Thirteen days before his 83rd birthday, Mel Hurtig is on a roll.
Last week it was American Pharoah 's victory in the Belmont Stakes, a low-odds (3-5) win that put an extra $1,000 in his pocket.
"I don't bet a lot," says Mr. Hurtig from his Vancouver home, "but I do bet on the Ryder Cup, which I always win, and the World Series, which I always win. This is the first time I have ever bet on the horses, but I took one look at that guy in the Kentucky Derby and I said, 'That guy's going to go all the way.'"
The lucky roll continued this week with word that his book on a very different sort of pharaoh – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper – has hit the 25,000 mark in sales, a truly remarkably tally for a self-published book that Mr. Hurtig didn't want to give to certain publishers and certain other publishers didn't want to touch.
Mel Hurtig has never pulled a punch in his long, scrappy life. The title of his slim 140-page treatise, The Arrogant Autocrat: Stephen Harper's Takeover of Canada, is all most potential readers will need, those in favour of the Prime Minister instantly turning their backs on it, those determined that Mr. Harper's nine-year run come to an abrupt end on Oct. 19 racing to the cash register to have their anger confirmed.
It is not a book that requires flap copy to entice or explain.
Mr. Hurtig storms in right off the cover, keyboard firing at anything that moves: the muzzling of scientists, the knee-capping of institutions, the gutting of Parliament, the denial of climate change, the neglect of the poverty-stricken – even taking on, with Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data filling his smoking chambers, the Harper government's longstanding claim that it has managed the economy well.
Those looking to the elected House of Commons to restore democracy, argues the author, would be sorely disappointed. The muzzling of cabinet ministers, let alone backbenchers, the tactics brought to committee work and sneaky omnibus bills, have reduced Parliament to what he calls "a largely ceremonial body."
His dislike of the Prime Minister is visceral. Every sparrow that falls is carefully noted, most sentences lacking only an exclamation point to underline the urgency.
"Not only does Stephen Harper demonstrate a lack of respect for the democratic foundations of our nation," Mr. Hurtig writes, "all indications are that he is determined to undermine or destroy them. Information is withheld, dissent is stifled and the checks and balances on government power are eroded or eliminated."
Controversial books are hardly new to Mel Hurtig – previous titles include The Betrayal of Canada, The Vanishing Country, Rushing to Armageddon – but all seven of his previous books had established publishers and, usually, excellent sales.
"I was always a McClelland & Stewart author," Mr. Hurtig says, "but when that company got sold to the Yanks I said, 'To hell with that.' There's no way, having worked for years and years against the increasing foreign ownership of the publishing industry in Canada, that I'm going to publish my next book with a foreign publisher."
So he went door knocking to the remaining Canadian publishers. Some backed off out of fear of upsetting certain departments in Ottawa. One, adds Mr. Hurtig, said, "'Yeah, should be good, but you're a little bit too hard on Justin Trudeau.' I said, 'Go screw yourself.'
"Anyway, in the end we decided to go on our own. I've never done anything like this before. I've always had a big advertising department and a big promotions department and a big sales department selling my books for me. This way we had nothing."
He did, however, have his former life. He had once owned bookstores and a publishing company himself. Hurtig Publishing out of Edmonton was once a force in Canadian publishing, best known for The Canadian Encyclopedia and the five-volume "junior" version.
In 1991, he sold his company and launched a short-lived political career as head of the National Party. He ran in the 1993 federal election in the riding of Edmonton Northwest but lost to Liberal Anne McLellan – though he did outpoll the local Progressive Conservative candidate.
After that he turned his attention to books and speeches, once again the thorn in the side of governments that he had been way back in the 1970s when he and the likes of Claude Ryan, Walter Gordon and Peter C. Newman had formed the Committee for an Independent Canada. He later helped establish the Council of Canadians and battled unsuccessfully against foreign ownership and free trade.
Peter Newman, himself a productive, best-selling author in his 80s, remains a firm supporter of Mr. Hurtig's nationalist fervour.
"Some are going to think, 'My God, that's the fifth time Mel has written that same book," says Mr. Newman. "Not so. Same subject, Canada, yes, but now we really are hollowed out – and Hurtig is one of the last and most articulate defenders of the remaining realm."
If they are a vanishing, if not vanished breed, no one has informed Mr. Hurtig. He points to the remarkable sales of a print-on-demand book and has multiple e-mails of praise and support for his latest offering.
What hope there is, he writes, lies in the possibility that Stephen Harper either loses or wins a minority, at which point Mr. Hurtig says the Liberals and NDP must form a coalition to take power. He has little faith in Justin Trudeau, whom he finds "incredibly unimpressive," but great faith in NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, whom he believes has outperformed all leaders in the Commons and has been "forceful, policy-oriented and articulate."
Approaching 83, Mr. Hurtig looks back on many battles but few victories. Foreign ownership has won the day, free trade is a reality, poverty remains.
Does he ever feel, he is asked, that he has spent a lifetime tilting at windmills?
"No, not at all," he says. "I've spent an entire life battling like hell against the sellouts in our country. I can tell you I am proud of what I've done. And most of all I am proud of the response I am getting from the young people across the country. And I can tell you they are passionate Canadians. They love this country.
"And we're going to win – we're going to beat the bastards."