Super Op-Ed from the New York Times on Conrad Black

Will Ferguson (another Canadian Ferguson on this page?) is a very funny man, who’s written some very funny books, among them Why I Hate Canadians, How to Be A Canadian (Even If You Already Are One) and Bastards & Boneheads: Canada’s Glorious Leaders Past and Present. Good stuff, especially for my fellow Canadians out there.

Here, to takes on Conrad Black, after the latter’s recent conviction for fraud and embezzlement. Ferguson nails it when he states that Canadians are damned pleased about the verdict due to Black’s public renunciation of his Canadian citizenship. That’s right on the money. Of course, Black’s insults to Canada didn’t help matters either.

I was I was still in Ottawa, reading Frank, a hilarious publication that was always savage towards “Tubby.”

Anyway, here’s the piece. I thought it was superb.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/18/opinion/18ferguson.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

July 18, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
Canada’s Black Heart
By WILL FERGUSON
Calgary, Alberta
FORGET the cowboy. The true all-American hero is the confidence man: breezy, self-invented, ambitious, protean. So too with Canada. Ignore the scarlet-jacketed Mountie who is strong of jaw and pure of heart. Up here, the voyageur — a jaunty, indomitable, unpretentious, rough-hewn New World figure — is closer to the mythical Canadian heart.

But just as the Puritan stands in thin-lipped contrast to the American confidence man, so does the Upper Canadian Anglophile oppose the woodsman. (Never mind that the back-breaking reality for the French-Canadian fur trappers was far removed from this romanticized image. We are dealing with iconography here.)

Which brings us to Conrad Black, Canada’s fallen press baron. Although from Quebec, and therefore technically a Lower Canadian, Mr. Black has a character that is Anglo and Upper all the way through. Though newly convicted on three counts of fraud and one of obstruction, Mr. Black could just as easily be considered as guilty of one crime: hubris. He thought he could bully American prosecutors in the same way he bullied his shareholders.

Standing up to Americans is normally the sort of thing that would endear a Canadian to his countrymen. But not in this case. Instead, there is a quiet feeling of glee among Canadians over Mr. Black’s comeuppance. Not because Mr. Black is rich and powerful or in need of ego deflation. And not because he was revealed to be a swindler on a grand scale. The schadenfreude up here is because Conrad Black — for reasons that were purely Upper Anglo — publicly renounced his Canadian citizenship.

Was Mr. Black’s repudiation of Canada an act of protest against government policies abroad or at home? The seal hunt, say, or the export of cold fronts, prescription medicines and Celine Dion? No, Conrad Black renounced his citizenship in 2001 so that he could dress up as a British lord and play out the ultimate Upper Canadian dream.

Mr. Black was forced to choose between his Canadian-ness and his love for the aristocracy because his entry into the British House of Lords was blocked, you see. Blocked by a French-Canadian voyageur, as it were.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, a tough little scrapper from the boonies, refused to allow Mr. Black’s ascent into the higher echelons of snootiness. Canadian citizens, Mr. Chrétien said pointedly, do not accept foreign titles.

Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Black are opposites in any category you care to mention: class, language, culture, diction. Conrad Black is from a wealthy Anglo Montreal family. Mr. Chrétien is from blue-collar Quebec. And their feud played out along Canada’s classic fault line, a conflict between Upper Canadian pretensions and French-Canadian disdain for those very same pretensions.
It ended with Mr. Black stomping off in a huff, rejecting his Canadian citizenship to don the musty robes and puffed up title of Lord Such-and-Such.

Lord Black wasn’t burned in effigy for his apostasy, but he did greatly irk a lot of his former fellow citizens. And there is nothing so frighteningly passive-aggressive as a well-irked Canadian.

More than merely irksome, on a deeper level Conrad Black represents that most Anglo-Canadian of conceits: the blustering royalist, the imperially infatuated capitalist.
Remember the Tories that you Americans hounded out of your country after the War of Independence? In Canada they are known as “Loyalists.” They are considered heroes, men of principle who sacrificed everything except their honor in the face of American mob rule.
The Tories who came north to Canada paid a heavy — and, yes, a heroic — price for their loyalties. They also established a precedent, one that lingers even now. In Lord Black, we see the self-inflicted colonialism, the infatuation with all things British, that has both marked and marred the Canadian character over the years.

From British lord to convicted felon, Mr. Black’s swan dive has been breathtaking. Almost heroic. Even better, he is now asking for his citizenship back, so he can serve his sentence in a Canadian jail. Good luck with that.

In Canada, any disagreement with the United States is typically cast in David and Goliath terms, with the Canadians as beleaguered underdogs and the Americans as rapacious swindlers (see: soft wood lumber, treaties regarding). Remember Ben Johnson, the 1988 Olympics sprinter pumped up on steroids? In Canada, he was the underdog. At least, until he got caught. And Carl Lewis was, well, the American, which by definition made him the villain of the piece.

The War of 1812? Same thing. We were the underdogs. You were the marauders. (I’m told that in American history books you won the War of 1812. Bizarre.)

This whole “Canada as plucky underdog” narrative hasn’t been applied in the case of Lord Black versus the United States, though. Instead, The Beaver, Canada’s gloriously named history magazine, is running a contest to name “the worst Canadian ever,” and sure enough, Mr. Black, having forsaken his own country and been convicted of swindling his shareholders, is one of the top nominees.

Lord Black may find himself bequeathed a new title when the results are announced at the end of July, if only because he reflects so sharply a side of ourselves we so often try to deny: the Anglophilia, the once-defiant but now dated Loyalist mind-set, the yearning for an Old Country that exists only in the imagination.

On the day the verdict was announced an American journalist called me, asking if Conrad Black — aggressive, unapologetic, imperially ambitious — was Canada’s future.

I thought about the ermine robes, the bluster, the House of Lords pretensions. “No,” I said. “Not the future. The past.”

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