Conrad Black

Oh dear!

Poor old Tubby Black, welcomed back home after his legal difficulties south of the Medicine Line by our ever-tolerant Canadian nation, finds himself once again bellowing ultra-right clichés like a wounded dinosaur.

It is almost as if His Lordship is in competition with Ezra Levant for the title of the Nick Bottom of Canadian Letters — Bottom! O most courageous day! O most happy hour! — lovable, but not necessarily for the reasons he imagines.

And right now, Lord Black is clearly in the lead!

I confess that when I first heard of the planned return to our Dominion of Lord Black of Crossharbour — as he has been properly known since his welcome into that bastion of democratic meritocracy, the House of Lords (not to be confused with the gentlemen’s hairdresser of the same name on Yonge Street), I feared the worst. Surely, I thought, his Lordship would become a divisive force in our society, arousing passions, perhaps even inspiring the unwashed masses into the streets, clanging pots and pans. Quelle Horreur!

I regret now that expressed that view in the public prints, as obviously I need not have worried.

Notwithstanding several of his Lordship’s recent and apparently unintended comedic turns, the reaction of most of our compatriots has been one of good-natured restraint, smirkily rolled eyes and the occasional ho-hum.

In fairness, as a relatively new recruit to the ranks of what’s left of the toiling press — those “swarming, grunting masses of jackals,” as someone once said of them — his Lordship is being paid, and probably not all that well if prevailing rates hold in his case, to stir our tepid Canadian pot.

And thus, after a short spell of uncharacteristic quietude — as if he were attempting to persuade us of his goodwill, notwithstanding his well-known disapproval of the way we Canadians are cheerfully inclined to view our philistinism as Olympian serenity — he is back to making a nuisance of himself by advocating anti-social behaviour among the moneyed classes.

But as time passes, Lord Black sounds less like the Olympian arbiter of his imagination and more like the crankiest old man of the Canadian right, fulminating against the myriad irritations of modern life.

For example, in a recent crie de coeur against public service unions in the National Pest, the moribund newspaper His Lordship founded and which continues to indulge him even as its beloved market turns against its dreary pages, he dismisses unions as “a collapsed lung that cripples and stultifies any organization.”

Such fond memories this inspires! Has it already been more than a decade since His Lordship dismissed me and a few of my colleagues as “gangrenous limbs” awaiting a necessaary severing? Well, severed we were, but like the severed scions of the Glastonbury Thorn, we keep springing up again … seemingly everywhere!

“Public sector unions are a blight on our society,” grumped the Pest’s headline writer in his useful summary of Lord Black’s jeremiad against every variety of union, which got the tone just right while saving less-resolute readers from the task of deciphering His Lordship’s unhealthily choleric medical imagery.

But it is said here that, so irritated by the many burrs that inhabit the underside of his ample saddle, Lord Black’s prescriptions no longer make much sense, even from his inharmonious point of view.

For example, he suggests replacing collective bargaining in the public sector with some form of binding arbitration — a solution that presupposes the continued existence of some sort of entity with which to arbitrate bindingly, a mild surprise. But what if the arbitrator refuses to do what the employer wants, and plumps for a fair settlement for the working classes?

Surely, under such circumstances, the moneyed classes might discreetly riot, or, worse, carry their depleted millions away to a tax haven in the Channel Isles!

And if arbitration fails, Lord Black seems to be proposing to draft public employees into the army.

This may sound sufficiently draconian to impress his tiny but devoted band of supporters. But has he considered that what he is in fact advocating is handing boots, automatic rifles and training in the firing of mortar bombs to a group of people he has said elsewhere are raving socialists determined to convert the country into a Third World dump?

One is tempted to cry, Viva Con! Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

Indeed, so irascible has become Lord Black’s incessant columnizing that one keeps expecting him to huff bitterly at the prospect of having to dine in a restaurant too dimly lit to read the menu or see the food, surely a grave symptom of our national malaise!

Why, he even finds his former friend Rob Ford, who for the moment remains the mayor of Toronto, increasingly irritating, or, as he put it, “like the embarrassing guest at a family Christmas party” — which, come to think of it, in the matter of relations within our Canadian family at any rate, is rather like the pot calling the kettle, er … Black.

Which brings me back to the inevitable comparison of Lord Black’s role in our happy land with that of Mr. Levant, the well-known Sun News Network provocateur of similar views.

I have met Mr. Levant, and my assessment of his character is that, despite his outrageous on-air persona, he is in fact nothing more than a showman who has hit upon a sure-fire formula for achieving what passes for ratings success on late-night cable TV — 17,000 viewers and very slowly rising, tabby cats and sleepless parakeets included.

I am not saying Mr. Levant is insincere in his frequently repugnant views — au contraire! — merely that he may possess a more puckish outlook than one might imagine if you are part of the minuscule group that actually listens to his daily rants on obscure cable TV channels numbered 700 and higher.

As for Lord Black — despite being a notoriously bright fellow, the author of several massive doorstoppers thought to be capable of keeping even a heavy vehicle from rolling down a steep hill, with even more on the way — how can we doubt that he passionately believes every dreary word he writes?

Which is reason enough, I say, for our tolerance, and even a little sympathy, for this perpetually cranky and remarkably un-Puckish curmudgeon. He is, after all, all ours!

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...