Conrad Black may be known for his very public and dramatic renouncement of his Canadian citizenship but he doesn’t believe that takes anything away from his qualifications to pen the latest book on the country’s history.
His 1,020-page book, Rise to Greatness: The History of Canada from the Vikings to the Present, showcases the same dedication to detailed research he displayed in earlier tomes on American history and political figures.
It is also full of praise for many of the great Canadian political and military figures who had the vision and determination to look at the “absolutely savage wilderness” of Canada and shape it into a great entity.
But it may seem like an odd choice of topic for someone who deliberately chose a life peerage with the British House of Lords – as Baron Black of Crossharbour – over his Canadian citizenship in 2001.
Black, 70, acknowledges that he “was widely pilloried for having despised Canada,” when he spurned Canada after then Prime Minister Jean Chretien tried to block his peerage, calling the accusations against him “rubbish” and saying he “did nothing of the kind.”
“I said when I renounced my citizenship that it had nothing to do with my high opinion of Canada and it was entirely for this reason (that) when conditions changed I would seek to regain that citizenship,” Black said during an interview with The Canadian Press on Tuesday to discuss the book on its release.
“I just had to wait for everything to settle down, but it has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s competence to write a history of a country.”
Black says he plans to reapply for citizenship.
The book recounts Canada’s history from 874 to the present, not as series of unrelated events but as a narrative that links the various major historical figures which drove the creation of a bicultural country that could balance U.S. and British interests while increasing its own sovereignty and sense of self.
It’s also peppered with Black’s own observations on historical and current leaders, such as his belief that former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald “was by far the greatest political leader in the country,” that Pierre Trudeau, while effective and important in many ways, had previously been “a flippant, underemployed poseur.”
Chretien, he describes as a “strong and determined personality and an unalloyed and apparently ordinary man, which included having only a colloquial grasp of both official languages.”
And while, in the book, he urges Canada to embrace all of its potential, Black says the country needs a vision and drive that its current leadership may not posses.
“I think (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper has been quite a competent prime minister but my impression is that he’s run out of imagination,” Black said.
“He’s done some good things, but it looks to me like a regime that wants to stay there because it likes governing.”
He describes Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a bit of a puzzle, noting that while sometimes he “he gets it just right”, other times “he says things that he just clearly hasn’t thought through, and they do give me pause.”
“You can’t have a hip-shooter in the job he’s aspiring to fill.”
When it comes to Black’s own history, the former media baron and founder of the National Post says he believes his most tumultuous years are behind him. His lengthy legal battle in the U.S. led to him serving 37 months of a 42-month sentence after he was found guilty of one count of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice, but a U.S. appeal court tossed out two other fraud convictions.
“Let me be clear, I don’t find it embarrassing. As far as I’m concerned the whole thing was a badge of honour — I was persecuted and I completely faced down the persecution,” said Black, who has written half a dozen historical books.
“I was three years in U.S. prisons … it was an outrage, but it was interesting, and it’s over. So we drive on.”