Mel Hurtig (1932-2016)


Mel Hurtig lived an accomplished life and passed away at the ripe old age of 84. This is not a tragedy, or a shock, but I am compelled to mark his passing because he founded the first political party that I ever joined.

Mel Hurtig was nothing if not a proud Canadian. He forged his political career speaking out against foreign ownership of Canadian industries and, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, organized the National Party. It was an unabashedly nationalist Canadian party, but one whose political and economic policies spoke solidly from the centre-left. In that uncertain time of rising separatist sentiment in Quebec in the form of the Bloc Quebecois, and a truculent right-wing populism emerging in the form of the Reform Party, this was to me a breath of fresh air. Radical political change could also be reasonable.

That, really, sums up the story of my political life.

Unfortunately, the Nationals never polled higher than 2%. They were unable to run a full slate of candidates. Mel Hurtig himself could not win his own riding in Edmonton, though he placed respectably. Then the party slipped into obscurity, with the sort of personal (and slightly whacko) power struggles that sometimes afflicts fringe movements. After the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party, it would be almost two decades before the glimmer of a new political movement would be spotted in parliament in the form of Elizabeth May’s lonely Green Party seat.

I also parted ways with the philosophy of Mel’s Nationals a few years after their 1993 campaign. I still feel myself to be a proud Canadian, but I came to realize that maintaining that Canadian-ness did not require a knee-jerk reaction of trying to keep the world out.

However, none of this changes the fact that, at the time, having participated in my first election, the Nationals gave me a chance to really engage with the political process. They were (and remain) the only party I was willing to pay a membership due for. And I have no regrets.

For this, I thank him, and mark his passing as a proud Canadian.

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