Conrad Moffat Black, Baron Black of Crossharbour, KSG is a Canadian-born British former newspaper publisher and writer. He formerly controlled Hollinger International, once the world’s third-largest English-language newspaper empire, which published The Daily Telegraph (UK), Chicago Sun Times (U.S.), The Jerusalem Post(Israel), National Post (Canada), The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), and hundreds of community newspapers in North America.
Lord Black has written an autobiography and three substantial biographies of controversial 20th-century figures: Duplessis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Richard M. Nixon.
Report on the Special Meeting with Conrad Black
By John Gunn
The special meeting was opened by Past President Bill Sexsmith. John Gunn acted as Secretary of the meeting. Mr. Sexsmith remarked on the success of Probus across Canada with 33,000 members among 233 clubs. He then introduced the speaker, alluding to the recent Black Friday and designating today as our “Black Monday”. It so happened that his requisite joke for the day was about a talking frog, and Mr. Black ran with this and opened his remarks by pointing out that, as he himself had been born in Quebec, he could therefore rightly be labelled “A talking Frog”. He then got serious in proposing his main theme, that Canada is underrated, not only by the outside world but possibly by its own citizens. “Rise to Greatness” is the title of his new book, which expounds this theme. He mentioned how gruelling a job it is to write a book – so, why write this one? Well, in Mr. Black’s opinion, there are very few single-volume complete histories of Canada and the most recent one is already 25 years out of date and slightly flawed. The teaching of history in Canadian schools in his day (and maybe still) is boring in the extreme with names and dates and no analysis. Small wonder there is so little interest in our history. Hopefully this book will start a new trend.
Our position as immediate neighbours of USA, with its “exceptionalism”, “star-system”, bravado and boastfulness, has given us a perverse feeling of antipathy to these traits and we end up being overly modest and even derisive about ourselves. We say that we are just a young and not very significant country. Actually, with the exception of USA and UK, we are really the oldest country in the G7 or G8, most of the others having changed remarkably in recent years. We have 147 years as a continuing and autonomous country. We are the 11th biggest economy in the world and have one of the highest GDPs per capita (discounting certain oil-rich states such as Brunei and UAE). Our history is a good history and we have no huge flaws of which we need to be ashamed – certainly not flaws to be compared to those of the other G8 states.
With tongue in cheek (we presume), Black noted that the US founding fathers, Washington and Franklin, had the brilliance to persuade the British to evict the French Government from Quebec, and then encourage the French to help the Americans evict the British from their country. Meanwhile the British, with their command of the Atlantic Ocean because of their huge navy, made it impossible for France to re-take Quebec so the British had to make a workable state out of what was left – the French in Quebec, the United Empire Loyalists who came up from the USA and the Acadians in New Brunswick.
Fast forward to today: when we look at the USA in the last 15 years we must conclude that we are better governed than they are, in spite of the flaws in our own government, and for this we should be proud. We can have some sense of accomplishment in this country – not to become boastful or arrogant as the USA tends to be, but neither obsequious nor overly self-critical. We should consider that in 400 years, since a handful of people settled in what is now Quebec City, we have come to create this country as we find it today. It is no small achievement. Black feels the community of nations would welcome more assertion from Canada and that we would be listened to seriously in such places as UN, NATO, IMF and others. Unfortunately, he thinks, there is diminished credibility in such Canadian posturing since it is not backed up with any significant military might. He was derisive about our six fighter planes sent out against the Islamic State and about our Navy, which is the same size as it was in Laurier’s time and is expected to defend us on three oceans. Mr. Black then took questions:
(1) Is there a future for newspapers?
Black sees them ultimately as personal newspapers, sent on the internet to your personal computer and printer in the format you choose.
(2) Is separatism dead?
When Quebecers look at all the benefits of staying – including huge transfer payments, which the rest of Canada feels worth paying to keep Quebec – they will stay.
(3) Should Canada be concerned with the Arctic?
As a minimum we need more ships to protect our northern border.
(4) You chose MacDonald, Laurier, and King as our best PMs. Was King really great?
Yes, in spite of his weird private life with the spirits and his messages sent with his dead dog to William Gladstone et al, he did accomplish much for the country and saw us through WWII.
(5) Is the UN right in its position on the settlers in Israel?
No, in fact there is no solution there except the two-state arrangement and the Arabs will have to accept the concept of Israel as a Jewish State. (Mr Black had owned the Jerusalem Post and so knows the subject well).
The meeting took place at the Music Academy because of the large turnout of members, who expected an informative and erudite talk. Mr. Black did not disappoint; his talk was both entertaining and serious, and his response to the questions was provocative and unrestrained.
Mr. Black was thanked by Norm Leach. Norm and Mr. Black were erstwhile school mates.