While Canadian tradition dictates he’s to be forever known as the Right Honourable Paul Martin, to many the true legacy of the former finance and prime minister is one of tension and challenge. During his term, which ended after the January election of a new Conservative government, Martin faced multilateral disputes at once from students, Quebec labourers and nationalists. He’s faced hostility from all sides as allegations of corruption within the Liberal party surfaced through the sponsorship scandal and took action with the Gomery inquiry. However, despite the move of good faith, Canadians ultimately turned their backs on the Liberal party and its leader. The ex-prime minister spoke out on issues, his time in office, and gave answers to your questions:
The Concordian: Why did you decide to step down as party leader?
Paul Martin: Given that we ended up with fewer seats and that the Conservatives were going to form the government, [I felt that] the time had come to pass the torch to someone else.
The Concordian: Where do you think you failed in your term in office?
Paul Martin: People say that I tried to achieve too many things and that what I should have done is concentrate on one or two things. I just don’t share that view. I believe education, environment, healthcare, Aboriginal [Peoples] are all important. I knew we were a minority government, I knew there would be an election before the end of the normal mandate. My view was, I wanted to accomplish as much as I possibly could.
The Concordian: People say your decision to call an inquiry into the sponsorship scandal led you to lose the elections. Do you think it was an unwise political move?
Paul Martin: I think, you never make a mistake in doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences.
The Concordian: What has been the biggest surprise of your political career?
Paul Martin: It’s incredibly important that [the rest of Canada] open its heart to Quebec and recognize its place within the confederation. At the same time, I think it’s important for Quebec to understand that it is so much better off, so much stronger as part of Canada. It’s a surprise that there seems to be continuously this lack of understanding.
The Concordian: Will you run again?
Paul Martin: I’m certainly going to stay on as member of Parliament, I doubt if I’ll run again. It remains to be seen, I have not taken a final decision. I think I’m going to be spending a lot of time on Aboriginal [Peoples] issues and on Africa. I want to focus on where I can do the most.
The Concordian: People are often unhappy with the Canadian government. Do they have unrealistic expectations?
Paul Martin: I think that people were really disillusioned by the last Parliament, [by] the failure of parliamentarians on all sides to work together. It’s one of the reasons that politicians aren’t held in the highest regards. Governments make decisions and those decisions aren’t always easy, they don’t always please everybody. That’s just part of the ballgame.
The Concordian: What are the biggest problems in Parliament?
Paul Martin: The debates [in the question period] are more for the television cameras than for substance. There are better discussions on the committee [that aren’t broadcasted on television]. I think that too much in politics becomes winner takes all as opposed to trying to achieve real results.
The Concordian: What is the biggest problem facing Canada in the next 15 years?
Paul Martin: Most of my lifetime was spent in a world where there was one dominant superpower, the United States. Your life is going to be spent, over the next fifteen years, where there will be several China, India, the European Union as well as the United States. And I think the biggest challenge we have is to make sure that while we’re only 32 million people, we will be able to compete with those nations. I believe we can, but we’ll only be able to do it if we invest heavily in education, a basic human resource of the country, and we’ve got to ensure that our social programs are strong. That, and that we stay out of deficit.
The Concordian: What is your opinion on preserving our greatest natural resource, fresh water?
Paul Martin: I think water is simply part of a broader environmental agenda. I don’t think you could divorce that, and no, I don’t believe that we’re doing enough. In the last two years [our government] made substantial steps forward. If we’re able to carry through with the environmental agenda, then we would be doing the right thing in terms of our water. My biggest concern is that the current government doesn’t view it the way I do. But water is not just a Canadian issue, it’s a worldwide issue. Action has to be taken internationally as well.
The Concordian: What is your stance on the privatization of water?
Paul Martin: I’m against it.
The Concordian: What is your stance on decriminalizing possession of marijuana?
Paul Martin: I would support it. Provided they were very small amounts. That doesn’t mean legalizing it. But in terms of decriminalizing it – I don’t think that someone should have a criminal record because they got caught with a very small amount. But anybody caught with an amount that could be trafficked, I think, should be punished severely.
The Concordian: Although women make up half the population, they make up only 20 per cent of seats in the Parliament. What role should party leaders play in ensuring that more women run in the elections?
Paul Martin: I think this is a very important role of the party leader. It is a matter of great regret to me that I was not able to do more as Prime Minister. We really tried to encourage women to run, but an awful lot of it is the nomination process. Nomination processes are sometimes very expensive, rough and bruising. And unless they’ve spent a long time in politics, that process turns women off. I also think that women get turned off by behaviour in Parliament. And quite properly. I used to sit by Anne McLellan and we used to talk about this. I’ve talked to a lot of women who have said, ‘Why would I run? Look at this mess.’ You see so many NGO’s headed by women. Women want to be in public life. They just don’t want to go through the useless theatre that so much of parliament is. I don’t blame them, I think parliament has got to clean up its act.
Martin sounds off on.
“If you have a difference with the party in office, I think that switching is understandable. If your reason is simply personal ambition and not principle then I think people obviously are going to be disillusioned. Scott Bryson and Belinda Stronach, I believe, switched for reasons of principle.”
“I do believe, an election campaign is about debating the various issues. I think that it’s perfectly fair to show where you disagree with another political party. You have to distinguish between your position and the other person’s position. I don’t think that’s negative advertising. But where you simply call people names, I don’t think that makes any sense at all and I don’t think it wins votes.”
Continuing past government programs within a new government sphere.
“It shouldn’t be that with a change in government you bring a halt to major progress. I can’t believe that we’re going to allow our Aboriginal Canadians not to progress or that we’re not going to have a national child care program. [And] I can’t believe that we’re not going to take an active role in Africa. These are things that should be debated.”
Martin answers your questions
Q: What do you foresee as the future role of private enterprise within a public education system in the next 15 years? – Khaleed Juma, 22, economics.
Paul Martin: I believe that our education system should remain in public hands. I think that companies in terms of endowing universities, endowing research centres, I think that’s a good thing. I’m very much in favour of that. If you take a look at the deterioration in the European education system it is because, in fact, they’re not getting involved. But if the question is, do I believe in the privatization of our universities? No, I don’t. I believe in the public education system.
Q: What is your biggest regret from your time as Prime Minister? – Nick Bleser, 23, political science.
Paul Martin: That I wasn’t able to complete the agenda that I set out in terms of early learning and child care, the educational program, the Aboriginal [Peoples] issues and the environmental agenda. I think we made major progress but not nearly enough.
Q: What do you say to students who are disappointed that Canada did not denounce the war in Iraq as unjust on a human level? – Yassin Al Salman, 23, graduate communication studies.
Paul Martin: Canada opposed the invasion of Iraq. But once it happened, Canada’s concern is that a government be put in place in Iraq that is able to govern for the benefit of the people of Iraq and that the reconstruction of Iraq can begin.
Q: When you were finance minister, previous party spending left major budget deficits forcing you to cut money from social services and education. These cuts have been detrimental to education. In retrospect, would you still have cut money from education? – Brent Farrington, 22, urban planning and art history.
Paul Martin: There’s no doubt that Canada was in a position in 1994, 1995, that if we hadn’t dealt with the deficit we would have found ourselves very much in the hands of the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. So it was either deal with the issue then, or you would have seen drastic cuts in healthcare and education within a matter of years. So we took action when we did, in fact the action should have been taken years earlier. As a result of the action that we took, our education spending and our healthcare spending within a matter of four years had wrapped up substantially to the point where now it’s at an all time high, even taking into account inflation. Fundamentally what I believe that we did is that we saved the education system.