Thursday, June 26, 2003

Why not sell The Report?

David Frum has eulogized The Report in his online diary at The Corner.

Mr. Frum raises an interesting point that I would like to comment on myself: This exploitive relationship has taught Albertans to look at the doings of the Canadian federal government with more skepticism than any other group of Canadians. And it was this skepticism that the Report powerfully expressed - and forwarded. For the Report was more than a magazine: It was the vanguard of a movement. The Report midwifed the Reform party, which
became the Canadian Alliance, which is today Canada's official

I would go further than Mr. Frum does. The West's discontent with Ottawa extends beyond Alberta. I came to work indirectly for the Byfields through my five years on staff at the Vancouver-based sister magazine of Alberta Report, British Columbia Report. In the 1990s, "B.C. Report" had thousands of conservative subscribers of its own. The various incarnations
of The Report had many subscribers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The fact that these magazines were at one time a Western Canadian and not just an Alberta phenomenon implies that many conservative concerns that The Report expressed were shared across the West.

Mr. Frum hints at something that I experienced during my last years as a contributor to the magazine. Especially in its last incarnation as the Citizens Centre Report, I would argue that The Report was evolving into Canada's version of National Review, albeit in fits and starts. In the last few months, we were taking indepth looks at policy questions with no hard news peg, such as a cover story on the thinkers that
made Canada the non-conservative nation that it is today and an entire issue devoted to the subject of "Reconfederation"--reopening and renegotiating the Canadian constitution. We still did non-political coverage, but we were also beginning to take the sort of long perspective on the changes that are affecting our country that National Review often adopts for the U.S..

Canada badly needs a National Review-type of magazine for the right. My concern with the Citizens Centre Foundation for Freedom and Democracy's decision to just kill the magazine is this--we had a magazine that could have become our NR. Now, whomever wants to start the Canadian version of
National Review will have to start from scratch.

Writers of the Report's obituaries may be celebrating the alleged
"wackiness" of the Byfield clan, but at least they tried to do something that Canadian conservatives have talked about doing for years. The Byfields acted while fiscal conservatives sat around saying "Gosh, wouldn't it be nice if we had a national conservative magazine...."

I have lots of respect for Link Byfield, who was the magazine's last owner as the guiding force behind the Citizens Centre Foundation. So, I hope that he won't take offense that I am disagreeing with him in public. I wish that he had sold the magazine instead of folding it, even if doing so would have meant that I was sacked by the new owners.

The history of National Review illustrates a different way that the
long-term future of The Report could have been handled. William F. Buckley Jr. realized that his son Christopher wanted to be a writer and editor, but he did not insist that the future of National Review be placed in his hands. Instead, Mr. Buckley looked for ideological children of his who could also guide the future of the magazine. That way, Chris Buckley had the freedom to decide what was the best way for him to help the conservative movement and National Review could have a long-term future no matter what Chris Buckley did.

The Report's end suggests that a lot of pressure was put on the second generation of Byfields to keep the vision alive. It led to a situation where either the magazine was published *or* the foundation was freed to do its important work.

Am I suggesting that Link Byfield should never have taken editorial or financial control of the magazine? No. He was a passionate editor and publisher for many years and others could have failed ignobly and not continued the magazine's good work as long as Link did. But, I do think that the Byfields should have considered a possible post-Byfield future for the magazine.

In a CBC Newsworld interview on Tuesday, Link Byfield expressed a lot of frustration with recent Canadian history. In the 30 years that he has been covering Canadian politics there has been setback after setback for Canadian conservatives. Understandably, he wants to concentrate on the work of his foundation and use seminars, position papers and advertising to create conservatives from scratch and not just write for the traditionalists we do have. Thinking of the very-long term is a wise thing for his foundation to do. It also makes sense for Link Byfield, wanting to leave his own legacy for the future through the foundation. I hope that it does well.

I hope that Canadians rally behind the Citizens Centre and what it will try to do. Link Byfield is right in thinking that that work is very important. But my concern is that although the foundation has decided to move on, there are some conservatives who want to join the battle in an old-fashioned way by continuing what the Byfields led in doing for so many years. The Centre should help and not hinder them.

I wish that the Byfields had considered that our magazine was a
"movement" business and not just a "family business". Folding The Report, if there are no other conservative Canadian magazines to take its place, is a decided blow to the conservative movement. I would respectfully suggest that although the second generation of Byfields have decided for very valid reasons to turn to what they see as as more profitable methods, that they let someone else have a go at making The Report succeed or let new owners buy whatever's left of the Report's resources to start something new.

I admit that this is a bit of a personal issue for me. Yes, I lost my job, but I think that I would be sad for other reasons too. I regret that other conservative Canadian journalists will lose the opportunity that I had to learn and work in a newsroom where you don't have to forsake your convictions on deadline.

There are other Canadian conservatives who want to carry on the Byfield tradition of conservative journalism. It may be a little different from what the Byfields did for so many years, but I would suggest that that's okay.

Please let them try.