Conrad Black has never been an easy guy to like.
Years ago when this scribe was a Calgary Herald scribbler and Black was the owner of that paper it was pure sport to speak the very worst about this man.
And when arriving here almost a decade ago I was told his newspaper empire had even stretched its corporate tentacles to own a chunk of the Red Deer Express. It seemed I just couldn’t dodge this fellow.
For most it was impossible not to notice this man but unfortunately for Black that public image, sculpted by critics to look bombastic and arrogant, made him an easy target to scorn.
For so long the public was forced to endure this once powerful newspaper tycoon as a fellow who would only speak with 18-syllable words and flaunted an opulent lifestyle few would dare to even dream about.
When his world came crashing down in 2007 with fraud convictions and a 78-month prison sentence there was collective joy in many circles, particularly the business community, the Liberal Party of Canada and unions. And yes there was also a lot of champagne flowing in American prosecutorial legal offices where nabbing naughty big business elephants is cause for big celebrations, like winning a lottery.
But as we all know Black is on the comeback trail. He and his legal team recently slayed the American prose curial dragon, knocking out several of the old fraud convictions. And he is not done yet, fighting hard to have the courts throw out the remaining obstruction of justice conviction.
If Black wins that he still has to deal with law suits from every corner, as well as the dreaded American IRS which is chasing him for more than $71 million in back taxes.
Even with all that on his shoulders it would be folly to suggest Black will just roll over and say, ‘Yes, you are right. I have been a bad boy. I will succumb to your wishes.”
Nope. Not this guy. There’s too much fire in his belly.
Black will not merely and serenely get on with life, get a nice big boat and sail into the proverbial sunset, never to be in the public eye again.
It is far more probable Black will grab the public’s attention with a new mission in life, possibly as a committed advocate for prison reform.
His time in prison has forced Black to make a decided u-turn from his longstanding cheerleading of the good ole U.S. of A. Living among the worst of society has opened his eyes to the abuses of the American prison system. He has, with considerable sympathy, described inmates as an “ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead.”
Who would have thought a decade ago this ultra capitalist would ever acquire such empathy for society’s most marginalized?
And while doing so, he has also given readers strong reasons to believe he is a tad contrite for turning his back on his native Canada over the peerage fight he had with his old nemesis, former prime minister Jean Chrétien. Yup, Lord Black would now just as soon just be known by Canadians as your ordinary hoser pal you’d bump into at the corner coffee shop wanting to look over hockey scores from the night before.
In the meantime, if Conrad is ever allowed to come back to Canada, as he so dearly now desires, he may even make his way here to Alberta, even Red Deer. For Black, even with this new social consciousness, Alberta, as a bastion of capitalist corporate power, might just bring a nice feeling of nostalgia.
A visit might mean a speech or two about prison reform, or it could produce a few visits to media outlets, perhaps to offer advice and wisdom, even to this newspaper.
But one thing is for sure – Conrad Black won’t come to Red Deer as owner of any newspaper in the City or region, which might surprise more than a few readers.
Last month when Black’s court victory was all over the news at the same time this newspaper was being acquired by Black Press, numerous folks on the street asked me, ‘Are you guys now owned by Conrad Black?”
My reply was simply, ‘No, years ago perhaps but not today.”
But that does not mean I would not like to meet the man. Whereas he may have been somewhat reviled a decade ago by many in my industry he has now earned the respect from the same who scorned him back in his newspaper tycoon days.
One of those folks is yours truly. Conrad may not be any part of Black Press, my new employer. But I’d share war stories with him any time. He has, as the saying goes in my biz, earned his dues.