By Frank Moher
I felt some sympathy for Ezra Levant around the shuttering of his Western Standard magazine, until I received this item of boilerplate e-mail:
Dear Western Standard reader,
I’m sorry to report that we’ve had to shut down the print edition of the Western Standard. Despite nearly four valiant years of trying, we were unable to make ends meet financially. I regret that means we will be unable to fulfill our oustanding subscription obligations, and for that I’m very sorry.
I wasn’t a Western Standard subscriber — I received its e-mails because I had registered for its website, in hopes it would provide grist for this blog. As it has. It is to laugh. All those loyal subscribers with their avaricious belief in the free-market, now invited to place their subscriptions where the liberal sun don’t shine. Perfect.
Levant didn’t help matters by telling The Globe and Mail that “the magazine wasn’t purely an economic mission to begin with, but also a moral one.” Apparently that morality doesn’t extend to meeting one’s financial commitments. It’s not easy to find the responses of aggrieved dumped subscribers on the website (which is, so far, still extant), so — as just another of the many public services we provide here at BoB — sans subscription fee, by the way — I’ve posted a few at the end of this message.
Perhaps this experience will help right-wingers get over their fantasy that an endeavour like Western Standard is possible in Canada without government grants. Even $63,366 in postal subsidies from the feds in 2005-06 wasn’t enough to keep it going; what it probably needed to have a shot at survival was assistance from the Canada Magazine Fund. Let me be a bit conciliatory: I’d gladly have had my tax dollars directed to Western Standard in order to be able to continue to read it; it had some good writers, and its comic value was incalculable.
My schadenfreude spent, let me be even more conciliatory. It’s hard to celebrate the loss of a western Canadian magazine that, its title notwithstanding, aimed to have a national circulation and the sway that goes with it. We do still have among us The Report, a monthly out of Edmonton that is the true heir of the old Alberta Report, but it is largely unknown elsewhere. That leaves those of us west of Mississauga to the ministrations of Maclean’s and various other central Canadian colissi. Maclean’s has made some strides in becoming genuinely national since Ken Whyte took over, but Whyte, for all his talents, is too much now a creature of downtown Toronto to really do the job.
There is one ray of hope, digitally-generated, in all this, and that’s the emergence of a handful of online magazines like thetyee.ca, orato.com, and, dare I say? — backofthebook.ca in and around Vancouver. The Tyee is BC-oriented, orato is determinedly internationalist, but they, like we, are at least coming from someplace other than walking distance of Yonge Street.
Wait, there’s one other. Perhaps the death of Western Standard will spell the end of the absurd conflation of conservative and western Canadian interests that began with Bible Bill Aberhart and picked up speed at Ted Byfield’s Alberta Report back in the days when both Whyte and I were working there. Believe it or not, being right wing and, say, Albertan, aren’t necessarily one and the same. As Ezra Levant is currently discovering, the hard way.
Just some of the happy Western Standard subscribers! . . .
“We too have lost out on most of the remainder of our subscription and while I supported this magazine, I understand people complaining about the loss of their money (especially those poor people who renewed in the past month when magazine leadership should have known that this was going to happen).
“I do not perceive their complaining as being selfish or cheap but I view what has happened regarding subscriptions as an ethical issue.
“By accepting someone’s money for a subscription you are entering into a legal agreement to provide a service for that money. To take someone’s money when you have no intention of providing that service is fraudulent and, in my opinon, immoral.”
“Three times I have supported getting out the Conservative message; the first time it was buying $1000.00 in Ted Byfield’s enterprise (last I heard the share was worth 1 cent); the second time it was Link Byfield’s BC/Alberta Report magazine (A two year subscription lost when the Magazine went into bankruptcy); now another two year subscription lost as the Western Report folds. I wonder how much those two “Conservative Cruises” contributed to the bankruptcy and were the two Byfields guests or paying passengers?”
“One thing, Ezra. I sent $50 to your magazine to help fight the Human Rights case. After that, I subscribed when you sent me an email promising me your book, “The War On Fun”, if I should subscribe. I never received the book after a year, and stalled re-subscribing until I did. I looked at it like a campaign promise broken, which it really was. Since I stalled on re-subscribing until this book promise was resolved, and your magazine folded in the meantime, I saved my money. This was the only blight on an otherwise politically fresh red apple.”
“Great magazine, sad to see it go. However, I am a full time student, and unlike most subscribers, I don’t have money to throw around, and I just renewed last month (after a phone call asking me to renew, no less, which makes me wonder if it was a cash grab).”
“If the WS still has an Internet presence, then there is still a company carrying on business. It hasn’t gone bankrupt. It is presumably making money off its advertising on the Internet. So why shouldn’t it pay its print subscribers?”
And one mildly peeved former columnist, Colby Cosh:
“It has to be admitted that the shutdown was poorly handled from the standpoint of the editorial employees and contributors. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I got the news the same way the public did, from Ezra’s announcement on the Shotgun. I was mere hours away from leaving town for Thanksgiving, and those who depended more heavily on the Standard for their income must have been in the same rather awkward situation. (Cook a bigger turkey, Grandma, I’m out of work!)
“. . . I pers
onally am in arrears for only one issue, and if I never see the final payment that makes me even-steven with the magazine (no one has officially told me it is not in the mail), I will still have been treated more fairly than I was by my longtime employers at Alberta Report, who owed me thousands of dollars in back pay and statutory severance and failed to follow up on repeated verbal promises to send at least some meagre crust. (I’m grateful that the Standard did not attempt some preposterous strategy like converting the magazine to a non-profit while everyone was still employed and then claiming that the old obligations of the for-profit company had been mystically liquidated by the changeover.)”