Opening Notes

Opening Notes

Brian Bethune August 16 1999
Opening Notes

Opening Notes

Brian Bethune August 16 1999

Opening Notes

Brian Bethune

The man who would be lord

It was a gift from the blue for the nations chattering classes last week, one that allowed them to move on from nattering about a low-level cabinet shuffle. Instead, they could turn to the arresting spectacle of Black v. Chrétien.

Lawyers for media mogul Conrad Black filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the government of Canada in Ontario Superior Court, alleging that Chrétien blocked Blacks elevation to the British peerage for reasons of petty malice that amounted to an abuse of power.

And when British Prime Minister Tony Blair phoned him on June 17—the day before Black expected his appointment—to tell him that because of Ottawa’s last-

minute objections, the publisher’s name would not be forwarded to Queen Elizabeth II, Black says he suffered “considerable embarrassment and inconvenience.”

According to the statement of claim—which requests only $25,000 in damages—during a telephone conversation

with Black explaining the government’s stand, Chrétien initially referred to a government policy forbidding the extension of titles to residents of Canada. (The London-based Black says that policy does not apply to him.) But the Prime Minister went on during the call, the claim adds, to say “he was not kindly treated by the National Post,” Black’s flagship Canadian paper.

Black was a high-profile supporter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s 1995 libel suit against the Liberal government, which ended with a federal apology and payment of $2 million towards Mulroney’s costs. Mulroney did not name Chrétien in his suit, but Black had no doubt of what he described as the Prime Minister’s “not creditable” role in Ottawa’s “disgraceful abuse of ministerial powers.” Black thinks he faced the same sort of abuse in a 1982 securi-

ties investigation, which he, like Mulroney, successfully fought off. Summing up those two victories, the media baron stated—perhaps ominously for the Prime Minister— “Mulroney and I are among those who have had the financial and psychological resources to defend ourselves.”

Seeking the right stuff

What attributes would the perfect governor general possess?

The commanding moral and physical stature of a Georges Vanier would be ideal. If such a candidate is unavailable, how-

ever, there’s always the option of an old family acquaintance. Liberal insiders say Prime Minister Jean Chrétien may be

leaning that way in considering Bob Rae, the former Ontario NDP premier, for appointment to Canadas loftiest ceremonial post. Rae, 51, has several ins with the PM. His brother, John Rae, is one of Chrétiens closest confidants. As well, former Ontario Liberal

leader Bob Nixon, a close friend of Chrétien who developed a respect for Rae when they sparred in provincial pol-

itics, is rumoured to have put in a good word for his old adversary. And then there’s the Stephen Lewis factor. Lewis, another former Ontario NDP leader, was appointed by Brian Mulroney in 1984 as ambassador to the United Nations—a useful distraction from other Conservative patronage appointments. And should Chrétien decide to retire before the next election, he may want a few high-profile, non-partisan appointments to counterbalance a final parting spree of favours for Liberal stalwarts.

A snowbird’s avian sanctuary

An old, decaying swamp—complete with fallen trees, garbage and vagrants—is not most peoples idea of a piece of heaven on earth. But when retired Vancouver lawyer Peter Allard read about 75 acres on the southern coast of Barbados, he saw the potential. The Caribbean Island is ideally situated on a major flyway for migratory birds, and the wetlands, with fresh in-

Snowy egret in the sanctuary: fly way

land water, offer a perfect mid-journey stopping point. In 1996, Allard bought the property, and in partnership with the Bajan government, initiated a rescue mission. Today, the Graeme Hall Bird Sanctuary (named for a former plantation), includes a special facility for the endangered St. Vincent Parrot, two lakes for breeding rare West Indian ducks and walk-through aviaries. And it is gaining an international reputation as an eco-tourist site for its rare birds, including 18 resident and 150 migratory species. So far, Allard—who is also helping to create a 10,000-acre national park on the nearby island of Dominica—has spent more than $2 million on the sanctuary. But, he insists, the yet-to-be-finished project “isn’t driven by economics, but by the need to conserve and preserve the area.”

It’ s a woman s world

Lionel Tiger first developed the concept of “male bonding” 30 years ago, but the Rutgers University anthropologist has not abandoned his quest to explain human society in terms of biology. Now, in The Decline of Males (Golden Books), Tiger turns his biological determinism on the current relationship between the sexes. The unprecedented and total control women now exert over reproduction, he argues, has marginalized men in their primary role. They have responded by withdrawing in large numbers from family responsibilities, leaving chaotic social dislocation behind. Birth control and economic success have set women on the road to winning “the war between the sexes,” Tiger concludes, “but the conditions of victory may not be agreeable.”