Con­rad Black,


National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - CON­RAD BLACK Na­tional Post cblet­[email protected]

When I even­tu­ally did re­ceive my peer­age, I did not have so much as a glass of cham­pagne to cel­e­brate it and would never in a hun­dred years act as Jean Chré­tien de­scribed.


It was a pleas­ant sur­prise to re­ceive a book last week, cour­tesy of John Fraser (for­mer mas­ter of Massey Col­lege): Jean Chré­tien’s My Sto­ries, My Times. Even more pleas­ing was a gra­cious in­scrip­tion on the ti­tle page, in French, from the au­thor. Many read­ers would be aware that M. Chré­tien and I had a part­ing of the ways 18 years ago over my ac­cep­tance of a peer­age in the United King­dom. It was not dif­fi­cult for him to trans­form this, in the eyes of most Cana­di­ans who no­ticed, into an act of de­fence of Cana­dian na­tional sen­si­bil­i­ties by him and of aban­don­ment of my na­tive land by me in pur­suit of an en­hanced level of triv­ial of­fi­cial snob­bery. I was tra­duced and what oc­curred was noth­ing of the kind, but it isn’t an im­por­tant in­ci­dent. Like many things that be­fell me in a 15-year cas­cade of nasty events and be­tray­als, it has sub­sided. But I would like, one more time, to make a cou­ple of points about it.

First, I want to thank Jean Chré­tien for his in­scrip­tion; he had been a cor­dial ac­quain­tance for 25 years be­fore that, as he writes. (He even asked me once if I would like to be the gover­nor-gen­eral, but I didn’t ex­plore the sub­ject to find out if he was se­ri­ous). I wish him a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess for his book. I con­sider that our dis­pute ended when he was awarded the great hon­our of the Or­der of Merit by the Queen, and Bloomberg News Ser­vice called me and asked if I had any com­ment. I said that I as­sumed the recognition was of his decades of ad­vo­cacy, largely in the more re­mote parts of Que­bec, of the virtues of fed­er­al­ism and that I thought the hon­our was fairly won and wished him and Aline (his wife), ev­ery hap­pi­ness. The mi­nor con­tro­versy over my re­turn to Canada from the United States oc­curred very soon af­ter that, and I noted that when asked his opin­ion, Chré­tien was quoted as say­ing “Con­rad should be wel­come in this coun­try and if he comes to Shaw­ini­gan, he will re­ceive a warm wel­come,” or some­thing close to that.

The whole is­sue be­tween us was non­sense, but the ac­count of it in this lat­est book is largely the fic­tion that re­ced­ing me­mories of­ten pro­duce. Chré­tien writes of the Nickle Res­o­lu­tion of the Cana­dian Par­lia­ment in 1919 ask­ing for the abo­li­tion for Cana­di­ans “of no­ble ti­tles em­a­nat­ing from Lon­don.” Chré­tien’s as­sis­tant, Jean Pel­letier, ad­vised the chief sec­re­tary to the Queen that Cana­dian law obliged him to op­pose my ap­point­ment as a baron and mem­ber of the up­per house of the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment. In fact, as the Queen’s ad­vis­ers shortly as­cer­tained, Nickle’s res­o­lu­tion was non-bind­ing and only asked the abo­li­tion of such ti­tles for Cana­dian cit­i­zens and res­i­dents. (I was a U.K. res­i­dent.) The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment had al­ready asked the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, as is cus­tom­ary, if it had any ob­jec­tion to my ap­point­ment, and the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment re­sponded through the chief of pro­to­col and via the Bri­tish High Com­mis­sion in Ot­tawa that it had no ob­jec­tion if I be­came a dual cit­i­zen and did not use the ti­tle in Canada. I was ad­vised of this by the Bri­tish prime minister, Tony Blair, who could not have been more co­op­er­a­tive even though I would be a Con­ser­va­tive peer, and was spon­sored by Lady Thatcher and Lord Car­ring­ton. I said that of course I would be happy with that, and Tony Blair sent over at once an ap­pli­ca­tion for Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship, for which he was the spon­sor, and the home sec­re­tary, Jack Straw, was the sec­on­der. The whole process was com­pleted within an hour, ex­cept that Chré­tien then made his in­ter­ven­tion over the Nickle Res­o­lu­tion.

Blair told the Queen that did not ap­ply to me as I was be­ing ap­pointed as a U.K. cit­i­zen and was a res­i­dent and the peer­age was a recognition of ser­vices ren­dered in the U.K. Chré­tien did not ac­cept this an­swer when the Queen’s prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary con­veyed it to Jean Pel­letier. The Queen told Blair, who told me, that she found it awk­ward hav­ing to choose be­tween the con­flict­ing ad­vice of dif­fer­ent prime min­is­ters of two coun­tries of both of which she was the monarch. And I said that of course she must not be em­bar­rassed over such a triv­ial mat­ter, and asked that the mat­ter be de­ferred.

