of 1988. While at CKCO, LaFlamme worked as a copy writer and script assistant, helping with script preparation for TV newscasts, and preparing and announcing radio newscasts to cover for vacationing staff. That was the start of what would become a high-profile career in broadcasting: when the summer ended, CKCO News Director Ron Johnstone offered LaFlamme a regular part-time job as a reporter for both the TV and radio stations. This led to a full-time appointment to the news department in 1991; then in October 1994, she was appointed as Monday-Friday news co-anchor for CKCO-TV’s 6:00 pm and 11:30 pm newscasts.
3. She had a steady rise in television
Her on-air work at CKCO came to the attention of CTV in the late 1990s, and in 1997 she was invited to join the network, where she first worked as a reporter and anchor for the CTV Newsnet Channel. She also did consumer reports for CTV News, before becoming the prime news anchor for CTV Newsnet in 1998, a role she occupied for two years. In 2000, LaFlamme became parliamentary correspondent for CTV News, and in 2001 she was named co-host on Canada AM. In 2003, LaFlamme became the national affairs correspondent for CTV National News with Lloyd Robertson.
4. She’s had a decades-long connection with CTV News
LaFlamme was CTV News’ national affairs correspondent for more than 10 years, becoming a welcome fixture in homes across the country. After Robertson retired in September 2011 (at age 77 btw), LaFlamme was promoted to sole anchor in his place, a role she held until she was informed in June this year that her contract had been cancelled.
5. Outside of her on-air role, LaFlamme’s humanitarian work has been extensive
A CTV News report in June 2019 detailed some of that humanitarian work: “LaFlamme volunteers with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) and has travelled with the organization to the Democratic Republic of Congo to mentor and train young journalists. She has championed a program that allows eligible CTV News staff journalists to participate in JHR missions around the world. LaFlamme is also an ambassador of PLAN International, travelling to remote areas to promote child rights, and she volunteers with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, which works to advance education and educational opportunities for Afghan women and their families.”
6. LaFlamme has covered everything from royal weddings to the war in Afghanistan
Those international events and conflicts include the September 11 attacks and the subsequent Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan, the Arab Spring in Cairo, Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the election of Pope Francis in 2013. As well, LaFlamme led CTV’s live coverage in Washington, DC, of the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president in January 2017; and broadcast live from Paris in November 2015 in the aftermath of the coordinated terrorist attacks across the city. LaFlamme has also covered every Canadian federal election since 1997, and every Olympic Games since 2006 (most recently, the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and the London 2012 Summer Olympics). Also from London, she covered the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this year, and the royal weddings of both Prince William and Catherine Middleton, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
7. She gets up close and personal with the boldface names
Throughout her career, LaFlamme has interviewed an incredible number of notable Canadian figures, including former prime ministers Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen Harper, plus current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his mother, Margaret Trudeau. She has interviewed members of the British royal family, such as Prince Andrew, the Duchess of York and Prince Harry, as well as celebrities and high-profile figures like Sir Paul McCartney, Boris Johnson, Conrad Black, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Benjamin Netanyahu, John Kerry and Alex Trebek.
8. Her personal life is a closed book (kind of)
LaFlamme has rarely talked about her personal life with the public. However, in a recent interview, she disclosed that she’s neither married nor dating.
9. She has multiple honorary degrees
LaFlamme has received honorary degrees from the University of Windsor (2018), University of Ottawa (2014) and Wilfrid Laurier University (2006).
10. LaFlamme has won a number of awards throughout her 35-year career
She is the recipient of three Canadian Screen Awards, winning ‘Best News Anchor, National’ in 2015, 2021 and 2022. She also has several RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) awards, as well as a 1999 Galaxi Award from the Canadian Cable Television Association. In 2016, LaFlamme was made a member of the Order of Ontario, and in 2019 she was named an officer of the Order of Canada.