With very good reason, many Canadians have been heavily critical of the U.S. and, in particular, its hapless president over the last seven years. After reading Mel Hurtig’s new book, The Truth About Canada, Canadians might want to save some of their criticism for what has been happening in this country over the last 25 years.
Covering every major topic, from poverty to culture to foreign ownership to immigration, Hurtig’s book is, almost literally, a list of the varied ways in which the Tory and Liberal regimes that have governed Canada since 1984 have hurt the country and its citizens.
Hurtig, who is also well known in publishing industry circles for illustrious stints as both a bookseller and publisher, views most of these issues from a strong nationalist perspective. As hard as it would have been to imagine a generation or two ago, that point of view is increasingly absent in Canadian political discourse. As Hurtig points out, every prime minister since Brian Mulroney, with the help of a largely complicit news media, has sold the Canadian public on the necessity and even the inevitability of free trade, corporate tax cuts, and high rates of foreign ownership of Canadian firms. Anyone who reads this book and is predisposed to disagree with those policies is likely to come away from it with a mixture of disappointment and displeasure.
That is, if anyone can make it from cover to cover. For all of its passion, The Truth About Canada suffers from a repetitive structure. Most chapters start out with a brief description – usually using statistics from a respected source such as StatsCan – of the current state of a particular issue in Canada. Then Hurtig compares the situation here to that of other developed nations. More often than not, that comparison is not flattering – naturally, or else the “truth” about Canada wouldn’t fill nearly 500 pages.
The book – perhaps fittingly, considering Hurtig’s role as the publisher of The Canadian Encyclopedia – almost works better as a reference text. Hurtig has managed to identify and chronicle the central political narrative of Canada’s last quarter-century – how a succession of business-oriented political elites have, with the assistance of an increasingly pliant press and powerful corporate interests, eroded Canada’s social safety net and threatened its already tenuous independence in economic and foreign affairs. But he has unfortunately reduced it to a long, sad list.