The Conrad Black Book Club: A Matter of Principle, Chapter 3 (wherein Black falls and skins his elbow)

The Conrad Black Book Club: A Matter of Principle, Chapter 3 (wherein Black falls and skins his elbow)


Conrad Black begins the third chapter of A Matter of Principle by devoting a page-and-a-half of ink to dumping on the old boy from Shawinigan—apparently Jean Chrétien dangled the possibility of the Governor General position in Black’s face and the Lord was none too happy about it. Dear, dear. But Black rises above the slight, acquiring a much more tantalizing title when he’s offered a peerage in the British House of Lords. Naturally, he calls Tony Blair to tell him the news—because, of course, Black’s friends with everyone famous and influential. Get it?His British citizenship application is accepted after one day (take that, poor people trying to gain citizenship), but Chrétien makes a big stink about the proposed dual citizenship. Black, of course, says that Chrétien’s claim of a legal obligation to oppose the House of Lords appointment is a sham—he even suggests that Chrétien appointed the judges—but nonetheless renounces his Canadian citizenship, a decision he describes as “heartbreaking.”

Meanwhile, changes are underway in the business world. Plagued by the fear of failure, which Black attributes to Joseph Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly—and, really, who isn’t constantly haunted by obscure Conrad novels?—he decides to sell Hollinger’s newspaper properties to Izzy Asper of CanWest, an affable but persnickety business acquaintance. Black stays on as publisher—leaving in 2001—and Hollinger nets a cool $1.03 billion from the sales proceeds of the papers (Black is repeatedly assured that all documentation is up to snuff). As Hollinger Inc. sinks into debt Black slowly sells off the company assets, all the while accusing his banks of unwise lending. Again, he’s assured that all the transactions and documentations are vegan-kosher. (He makes this claim on a whole bunch of dubious occasions, like when he’s told he doesn’t have to disclose non-competition payments. Sure.)

Throughout all the drama, he still finds time to criticize shareholder activism and the degraded values of corporate governance. He also catalogues his jaunts with Barbara to Germany and Bora Bora, a destination she originally vetoed due to her “very weak grasp on geography,” and which turns out to be frightfully dull (apparently, one of the main reasons the trip is so unsatisfying is that Black falls and skins his elbow). C’est dommage!

In the words of the Lord:

• On renouncing Canada: “Canada had obviously been good to me in many ways, but I was fatigued with fighting the good fight pretty much alone and being pummeled and caricatured for both my views and just about every aspect of my personal being…I had failed to make any visible inroads in Canada in policy terms.”

On negotiating the sale of the Southam properties with Izzy Asper: ““The last stages of this complicated sale were carried out on my cellphone from Bayreuth, Germany, home of Richard Wagner, where Barbara and I were attending a series of operas at Wagner’s Festspielhaus…Wagner’s operas are of sufficient length and the Germans so dedicated to eating that the intermissions were just long enough to make an agreement.”

On Barbara’s inability to differentiate a Polynesian island from a war movie: “She confessed that, actually, she had connected the name with an old film she didn’t like called Bora! Bora! (she was thinking of Tora, Tora, Tora, an excellent dramatization of the attach on Pearl Harbor).”

On the values of corporate management: “As I had been a lonely defender of the newspaper against the depredations of television and the Internet, so I became a lonely defender of the prerogatives of corporate management, and especially the controlling shareholders. It was a role in which I was to become a good deal lonelier.”