TORONTO – Conrad Black stood before a crowded room Friday to pontificate about Canada’s reputation on the world stage just weeks after a controversial return to the country with which he shares a tumultuous history.
Wearing the Order of Canada pin that some have suggested should be revoked, Black reflected on his “recent sojourn” in the United States — a 42-month prison term — and shared the thoughts he has formulated in the meantime on his home country.
“Canadians are notoriously not messianic or self important, and have no illusions about being a light onto the world,” Black said in a lunchtime speech to the Empire Club of Canada, his first public talk since he has been back in the country.
“It has been difficult to translate Canada’s talent at dogged but effective problem solving as heroic, dramatic or sometimes even interesting.”
But, the former media baron concluded, with so much manufacturing being outsourced, “multiple resource exporters” like Canada and Australia are at an advantage.
“It is Canada’s turn to speak, and it will not have to shout to be heard,” said Black. “These were my thoughts in my recent sojourn with the Americans, that have been confirmed by my grateful return to this country.”
It wasn’t exactly a smooth return, since Black’s criminal record means he would not normally be admissible for long-term residency in Canada.
The federal government granted him a one-year temporary resident permit, prompting some, including NDP leader Tom Mulcair, to suggest Black received special treatment.
Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to accept a seat in Britain’s House of Lords. He returned last month to the Toronto home he shares with wife Barbara Amiel.
Canada, Black said Friday, has a shot at seizing more global influence in a time when the U.S. and many other countries are struggling.
“Of course the United States remains a great country, and of course it will renovate itself at least partially, eventually,” he said.
“And except for Germany all the other traditional great powers are also in at least temporary decline. But in these circumstances, Canada has an opportunity it has never had before, to be a benign influence in the world.”
Black, 67, originally faced more than a dozen fraud and obstruction of justice charges laid by U.S. authorities, but he was convicted of just four by a jury.
Two of the convictions were overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that one of the laws used to convict him had been too broadly applied, and his lawyers are now asking that the two remaining convictions be dismissed.
After his speech on Friday, Black signed copies of his memoir, “A Matter of Principle.” The book, which is a critical account of the U.S. justice system through the context of Black’s experiences, was shut out at the National Business Book Awards last month.