In 2000, Canadian businessman Avie Bennett engineered a deal to wrest “The Canadian Publisher” McClelland and Stewart, out of the protection of Canadian Heritage and into the arms of a foreign national company in the form of then Random House. Though many Canadians would have thought that would create an outcry, it did not. But journalist Elaine Dewar was paying attention. More: she was there.
In her well-reviewed but largely ignored 2017 book, The Handover: How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of Our Literary Heritage to A Foreign Multinational (Biblioasis), Dewar is clearly mad as hell and bent on not taking it anymore. She begins:
This is a story about the slow, secret murder of Canada’s nationalist publishing policy.
After telling you that in the first sentence, I should probably just say Kaddish for this book before I write another word. In fact, one famous former Canadian publisher, Avie Bennet, said as much.
“It’s a book no one will read.”
It is the late Bennett whom Dewar accuses, and not without justification, of creating “a brilliant method to free himself of the M&S albatross, to cash out while handing it off, piece by piece, to the largest foreign-owned publisher in the country.”
Bennett, who died in June of this year, coincidentally (one imagines) the same month this book was published, was interviewed for The Handover, as were other prominent Canadian literary figures, some named and some not. It’s fascinating reading and it’s also more than a little sad.
The most salient takeaway for me from The Handover was that, at a time when Canadian culture and heritage have never been more threatened, Canadians at large seem distressingly silent on the subject. Asking some, even, to question if there is such a thing a Canadian culture at all. There has been, we know that. And there is. But there won’t be if we continue to insist on selling it to the highest (or sneakiest) bidder.
This is a topic that requires attention now. Next year could well be too late. ◊
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.