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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Black is the new Red: Why Stephen and Jason love Conrad more than they love Canadians

| May 7, 2012
Conrad Black

Let's be honest with ourselves, Canadians. Did any of us ever truly doubt -- even for an instant -- that the "Conservative" government of Stephen Harper would not welcome Conrad Black back to the Canadian fold as soon as the American correctional authorities escorted him to the border and handed him his coat and hat?

Do you now imagine Lord Black isn't here in Canada to stay?

Well, if you do, disabuse yourself of that notion!

Whatever you may think about Lord Black’s renunciation of his Canadian citizenship, the incontrovertible legal facts of his criminal conviction in the United States, or the appropriateness of welcoming this divisive former citizen and jailbird back to Canada, he has a blank cheque to remain in this country as long as he pleases: one year, five years, whatever.

Count on it, if the Harper Government remains in power, Lord Black is going to get his Canadian citizenship back as well, and he's going to get to keep his Order of Canada, and he's going to remain a member of the Queen's Privy Council of Canada. Indeed, so warm are the feelings of the Harper Government for his Lordship, who would bet with confidence against it naming him Governor General or stamping his face on the new three-dollar coin they're no doubt planning as a replacement for the penny?

So never mind the intentionally deceptive suggestions emanating from official Ottawa and the equally official news columns of the tame right-wing media that this notorious non-citizen's stay in Canada is merely on sufferance, just a one-year temporary permit that can be revoked if circumstances warrant.

That's just a soothing little bromide to shut you up and get you back to attending to your own insignificant and impecunious existence while the Harper Government carries on taking care of business -- which, in this country, means taking care of the government's pals and cronies in business, of whom Lord Black is most assuredly one.

Officially, the Globe and Mail pleaded with us to act like Canadians and forgive his Lordship for renouncing his citizenship (and insulting the rest of us who remained here in what he once called this "Third-World dump run by raving socialists"), reminding us that Canada is a place "of second chances for all." (Well, all but Omar Khadr, who actually is a Canadian, but never mind that just now.)

But the triumphalism emanating from elsewhere on the nation's editorial pages is a better guide to what our prime minister's coterie, including his jumped-up little twerp of a citizenship minister, to borrow a felicitous phrase of Lord Black's coinage, really thinks about him … and about us.

"We warmly welcome you back to Canada, Conrad Black," slavered the National Post, which Lord Black founded to help elect people like Harper and the execrable Kenney, who as part of his cabinet role is Canada's chief arbiter of ideological purity. "At the National Post offices in Toronto, you will forever be among friends."

"I doubt that Lord Black is worried about the reception he will get back in Canada," panted the Globe and Mail's Peggy Wente in a typically lickspittle paean to the wealthy. "He's already being swamped with dinner invitations." And surely Wente is hoping to get one too from one of the society hostesses who are lining up to fete his Lordship.

Notwithstanding the enthusiasm for the return of this prodigal non-Canadian -- for surely the purchaser of Lady Black's infamous $62,000 birthday party was that! -- there are, as several conservative commentators have pointed out in an effort to deny the Harper Government was being anything but beneficent and disinterested when it eased his Lordship across the border, some political risks associated with this decision.

So why did they risk it?

For one thing, as Wente states explicitly, many in Canada's political and business elite believe his Lordship did nothing wrong. "Actually," she wrote, "some of the smartest people in Toronto doubt there was a crime at all, and if there was, it wasn't much of one." (The cautious Globe editorialist observed while pleading for mercy, however, "Lord Black may not accept that he did wrong, but the U.S. Supreme Court did, and that is enough to establish the basic facts for Canada.")

Regardless of the merits of the U.S. justice system, this tells us a lot about the Harper Government's worldview and the place of the business classes in it. For, it is said here, if any attitude exemplifies the Harper Conservatives it is the notion the rules are for the rest of us, but they do not apply to the Masters of the Universe who call the shots in Ottawa, Toronto and Calgary.

More important, to them Lord Black is an avatar of that class of international business people whose market fundamentalist ideology continues to cause so much unhappiness in this world -- grief that is now being meted out on the employees of Parks Canada and other federal departments but that will come to the rest of us in due time if we permit it.

So the Harperites may try to appeal to our basest feelings of nationalism as a way to try to control our behaviour -- as we were called last summer to the irrelevant barricades of the War of 1812 by Parks Canada. But their true model is the globalized corporation that owes allegiance or obedience to no sovereign national authority, least of all Canada's, and indeed can bend nations to its will.

So Lord Black is not just a friend of many in this neo-Con Harperite government, and as such deserving ex officio of special treatment, he is a clamorous symbol of the new totalitarian internationalism Harperism represents and exists to promote.

Just like the old totalitarian internationalism -- the Red Army variety, not the Red State kind -- the market fundamentalism of the Harper Conservatives justifies its actions as the historically inevitable creation of an ideologically pure and perfect world but delivers little but suffering for the bulk of humanity left in its wake.

It is said here the symbolic power to the Harperites of Black as the new Red is one of the key reasons they are so willing to take risks to ensure Lord Black's comfortable return to Canada, and why they have never had any intention of paying the slightest attention to what the rest of us think.

Simply put, Lord Black is their kind of guy. We Canadians are not.

The answer is not to complain much more about Lord Black, or indeed to pay him much heed at all. We're stuck with him now, but he's really not much more than a largely irrelevant if occasionally irritating sidebar to this story,

The answer is to do as the people of France and Greece were doing yesterday and purge these detestable ideologues from our government at the first opportunity. To this end, the easy return of Lord Black to Canada is a helpful symbol of our own.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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