Back in Conrad Black

Former media baron hints at return to newspapers in recent talk for his new book on history of Canada


“I’m trying to write history here, Brian…”

Conrad Black is seated in a chair, the palm of his hand opened to the man sitting across from him and trying to explain that personal disagreements with people do no change the way he writes about them.

The former media tycoon was in conversation with Brian Stewart at the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon recently to flog his latest tome, Rise to Greatness The History of Canada from the Vikings to the Present, (McClelland & Stewart), which has been described as an ambitious but ultimately flawed account of Canada’s history – a little like Black himself. For example, there is scant mention of the social movements that marked turning points in Canada’s history. One reviewer described Black’s book as a history for the one per cent.

In it, Black focuses mostly on the country’s leaders, including old nemesis Jean Chretien. Black nevertheless concludes Chretien is one of Canada’s great leaders for guiding the country out of economic debt. In the book, he writes that Chretien “deserved better than he received from [Pierre Elliott] Trudeau, whom he served loyally and capably in many positions.”

He rates his good friend Brian Mulroney and current PM Stephen Harper below Chretien, despite sharing their political views. He writes that Harper won the election because he “was a very presentable, articulate and bilingual alternative head of government.”

But he  also criticized Harper saying, “I don’t like this business of being in the business of avoiding controversial things.”

Black reserves some kind words in his book for the country he once denounced as “vanilla” and whose citizenship he renounced to take a British peerage at the height of his success. But in is talk with Stewart he still noted the country’s “excessive blandness to a fault.”

The History of Canada is Black’s second effort since his release from a U.S. prison in 2012, where he spent 37 months for defrauding investors of his former company Hollinger International, which at the time was the third-largest English-language newspaper chain in the world. Black influential stable of newspapers included London’s Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post.

He told the Huffington Post Canada after his release from prison that he intends on making a comeback, that he sees potential in Canadian newspapers and that, given the opportunity, he would invest in them again. Black said at his Bluma Appel talk that he would not be writing more books any time soon because he has “re-launched his commercial career.” Although he hinted that if there is a future in newspapers for him it would be behind the scenes.

“I’m not sure if I would be the person to do it,” stating that it would depend on the opportunity that arises and as of yet, “There are none that I am aware of.”

Black also said shortly after his release from prison that he would endeavour to reclaim his Canadian citizenship, which would be necessary if he wanted to own a newspaper and receive the necessary tax deductions to keep it afloat. And there’s also the not-so-small matter before the Ontario Securities Commission, which is now deciding whether Black should be allowed to be a director or officer of a public company given his criminal past.

Is Black’s book a way to get back into Canada’s good graces?

Andy Lamey, Philosophy Professor at the University of California, who reviewed Black’s book for the Globe, says that there is no question that this book was written as a nationalist. And that despite Black’s misguided viewpoints, he’s a genuine intellectual. Black continues to write a column for the paper he founded, the National Post.

But are Canadians ready to accept this disgraced media giant back into the news industry? To some that would certainly come off as a joke. 

When asked how he has been received by Canadians in his columns, Joan Maida, personal assistant to Black stated that, “Mr. Black asked me to thank you for your interest, however, he does not monitor and has no opinion about this, but he is cordially received wherever he goes in Canada and the U.K.”

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