Guest Commentary

Mel Hurtig, In Memoriam

The Skeptics

(Editor’s note: Edmonton publisher Mel Hurtig, founder of the short-lived National Party, died August 3 at 84. Hurtig won acclaim as publisher of the $12 million Canadian Encyclopedia, released in three volumes between 1979 and 1986. He later campaigned against free trade and led the National Party in its only election battle, in 1993. On June21, 2011 Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan spoke with Hurtig in what would be his last full-length interview. Following is a partial transcription of his remarks)

The only time I face skepticism is every day. I still get people emailing me and writing letters, saying they wish the National Party was back again. No exaggeration, I get five or six of those a week. People sometimes ask, what do you think was your biggest accomplishment? Was it the Canadian Encyclopedia? I say no, the biggest accomplishment I had was trying to turn a lot of people onto politics.

We started the National Party in 1992. It grew to 11,000 members. We were going to get rid of patronage and pork barreling in Ottawa once and for all. Canadians didn’t like what they saw in the House of Commons – everybody yelling at each other. It was far away from what the average person thought real democracy is supposed to look like.

People were very skeptical. “We’ve got two or three parties already; what do you need a new party for?” The skeptics said, “Hurtig, there’s no goddamn way you’re going to get one percent of the vote.” Well, we got two percent. We had about seven months to organize before the 1993 campaign. The Party received more than 200,000 votes but did not win a seat in the Commons.

Why did they vote for us? People liked the basic democratic reforms we had in mind, how to make Canada better, a more democratic, more appealing country, more participatory. We thought every vote should count.

I was afraid we were losing our country. I felt that under both Liberals and Conservatives the country was slipping away, and if we kept going the way we were there wouldn’t be much left for my children and grandchildren. More and more of our natural resources were falling under foreign control, and there was a trend towards continentalism. It was as if a little piece of Canada was being sold off every day.

At that time, big money really called the shots — big law firms, big chartered accountants, big oil companies, big coal companies. They financed the Liberals and Conservatives, and there was a genuine sense of dissatisfaction with the way democracy was functioning. I felt there wasn’t enough idealism in the country, and the place to restore it was in the electoral system.

We nominated 171 candidates. We were going to cancel free trade and eliminate tuition fees and implement a national daycare program. We put down on paper the democratic principles that we stood for. In the short term the National Party was a huge success, but bottom line: it ended in failure.

You know, I consider myself incredibly lucky. I don’t know how my life could have been more fun and more interesting. I read every day, five or six hours. I enjoy it. I’ll tell you what kind of charismatic person I am: first thing in the morning, I get up, turn on the computer, and read the Statistics Canada Daily.

I guess it’s a corny thing to say, but I happen to really love this country.

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