Post Your Opinion
At Large - Responsible?
by Michael Coren

The publishing house McClelland & Stewart recently marked its ninetieth birthday and threw a large party to celebrate the event. There were several articles in the press about the anniversary, all rightly congratulating the editors and staff of McClelland & Stewart on their achievements. Some of these accounts were painfully uncritical, but the case could be made that this was not the occasion to be in any way negative.

There was one comment in one piece, however, that really cannot go unquestioned. In the Toronto Star, the books editor, Judy Stoffman, wrote an interesting half-page story. I know Judy Stoffman, and know her to be a sophisticated, generous woman and an accomplished, capable journalist. In her piece she wrote the following about the owner of McClelland & Stewart, Avie Bennett: "He says he is open to almost every kind of book, but is most `anxious to publish books that tell us who we are.' He adds that he `wouldn't publish a book by Ernst Zundel or Preston Manning.' The word that comes up again and again when people talk about him is `responsible'."

Now just hold on a minute. Responsible? Let's go back a few words. Avie Bennett would not publish Ernst Zundel or Preston Manning. The former is a denier of the Holocaust, a soft brain under a hard hat who has caused pain to camp survivors, anxiety to the Jewish community, and annoyance to the wider public. His ideas and writings give succour to Nazis throughout the world. But the latter is the leader of a major Canadian political party, supported by millions of Canadian people. Preston Manning is a Christian whose family's history of pro-Jewish and anti-racist activity is long and noble. The juxtaposition of Zundel and Manning is crass, cruel, unwise, and dangerous.

Avie Bennett is not and has never claimed to be an intellectual-the former property developer has put his money where his mouth is and that is more than sufficient-but he is an intelligent man and, I am sure, a fair and honest one. He must know that Preston Manning cares about Canada, about the Canadian people, and about truth. Many disagree with Manning's vision but nobody of sense or judgement would call him a bad man. He has absolutely nothing in common with Ernst Zundel and his followers.

So Avie Bennett made a fatuous comment. But it goes deeper. What Bennett appears to be saying is that McClelland & Stewart, the so-called Canadian Publishers, will not publish a Canadian who does not have the right politics. So "Canadian" in Mr. Bennett's eyes seems to mean the Canadian Liberal Party and anything to its left. More than this, McClelland & Stewart receives tens of thousands of dollars each year from the Canadian public and I have not noticed Mr. Bennett returning the cash supplied by those people who voted Reform. If Avie Bennett had said he would not publish "a bad book or an evil book," then I would agree with him. But a book written by Manning, or ghost-written by him, could be fascinating, should be insightful, would be read by a great many people. No literary man could dismiss such a work without even seeing it.

If literature and writing are about anything, they are about the free exchange of ideas in a civilized and open society. By marginalizing and abusing the leader of the second largest federalist party in the country, Avie Bennett has effectively said that conservatives are beyond the pale and outside the democratic discourse.

Avie Bennett is fortunate enough to have become a millionaire through property development. When he bought McClelland & Stewart, there were the usual snobs, very much from the Toronto liberal establishment, who were contemptuous of such a man suddenly becoming involved in literature. They were wrong. They mocked Avie Bennett as an outsider. How sad that Mr. Bennett appears to be doing the same thing to another group of outsiders, but outsiders who do not have enormous bank accounts behind them.

As a Canadian Avie Bennett owes Preston Manning an apology, as a Jew Avie Bennett owes Preston Manning an apology, and as a publisher Avie Bennett owes Preston Manning an apology. Avie Bennett is a profoundly honourable man and so I am sure that contrition will be forthcoming. If it is not and McClelland & Stewart really does have a publishing ban on books that do not fit into its owner's political beliefs, then it must in future reject all government funding.

I remember sitting with Avie Bennett and Mordecai Richler at a Harbourfront reading. Avie Bennett was as gracious as always. As the three of us spoke, Avie suddenly said, "Michael, you're just too right-wing." We disagree. And no, I will never be published by McClelland & Stewart. But Avie, you have done much for this country, please don't become like so many of the others.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us