When he was young, Mike De Souza remembers accompanying his parents to city council meetings in their municipality outside of Montreal. His parents were very politically engaged citizens and Mike remembers them going to the mic during the question period at one meeting to grill the mayor and councillors. He also remembers that these politicians didn’t want to answer any questions directly.
“It taught me that there are very few people out there who are watching people in positions of power, holding the powerful to account. And powerful people will make decisions in the shadows, in the darkness,” Mike said.
And thus a journalist was born. Through these types of experiences, Mike said he learned what responsibilities and roles journalists can play by being in the room and holding power to account, because not everyone in the general public has the time to pay close attention.
“I feel that if I am there to watch and ask tough questions, that person who is making a difficult decision, they might be thinking twice if they know that someone is watching them,” he said.
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Mike has kept this relentless enthusiasm for journalism throughout his career, which has included stints at the National Observer and Global News. In 2016, his exclusive reporting about the National Energy Board revealed a scandal involving a private meeting between the regulator and former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was working as a consultant at the time for TC Energy. Revelations about the meeting damaged the board’s credibility as an impartial regulator and led to the suspension of federal hearings into the proposed Energy East pipeline. Eventually, this resulted in TC Energy cancelling the project, which would have been the largest oil pipeline in the country.
Coincidentally, this wasn’t the first time Mike reported on Charest, as you can hear from this 2002 audio from Quebec City. Mike was National Assembly bureau chief for CJAD radio at this time.
Now, we’re thrilled that he’s bringing his expertise to The Narwhal as our new managing editor.
We got the chance to catch up with him recently and learn all about his perspectives on the role of journalism in Canada today — and maybe a bit about his obsession with frogs.
Some things have changed and there are some things that haven’t really changed in our history. For generations, there have been people who peddle misinformation or even disinformation. I got inspired to focus on investigative journalism at a pretty early stage of my career about 15 years ago when I was seeing how easily disinformation was spreading about the global climate crisis.
It was the early 2000s and the National Post — the flagship publication of my employer at the time, Postmedia — was giving a platform to people spreading inaccurate information about the climate crisis. It inspired me to dig for evidence and look into each of the misinformed claims that were appearing, and be able to write articles that could demonstrate to the public what the facts were, what was actually misleading, what was credible and what was not credible. I wanted to ensure that people had the accurate information in their hands about the seriousness of the situation, what was causing it and who were the powerful people in Canada responsible for stalling action on climate change.
I think it’s simple. Good journalism, responsible journalism, I see it as being about providing accurate news that informs, engages and empowers people. So it means never giving up or letting go when someone is hiding something. It requires persistence, patience, dedication and never losing hope. Always believing that we can find answers to the most pressing questions of the day, no matter who is trying to stop us from getting to the truth.
I think we have to recognize how much of our day-to-day lives depend on protecting the natural world, ecosystems, the atmosphere. I think, for far too long, there has been news coverage by a wide range of outlets done in silos and with tunnel vision. So when members of the public express concerns about issues like rising debt, the cost of living, jobs, I think there are a lot of journalists from some of the large media outlets that could do a much better job of explaining how these issues relate to business and political decisions at a local level, such as major real estate projects and luxury condos, particularly if these projects are being done on wetlands or other protected areas, or areas where there are threatened species or species at risk, or other critical parts of the ecosystem.
A lot of these issues are front and centre right now in Toronto and other cities around the world. And I think The Narwhal is best positioned to lead and demonstrate how all of these pieces are tied together.
I like uncovering the truth. And I do this job because I think journalists play an essential role in free democracies to hold power to account. Every day that we’re holding someone’s feet to the fire, bringing about positive change is a good day. And every day we empower citizens with the information they need on life and death matters is a good day, and every day we reveal the truth is a good day.
Growing up I played hockey. I love to skate. I am one of those Canadians whose dad used to make a skating rink in our backyard. So that’s how I developed an interest in hockey and playing. My career ended really early as a teenager and I didn’t go that far. But I did love to play hockey, and then later learned to watch it. (Editor’s note: Mike appears on all Narwhal Zoom calls with a Montreal Canadiens background.)
I really love frogs. I actively seek them out during hikes around wetlands, lakes, ponds. Growing up, we had a cottage and whenever we arrived there, the first thing I would do is check the pond to see if the frogs were there and make sure they were okay. And every year they were. I went up again a couple of weeks ago, the frogs are still there, so that’s good. I also have a ceramic frog collection, so I’m fully into frogs.
I once had a sit down one-on-one interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was about 10 years ago now. It was about climate change and he was governor at the time of California. About 30 seconds after the interview, I saw that the digital recorder I was using had just failed. And so I lost the entire interview after walking out. A cold sweat started to pour over me and I completely started to panic, because also I hadn’t really taken good notes during the interview because I just wanted to fully absorb and engage with the governor. I called the governor’s office and they were nice enough to help me with some of their notes and eventually a digital recording. So I do have a recording to this day of that interview, but I initially lost it.
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