Conrad the Underdog: "I am undaunted"
29 June 2006
The Globe and Mail
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At Conrad Black's Toronto home, he has a consecrated chapel that he visits frequently ~W though not as a penitent for any alleged fraudulent activities. "It is not theologically sound," he observes, "nor psychologically healthy to repent what one has not done."
But, taking his cue from his Roman Catholic overseers, he holds to the theory that "our consciences are God speaking to us." At required times, he says, "I confess my shortcomings as our church prescribes and try to do better thereafter."
He has been, as he puts it, "fighting for my life in all respects except physically." He talks of drawing sustenance from not only the church, but other sources we might not have readily imagined.
He was never one to dabble with the rabble, the common folk. The Lord of Crossharbour was always deemed a bit imperious for that. But in these times he finds ordinary Canadians reaching out to him and he is comforted by it. On the streets, on his computer, in the restaurants, at his church, he says the well-wishers have numbered in the thousands. They are "far beyond cursory wishes of good luck," he says, and "they have been very affecting."
Since being knocked from his pedestal, the people, Mr. Black maintains, see him very differently. "Canadians suspect, if only intuitively, the corruption of the American prosecutorial system and I have made the transition from being perceived as a plutocrat to an underdog."
He's not corrupt. It is the U.S. legal system that is crooked. It is "fascistic," he says, tormenting him with "a cataract of injustices" and the good Canadian people understand.
The scenario is one few could have forecast. Baron Black much preferred things British and American to his pallid home country, which he almost abandoned. Now he has developed a new respect for Canada and finds refuge in it as the underdog up against the big bad bloodhounds of America.
Not many, he says, can understand what "the fascistic prosecutors" have put him through. "Those who have had to endure such an onslaught as I have, and have kept their sanity and equilibrium and been ingenious and persevering enough to survive it, may judge."
But if the stream of fraud charges against him have taken their toll, they've done little to diminish his blunt and baroquely articulated swagger. "I am undaunted," says Conrad Black. And "when the case is exposed as the unmitigated farrago of lies and defamations that it is, the exhilaration at having defeated the most powerful organization in the world -- not just the so-called Justice Department, but the SEC, IRS, and their Canadian quislings as well -- will be very great and I will resume my career fortified."
To his credit, while charting his way through Hades, he has already resumed his writing career. To follow his acclaimed tome on Franklin Roosevelt, he has embarked on a major book. It's on Richard Nixon. He writes a twice-monthly newspaper column and maintains a sense of humour. It's all right, he says, to make mention of his religious bent as long as it doesn't make him sound like "a Savonarolan flagellant living exclusively on communion wafers."
He terms the legal harassments very tiresome, but says his pursuers "have failed to bankrupt or discourage me. I have not had to borrow anything from my well-to-do friends, despite the immobilization of nearly $70-million of my money. The attempt to ostracize me socially has also failed."
He goes so far as to say that there was no excessive spending either by his wife Barbara Amiel, or himself. "There were no extravagances, comparative to my means, before or since Barbara and I struck up relations," he angrily noted. "Barbara and I never were profligate."
That assessment will come as a surprise to many, as will some of his others. But Conrad the Underdog appears entirely convinced of his victimization and coming redemption. He was also highly confident, it might be recalled, that he would triumph in his peerage case against former prime minister Jean Chr?tien a few years back. But he was thumped on it and is still riled by the outcome. He should hope it is not a harbinger.
As founder of the National Post newspaper, he has always been a staunch proponent of American values. But his affection for that nation, the one that he wished Canada to emulate, has diminished. While he still regards the U.S. as the indispensable force in the Western world, he adds that, "After what I've been subjected to, and what is still to come, I cannot claim much residual affection for it as a country."
It's Canada that is now the place of his admiration. "Yes, my opinion of Canada has risen, but Canada has changed. . . . Canada has become so astronomically rich that it has a colossal opportunity." Its opportunity is "accentuated by the development for the first time since before the First World War of a real two-party system. The collapse of the separatist threat in Quebec and the rise of Alberta also take the inevitability out of the endless drift to the left."
There's all that and there's the comfort Mr. Black sees Canadians providing him in the struggle to rebuild his life. For the longest time, he was too big for this country. It took his becoming an underdog to appreciate it. Underdogs have always felt more welcome here. No one ever imagined Mr. Black becoming one. But life's ironies, as usual, abound.
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