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Saying goodbye to Citizen Black

By Adam Daifallah
web posted May 28, 2001

Recently, controversial Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black announced that he is renouncing his Canadian citizenship, preferring to hold citizenship solely in the United Kingdom instead.

Can you really blame him?

Black (left) was never afraid of telling it like he saw it
Black (left) was never afraid of telling it like he saw it

Black's patience with Canada -- and in particular, its governments' policies -- had been steadily shrinking, as demonstrated by his various speeches and articles in the last few years. But the May 16 decision of the province of Ontario 's Court of Appeal was the straw that broke the camel's back. The court ruled that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's decision to veto Black's appointment to the British House of Lords is beyond judicial review, effectively ending any hope Black had to prevent the Prime Minister from stopping his elevation to the British peerage.

In June of 1999, the Prime Minister blocked Black's name from being included on the Queen's birthday honours list on the inane basis that he held a Canadian citizenship. In August of that year, Black launched a lawsuit against Chrétien for "abuse of public office" and sought a declaration that the Canadian government lacks authority to advise the Sovereign not to confer an honour on a British citizen or a holder of dual nationality. To justify his actions, Chrétien cited an old House of Commons motion -- the Nickle Resolution of 1919 -- a request made to the British government that they not confer titles on Canadian subjects.

Chrétien's decision to halt Black's ascension to the House of Lords had nothing to do with respecting this ancient parliamentary decree. It was motivated by one reason and one reason only: political revenge.

For years, Mr. Black has been a critic of everything the Chrétien Liberals stand for: excessively high and punitive rates of taxation, an economic climate not conducive to economic growth and a general attitude of disdain toward entrepreneurs and risk-takers in our society.

Those ideas, that Black has so frequently criticized, are perfectly evidenced in this very case. By stopping the media mogul from obtaining his designation as a Lord, Chrétien has yet again demonstrated his contempt for achievers -- especially for those who have a different view of the world than his.

Of course, Chrétien has never liked Black one bit, and his loathing of him was only exacerbated with the advent of his National Post in October 1998, the first national newspaper in the country to present a consistent critique of the government and its policies, and which finally offered readers a refreshing alternative to the liberal journalistic monopoly present in most of the country's major dailies.

As Black said in a statement, "Having opposed for 30 years precisely the public policies that have caused scores of thousands of educated and talented Canadians to abandon their country every year, it is at least consistent that I should join this dispersal." It is somewhat fitting that he now joins so many other talented Canadians as the latest high-profile expatriate.

Black has, for all intents and purposes, given up on Canada for good. But his actions are understandable in light of the circumstances. He is tired of banging his head against the wall and fighting what appears to be a losing battle of ideas. What a truly unfortunate and revealing development for Canada this is, when a person like Conrad Black decides that his talents and energies are better spent in a country other than his own native land.

He has also said he would be refrain from making comments on Canadian public affairs in the future. Even if one disagrees with Mr. Black's perspectives on the issues, no one can accuse him of being uninformed or unintelligent, and his brash outspokenness on some of our country's most pressing topics will certainly be missed. He contributed something valuable to the national debate.

Black has been a somewhat lonely voice in his frequent criticism of the direction that Canada has taken. He has had the courage to scorn the political class for accepting mediocrity as our national motto and being willing to lag behind our competitors and trade partners in developing the new economy.

The culture of booing winners in Canada is as rampant as ever and this is just the latest example. It also demonstrates the sheer arrogance of a Prime Minister who is personally vindictive and unscrupulous. But why should he worry? Who's to stop him from doing such things? He gets away with virtually anything he wants, and the mainstream media is quietly cheering him on every step of the way. And with Black's Hollinger Inc. selling the Southam chain of newspapers and half of the National Post to CanWest, what little criticism there was of the federal government might well be a thing of the past.

While Mr. Black's departure from the national radar screen will undoubtedly evoke mixed emotions among Canadians, it will certainly not mean that the cultural literati that have for so long detested his ideology and used him as a political punching bag – the Margaret Atwood's, Clayton Ruby's and Maude Barlow's, et al of the nation – have won their battle. Instead, it will most likely evoke a more vociferous and renewed attack by Mr. Black's protégés upon the archaic national institutions and flawed public policies that have depleted Canada's potential over the last several decades.

The Prime Minister is surely smiling now that one of his most ardent critics has moved on and will be out of his hair for good. His gain, however, is the country's loss.

Adam Daifallah, an occasional freelance writer, is an honours politics and history student at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

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