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Who Izzy?

Never throw anything away. Just days before Izzy Asper (an honourary Kentucky Colonel, you can look it up) bought most of Conrad Black's newspaper empire I was emptying out a basement filing cabinet. Strange stuff always comes to hand -- for example, a file of newspaper clippings from the 1970s about Renaissance Manitoba, a local born-again political movement that hoped to become the Manitoba equivalent of the Moral Majority. That short-lived organization's leader recently surfaced as one of Stockwell Day's Manitoba lieutenants. Can't really see a use for this file, but still, it's a keeper.

But what to do about the Liberal Party's leaflet from the 1973 Manitoba election campaign? The New Democratic Party, led by Premier Ed Schreyer, was running for re-election that year. The Liberals were led by a young tax lawyer, Izzy Asper. In that campaign Asper staked out ground far to the right of the Conservative Party. As Asper painted it, voting for Schreyer's oh-so-moderate NDP was tantamount to lowering the drawbridge and letting the Bolsheviks take over.

Do I need to encumber myself for another 20 years with this loony leaflet -- whose front cover bears the Liberal campaign slogan, "State control or self control" (As everyone notes, content has never been Asper's strong suit). This stark choice (or at least it was meant to be stark -- I have always thought the opposite of self control was self-abuse, not the dictatorship of the proletariat) was illustrated with a photo of a nuclear family suspended by marionette strings. Manitoba families, it implied, were dancing to Commissar Schreyer's tune. This, I concluded, is far too cheesy to toss our.

And then a few days later Conrad Black, after failing to get his knighthood, decided to chuck in his career as a press lord. (It would appear that Conrad Black's attention has been diverted by a project even more grandiose and improbable than getting Canadians to embrace the Alliance: turning Britons into Americans. His British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph's current campaign is to have Britain leave the European Union and enter the North American Free Trade Agreement. Britons, steadfast in their belief that "Wogs start at Calais," have always been uncertain as to whether or not they were Europeans. Still, it may take some doing to convince them North America starts at the Orkneys. Big thinkers, of course, are never troubled by geography.)

One of the questions raised at the time of this summer's merger was what this collaboration between a capital-L Liberal and a capital-B Bourbon would mean to the politics of the National Post. The speculation was that the Asper era would be a little kinder and gentler (and probably more stringent).

Reading over his 1973 election material, one cannot help think Izzy Asper probably doesn't find all that much objectionable in the National Post.

His 1973 program called for:

* a ten per cent cut in personal income tax rates;

* a fifty per cent cut in corporate tax rates;

* capital gains rebates.

While the program is familiar, the rhetoric reflects the Black worldview. On one page a group of petulant and able-bodied adults all have their hands extended, palm up toward the reader. The accompanying text says, "Welfare shouldn't mean you pay for people who won't work."

Elsewhere, Asper reveals that "The NDP's ultimate goal of State ownership/State control has given Manitobans the highest corporation tax in Canada." The NDP's public housing program was seen as proof that "the NDP believes in State control -- State ownership -- of everything." As it turned out, it was Izzy, not the people, who ended up in control of nearly everything. The fact that he was aided in this by government regulations that favoured Canadian broadcasters is, I suppose, just one of life's little ironies.

If, like every other figure in Canadian political life, Asper has been moving to the right over the past three decades -- and the rather messy, bitter and lengthy strike against Asper's Winnipeg television station in the early 1990s suggests that he has -- it may be the case that Asper will conclude that the National Post has been squishy soft on Communism.

So can nothing good come from this? Today's NDP government in Manitoba thinks so. The Doer government has publicly distanced itself from the federal NDP's criticism of cross-media ownership. It is presumably acting on the principle that if big, fat, rich guys are going to be grinding widows, orphans and imported television programs up for breakfast they might as well be local big fat rich guys.

There is one bright spot in all this. We can rest assured that Black and Asper, habitual and recidivist litigants, will eventually fall out.

Watch for it next summer at a drive-in near you, in a double bill with King Kong Versus Godzilla, Asper Versus Black.

Doug Smith is a self-proclaimed symbolic manipulator.
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Title Annotation:Izzy Asper and Conrad Black
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:Dry Spell.

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