It started with lofty ideals. Founded in November, 1992, the National Party of Canada was supposed to fight the good fight for economic nationalism, grassroots democracy and ethics in government. But since last fall’s federal election, in which its candidates fared dismally, the party has been riven by political infighting—much of it centred on a fierce power struggle between two of its founding members, Edmonton author Mel Hurtig and Winnipeg millionaire William Loewen. Last week, after a raucous meeting in Toronto, the party’s
executive council, led by vice-president Bill Stephenson, voted to disband the organization—an action that the party’s Vancouverbased president, Dan Whetung, later described as illegal. Both executives, meanwhile, claimed to have expelled the other from serving in any official capacity with the National party. “This is no longer a party,” Stephenson told Maclean’s. “This is a family bitterly divided upon itself.”
The acrimony last week seemed a far cry from the optimism that prevailed when Hurtig, Loewen and about 40 other ardent
nationalists gathered in Ottawa to launch the National party. To signal its independence, the new party made a point of refusing all donations from trade unions and corporations. But it later accepted a $4.7-million donation from its founding president, Loewen. There was no danger of Loewen exerting undue influence, explained party leader Hurtig, because the businessman was “one of the most altruistic men I’ve ever encountered.”
But following the election result—the National party ran 171 candidates, including Hurtig and Loewen, but won less than two per cent of the vote and no seats—the two co-founders had a serious falling-out. Last spring, an Ontario judge rejected a legal challenge by Loewen aimed at wresting control over the party’s executive from Hurtig and his supporters. In June, Hurtig beat back a leadership challenge by a Loewen-supported candidate—but not before Loewen had circulated an open letter to the membership accusing Hurtig of being dictatorial and opportunistic. Then, on Aug. 29, Hurtig abruptly resigned the leadership, complaining that the party was “in disarray” and that neither he nor Whetung, who was elected president in June, could obtain satisfactory information about the party’s finances from other executive members.
Whetung repeated that charge last week, stating that Stephenson and others had refused to show him the party’s financial records—including an accounting of what had happened to $480,000 worth of Elections Canada rebates. He also insisted that the party was not dead, despite the executive’s motion to disband it. Stephenson said that Whetung had been shown all of the party’s financial records and accused him of waging a campaign of “unsupported, unsupportable allegations, scandals and outrage.”
Hurtig, meanwhile, seemed determined to stay above the fray. The events of last week, he told Maclean’s, were tragic, “but unfortunately it’s a tragedy dominated by farce.” The former publisher added that although he was saddened by the apparent destruction of the National party, he was also greatly relieved to no longer be part of what he called “the nonsensical, inane infighting.” And while some may seek to revive the party, Hurtig has no interest in being part of that effort. The author of the recent bestseller, The Betrayal of Canada, Hurtig said that he has two new books under way and that he now intends to stick with the power of the pen.
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