Today's lesson from the gospel of Peter Munk


In its traditional year-end orgy of page-filling lists of accomplished Canadians—young, old, corporate, literary—the Globe and Mail this year named Peter Munk, 83-year-old chair of “multinational mining giant” Barrick Gold Corp., a finalist in its nation-builder category.

Though born into a well-to-do Budapest Jewish family in 1927, the Nazi occupation wiped out the Munk fortune. Refugee Peter eventually ended up at the University of Toronto where he studied electrical engineering and launched his business career in the 1950s.

The Globe said it chose Munk for using his personal fortune “to support Canada’s role on the world stage by focusing his philanthropy on education and health care.”

“It is your obligation to give back as much as you have taken from a country,” Munk said—though not, it should be said, from the Canada he’d helped to build, or even about that part of Canada from which he had taken much.

Speaking from his winter home in Switzerland, Munk explained: “I’ve made some money and I wish to give it back.”

He has.

Last year, he gave $35 million—the U of T’s largest ever individual donation—to expand its Munk School of Global Affairs, which an earlier Munk gift helped establish. His name—and generosity—also graces the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at Toronto’s University Health Network.

Intriguingly, the Globe’s gushing profile makes only glancing reference to one of Munk’s formative business experiences, Clairtone Sound Corp.—an experience for which Nova Scotia taxpayers paid dearly.

In 1958—with $6,000—Munk started a small, innovative Toronto-based hi-fi manufacturer called Clairtone. Its success prompted Nova Scotia’s industry-parched Stanfield government to lure the company here with grants and incentives. The dream—to sell to the world.

The dream fizzled. By the time the nightmare ended, Clairtone had saddled Nova Scotia taxpayers with $20 million in debt.

Peter Munk? Well, we know he learned some lessons, which he clearly applied elsewhere. While he’s never forgotten Toronto’s contribution to his success, Munk appears to have long since wiped Nova Scotia from his memory—and philanthropy—map.


Pity too that Nova Scotia has never learned its Clairtone lesson. We’re still a sucker for someone else’s big dream.



Related: Peter Munk profile

  1. The article in the globe, and this article as well, further neglect to mention the devastation wreaked by Munk’s company Barrick Gold all over the globe. From Tanzania to Papua New Guinea, Nevada to the Dominican Republic, communities have been suffering for years and struggling against Barrick Gold for some measure of justice in the face of toxic dumping of cyanide straight into local water sources and violent repression of activists by Barrick-funded security militias. If Munk wanted to ‘give back’, the first thing he could do would be to treat these local communities as humans and not as objects in the way of his record profits. Please see his own words about his mining operations and its destructive consequences:


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