The “very ur­gent” tele­phone call Chré­tien writes that he re­ceived from me when he was on his way to a G8 meet­ing at Cologne, was in fact made at his re­quest, and claims of ur­gency were be­ing made by Jean Pel­letier. I was not far away, at a mu­sic fes­ti­val in Salzburg, Aus­tria. My nom­i­na­tion pro­ce­dure was not at all as Chré­tien de­scribes — the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion has a des­ig­nated num­ber of peers it can name any year and I was one of them, but be­cause of the as­sis­tance our news­pa­pers had given the Labour gov­ern­ment of Blair in the set­tle­ment of the North­ern Ire­land cri­sis, the prime minister sup­ported the nom­i­na­tion pri­vately also. There were al­ready 14 Bri­tish-Cana­dian dual cit­i­zens in the House of Lords, and this method, as I just wrote, had been stip­u­lated by the Chré­tien gov­ern­ment through the chief of pro­to­col. Any reader may fairly judge the ac­cu­racy of Chré­tien’s state­ment that I ex­plained to him that I was “des­per­ate,” and that I had sent out in­vi­ta­tions to a huge re­cep­tion I was hold­ing for my­self to cel­e­brate my peer­age. When I even­tu­ally did re­ceive the hon­our, I did not have so much as a glass of cham­pagne to cel­e­brate it and would never in a hun­dred years act as he de­scribed.

I did not wish to pass on the pleas­ant hon­our of be­ing in the leg­isla­tive cham­ber with the most dis­tin­guished mem­ber­ship and high­est qual­ity of de­bates in the world, but did not wish to give up my sta­tus as a Cana­dian cit­i­zen. My le­gal ad­vice was that since this was an hon­our a for­eign gov­ern­ment wished to con­fer on me in my ca­pac­ity as a cit­i­zen of that coun­try for hon­ours deemed to have been ren­dered in that coun­try, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment had no right to pre­vent me from re­ceiv­ing it just be­cause I was also a Cana­dian cit­i­zen. I asked the Cana­dian courts to de­ter­mine that the prime minister’s in­ter­ven­tion in my rights as a cit­i­zen of an­other coun­try was ul­tra vires. As judges de­lib­er­ated af­ter hear­ing ar­gu­ments, my friend Peter Man­del­son, a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the Blair gov­ern­ment, vis­ited Jean Chré­tien and this sub­ject came up; Peter re­ported that Jean said that his party had a mo­nop­oly on gov­ern­ment, as the Re­form Party and Bloc Québé­cois had frag­mented the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, and that he would be up­held. Even­tu­ally, the Su­pe­rior Court and Court of Ap­peal in Toronto both du­ti­fully de­clared they had no ju­ris­dic­tion. I had no rea­son to ex­pect the Supreme Court of Canada to be any more coura­geous. The is­sue was not jus­ti­cia­ble in Bri­tain be­cause the prob­lem was en­tirely due to my be­ing a Cana­dian cit­i­zen and was in­voked by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment. It was up to me to sort it out with Canada.

All knew, and Chré­tien’s bi­og­ra­pher, Lawrence Martin, has con­firmed, that his mo­tive was our news­pa­pers’ cov­er­age of the Shaw­ini­gate con­tro­versy and the early stir­rings of the Ad­scam scan­dal. I had al­ready, at his re­quest, pub­lished un­al­tered and with­out com­ment, a vig­or­ous self-de­fence Chré­tien had writ­ten for us, and en­forced strict rules of re­spon­si­bil­ity and fair­ness in these sub­jects (to zero re­sis­tance from Na­tional Post and Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen edi­tors Ken Whyte and Neil Reynolds and their very pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists). It an­noyed me, as a Bri­tish cit­i­zen, to have a for­eign leader cre­ate a class of one in the U.K. in­el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive an hon­our in that coun­try be­cause I was a Cana­dian. The mal­ice of the Cana­dian prime minister and pusil­la­nim­ity of the Cana­dian courts were suf­fi­ciently pro­vok­ing that I tem­po­rar­ily re­nounced my Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship, say­ing that I would ap­ply for its re­turn when that was ap­pro­pri­ate, and ac­cepted the peer­age. Chré­tien dis­misses it as “crumbs and a wig” but there was no wig (other than the Lord Chan­cel­lor’s) and mem­ber­ship in that al­most en­tirely mer­i­to­ri­ous house is not “crumbs.” I have en­joyed it and though I have been of­fi­cially in­ac­tive for some years, I have re­turned and been gen­er­ously re­ceived and look for­ward to re­sum­ing my full ac­tive mem­ber­ship. Nor is there any truth to Chré­tien’s as­ser­tion that my Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship re­tarded my re­lease from prison in the U.S. Bri­tain has the same pris­oner-trans­fer ar­range­ments as Canada in those mat­ters and I com­bated the un­just sen­tence with suc­cess­ful ap­peals in the U.S. While wait­ing for jus­tice to be done, I en­joyed as­sist­ing other pris­on­ers to grad­u­ate from sec­ondary school; the whole so­journ, though a trav­esty, was in­ter­est­ing.

I do ex­pect to reap­ply as a Cana­dian cit­i­zen even­tu­ally — I have been mainly liv­ing here for nearly seven years, have not had so much as a park­ing ticket and have cer­tainly been a sub­stan­tial tax­payer. I am as I wrote above, de­lighted that Jean Chré­tien has now also re­ceived a very high hon­our from the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment. I hope I shall see him again one of these days, and am send­ing him my his­tory of Canada, where he is re­spect­fully por­trayed, and where this ab­surd in­ci­dent, nat­u­rally, does not ap­pear. My book will be cor­dially in­scribed.


Queen Elizabeth II with then-prime minister Jean Chré­tien and Con­rad Black at a cer­e­mony un­veil­ing the Canada Me­mo­rial in Lon­don, Eng­land, in 1994.

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