A Black day for our society
My morning paper, whose past and present principal proprietor was and is Lord Thomson of Fleet, has come to the aid of Lord-in-waiting Conrad Black whose patron, the leader of the British Tory party, has nominated him to membership in the British House of Lords. Black is, among other things, also a Canadian citizen and as such would need special dispensation from the Canadian governmentto waive a longstanding Canadian codicil which prevents its citizens accepting foreign titles.
This proves an inconvenience to Black who enjoys duel citizenship, Canadian and British, who lives in Great Britain and publishes newspapers here, there, and elsewhere, and has been awarded the Order of Canada, and been made a Privy Councillor by Brian Mulroney. The inconvenience is a trifling one; all Black need do to become a British Lord is resign his Canadian citizenship. Or he could also decl ine the honour of a Lordship and seek to be knighted, and become Sir Conrad.
It is easier to enter the House of Lords than to become a knight. Some are born to the Lords, others arrive there as failed or defeated politicians, or as retirees; like our own upper chamber, the senate, it is as much a place for the unexceptional as for the opposite. Still – an important difference – senators have to show up or risk penalty and censure; not all the Lords hope, or are expected, to sit.
In Britain, with its rigid class structure, being a lord or a lady provides added cashet, the title worn like a bauble, suggesting importance, breeding, wealth, and exclusivity. The appointments are high patronage; Lloyd George, whose understanding of the British class system was acute, sold peerages as one might trade in pork-bellies, transactions designed to pack the House of Lords for the purp ose of curbing its powers. But yet, the House of Lords remains a surviving bastion of one of the many remarkable, uniquely British creations, which is a society arbitrarily divided by class, defined as much by title as much by estate, and maintained by long-prevailing habit of deference and snobbery.
Canada was vulnerable to the same artificiality and pretension; we were, after all, first a British colony, then Dominion, and after that, part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Until Mackenzie King, nearly all our prime ministers were knighted; the British monarch was our monarch (and still is), and not until Vincent Massey was there a Canadian Governor General at Rideau Hall. We have King to thank for the development of our own egalitarian society and for its preference for meritocracy and its contempt of aristocracy. As part of our determination not to become a forelock-tugging, bowing, scraping, watery imitation of the real British thing, we worked on our own model which maintained the Crown, but we finally sang our own anthem and flew our own flag.
It was also our determination not to consent to patronage bestowed by a foreign state that would enable a Canadian to sit and vote in the legislative chamber of that state.
My morning paper argues that this inhibition, which now provokes Conrad Black, is a relic of our past colonial mentality – “our pyschic inferiority complex.” But in this new, expanded, corporate one-world there lurk – as Lloyd George so quickly discovered almost a century ago – dozens of lusting moguls who would cheerfully support or underwrite any foreign party or power for the prize of a title for themselves (and another for the little woman). One must ask, in this small but pertinent matter, whose “inferiority complex” are we really discussing?
My morning paper reports that Black “has long cherished the idea of . . . being made a British peer.” If he has, he can easily cherish the reality, accept the gift of the British Tory party, and take his seat. But why should Canadians, or their government, allow for an exception in his case, and thus cheapen and degrade our own honours and hard-earned national values, and invite others to follow?
In the end, Toronto and Ottawa would be overrun by Canadian lords and ladies, the tables of the rich and famous would resemble those of baronial halls of old, surrounded by limousines and outriders, while peasants and social journalists stand beyond the gates to gape in awe and wonder at the new society wrought by Lord Black, in his finest hour.
The Prime Minister is being upbraided by the National Post, and the Globe and Mail, for daring to delay accommodating Mr. Black. I hope he will not cave in simply to get a better press. At the moment, Jean Chretien has more supporters among the people of Canada than the combined circulation of all the papers of all the lords of the Canadian press. – Dalton Camp (Toronto Star, 6/23/1999, A21)