Globe and Mail

Lording it over Mr. Black

Saturday, August 7, 1999
The Globe and Mail

If newspaper baron Conrad Black wants to be a lord, what's Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's goal? A sheik comes to mind, given the petulant way he has used his authority to thwart Mr. Black's ambition to join the British House of Lords. On Thursday, Mr. Black retaliated by slapping the Prime Minister with a lawsuit for "abuse of power" and asking for $25,000 in damages. Good for him.

The argument presented last June by Mr. Chrétien is made of pretty thin gruel. He exhumed an octogenarian resolution, introduced into Parliament in the days when Canada was trying to establish its independence from Britain. The so-called Nickle resolution, which was never passed by the Senate or given royal proclamation, asked the British monarch not to confer titles on Canadian citizens. It didn't say Canadian citizens couldn't accept titles; it merely asked that they not be given.

So what is the problem? The honour of being made a life peer was offered to Mr. Black as a British, not a Canadian, citizen. Since Canada allows dual citizenship, it recognizes that there is no conflict in private citizens accepting the duties and obligations of citizenship in another country. Why then can't they accept the honours as well?

Mr. Black suggests in his lawsuit that Mr. Chrétien was motivated not by nationalism but by personal pique after The National Post, one of Mr. Black's newspapers, wrote a series of highly critical articles about the awarding of federal grants -- what some might called the patronage equivalent of a life peerage -- to businesses in the Prime Minister's Shawinigan riding.

The dispute between Mr. Black and Mr. Chrétien is for the courts to decide. What is of greater importance is the Prime Minister's apparent use of his own high office to settle a score with a powerful critic. That sort of arrogant despotism is archaic in a modern democracy.

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