Media: Cocktails With Conrad

Conrad Black created a stir when he made an appearance at a Toronto book-launch.

The 150-plus group of well-groomed men in dark-coloured suits and women sporting strands of pearls gathered at The Albany Club, a posh private establishment in Toronto's financial district, ostensibly to celebrate the launch of Tasha Kheiriddin and Adam Daifallah's new book, Rescuing Canada's Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution. But, on this blustery eve, those in attendance — including ex-premier Mike Harris, ex-Ontario MPP Tony Clement and CEO of Genetics Diagnostics Inc. Stephen Johnston — appeared more engaged by the prospect of Conrad Black, staunch conservative and embattled corporate heavyweight, showing his face.

Black arrived with less than 30 minutes remaining in the cocktail-hour soiree. The crowd swooned as the lord, encircled by media, sauntered through the party, seeking out the authors. Most guests gave Black a wide berth, with the exception of literary agent Sam Hiyate, who quickly offered him a glass of wine. Less than 10 minutes later, after congratulating Kheiriddin and Daifallah and stopping to chat with a few acquaintances, Black departed. Shouts of “Good luck, Connie,” followed him out the door.

Black, with a week left until his arraignment in a Chicago court on eight counts of criminal fraud at Hollinger International, the media company he once chaired, proceeded to loudly proclaim his innocence to reporters on the sidewalk in front of the club. “There's no truth or substance whatsoever to the allegations,” he said. (At the Dec. 1 arraignment, Black pleaded not guilty.)

Daifallah, asked how he felt about Black's showing up at his book launch and stealing the bright young authors' thunder, quickly jumped to the lord's defense. “I'm happy he came,” stressed Daifallah. “He says he is innocent, so why shouldn't he live like an innocent man?”

Fair enough. But it is difficult to overlook the irony of Black's warm reception at the affair. Earlier, Kheiriddin had argued that the Conservative Party doesn't deserve its reputation as the “party of privilege.” Instead, she said, “it's the party that gives you the right to earn privilege.” Perhaps. But judging from the crowd's reaction to Black, it would appear that privilege, regardless of its source, is still very much in vogue in certain conservative circles. Which prompts the question, is the Right really worth rescuing?