Blogs & Comment

Conrad Black pulls punches at Empire Club speech

The former press baron professes his love of William Lyon Mackenzie King in first major speech since returning to Canada.


(Photo: Chris Young/CP)

If those following the movements of Conrad Black learned little else from his somewhat rambling speech today at the Empire Club of Canada, it is that he has a soft spot for William Lyon Mackenzie King—and may one day write his biography.

“He was an astonishing diarist. He lied to his diary repeatedly,” said Black, to laughter from the crowd. “He was an eccentric bachelor. He has been dismissed as a crank. He was a crank, but he was also a great leader.” 

It is almost like Black never left Canada. With his $1.25-million defamation lawsuit filed this week against his own publisher, followed by his luncheon speech today, the former media baron has plunged back into the sort of active, polemical public life his formerly repudiated native land was used to years ago.

The talk, attended by business luminaries such as Alfred Apps and Douglas Kelly, publisher of the National Post, pulled anything that could be considered a punch, however. Blandly titled “My Perspective of Canada After an Absence of Five Years,” the potted survey of the parallel histories of Canada and the U.S. took some time to get to its thesis: that America’s decade of bungled foreign wars and its mounting deficit have opened up something of a geopolitical power vacuum. Resource-exporting smaller nations like Canada and Australia have an opportunity to exert influence, he said, while avoiding any mention of the Harper government or its foreign policy.

“It is Canada’s time to speak and it will not have to shout to be heard,” he said. He suggested that Canada should make reform of international bodies such as NATO and the UN a priority.

Such maneuvering would be preferable to what Canada usually does on the world stage, he said—“tug purposelessly at the trouser leg of America and Great Britain, or our more depressing moments, even France.”