Melvin Hurtig, OC, publisher, political activist, author (born 24 June 1932 in Edmonton, AB; died 3 August 2016 in Vancouver, BC). In 1956, Hurtig opened a bookstore, Hurtig Books, in Edmonton. The store soon became a centre for the literary community and grew into one of the largest retail book operations in Canada. Hurtig sold his stores in 1972 and concentrated on publishing Canadian books under the imprint Hurtig Publishers; he was twice named Canadian Book Publisher of the Year (1975, 1981). Most notably, Hurtig conceived of and published two editions of the highly acclaimed Canadian Encyclopedia (1985 and 1988) and Junior Encyclopedia of Canada (1990). He sold Hurtig Publishers to Toronto-based McClelland & Stewart in 1991.
Hurtig as Nationalist
Hurtig was one of Canada’s best-known economic nationalists. After running for the Liberal Party in the federal election of 1972, he became a founding member of the Committee for an Independent Canada and served as their national chairman. In 1985, he was founding chair of the Council of Canadians. A critic of the high degree of foreign ownership and control in Canada, he campaigned vigorously against the Free Trade Agreement with the United States (NAFTA). In 1992, he was the driving force behind a new political organization, the National Party, a party committed to nationalist and populist goals. Hurtig was selected the party’s leader and wrote its policy statement, A New and Better Canada. He failed in his legal attempt to be included in the national leaders’ debates in the 1993 federal election campaign. Hurtig resigned as leader in 1994 and the party subsequently disintegrated.
Hurtig as Author
Hurtig’s commitment to Canadian nationalism and social justice issues led to his career as an author. His first book, The Betrayal of Canada, which examines the effects of NAFTA, was the best-selling book in Canada in 1991. His autobiography, At Twilight in the Country: Memoirs of a Canadian Nationalist, was published in 1996. Subsequent publications have addressed significant Canadian social and economic issues: Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids (2000) examines the state of poverty in Canada and the effectiveness of government policies addressing poverty. The Vanishing Country (2002) addresses foreign ownership of Canadian companies and resources.
Rushing to Armageddon (2004) presents a critique of the US missile defence system and Canada’s participation in it. Hurtig’s 2008 The Truth About Canada compares Canada with other OECD countries on issues including taxation, productivity, wages, health and environmental practices. The book argues that Canada’s social reality often fails to resemble Canadians’ perceived identity, and encourages Canadians to become more politically engaged. In 2015, Hurtig self-published his last book, a treatise on former prime minister Stephen Harper titled The Arrogant Autocrat: Stephen Harper’s Takeover of Canada. The book sold more than 25,000 copies in its first two months in print.
Honours and Awards
Mel Hurtig has received much recognition for his outspoken nationalism, including six honorary degrees. He has served on the boards of numerous organizations, including as chairman of the board of the Canadian Booksellers Association. He received the Royal Society of Canada’s Centenary Medal (1986) and the Lester B. Pearson Man of the Year Peace Award (1988), and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1980.