Canadian Prime Minister
Born Paul Edgar Philippe Martin, August 28, 1938, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada; son of Paul Joseph James (a legislator and cabinet official) and Eleanor "Nell" Martin; married Sheila Ann Cowan, 1965; children: Paul, Jamie, David. Education: University of Toronto, B.A., 1962; earned law degree from the University of Toronto, 1965.
Office—Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington St., Ottawa K1A 0A2, Canada.
Merchant seaman and oil–field worker in Alberta, Canada, c. 1962–64; European Coal and Steel Community offices, assistant in the legal department; Power Corporation, special assistant to the president, 1965; vice president after 1969; Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., president, 1973, co–owner, 1981–88, owner, 1988—; elected to Canada's House of Commons from the riding of LaSalle–Émard, Montreal, Quebec, 1988—; Minister of Finance in the cabinet of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, November, 1993–June, 2002; elected Liberal Party chair, November, 2003; sworn in as prime minister, December 12, 2003.
Paul Martin fought a long, bitter battle to become head of Canada's Liberal Party that even cost him his post as the country's Finance Minister. One of his party's more conservative policy–makers, Martin won the leadership post after a long, strategic insider campaign against veteran Liberal Party chair Jean Chrétien, prime minister since 1993. Martin became Liberal Party leader in November of 2003, and weeks later was sworn in as the twenty–first prime minister of Canada.
Martin belongs to a relatively rare breed in Canadian politics: a political dynasty. He was born in 1938 in Windsor, Ontario, the border city that elected his father, also named Paul Martin, to represent it in Ottawa's House of Commons in 1935. Martin senior went on to a distinguished career in Liberal Party politics as one of its more left–leaning members, and would serve in the cabinets of four prime ministers. He was instrumental in the creation of postwar Canada's national health–care system, which provided universal coverage to all Canadian citizens, and he was a leader in the effort to eradicate polio in the country, after his own son survived a bout with the disease. Twice the senior Martin made a bid for the Liberal leadership at party conventions, which could have made him prime minister—in Canadian politics, the party that wins a majority of seats in the legislature forms the mandate, or government—but lost to Lester Pearson in 1958 and Pierre Trudeau a decade later.
As a youngster, Martin lived in Windsor but moved to Ottawa with his family, which included a sister, in 1945 when his father became Canada's federal Health and Welfare Minister. His parents believed it best that he become bilingual, and he was sent to a French school in the federal capital. Politically astute even at a young age from campaigning alongside his father, he once caused a minor schoolboy incident when he threw stones at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa during the tense Cold War years. In 1957, he entered St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto, finishing five years later with a degree in philosophy and history. Before entering law school, he spent time in Canada's merchant navy and worked in an oil field in the Alberta province. He took a less taxing position at one point with the European Coal and Steel Community in Luxembourg—a forerunner organization of the European Union—in its legal department. By 1965, he had finished his course at the University of Toronto Law School and married Sheila Cowan, whose father was a partner in his own father's law firm.
Martin began his career as a special assistant to Paul Desmarais, a friend of his father's and a man often referred to as Canada's wealthiest citizen. Desmarais was the force behind the creation of the Power Corporation, an immense conglomerate with stakes in the pulp and paper industry, the media, public transport, and insurance services. By 1969 Martin had risen to a vice presidency at the Montreal–based giant, and four years later Desmarais put him in charge of one of its subsidiaries, Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. (CSL). Martin worked to improve the flagging finances of the shipping company, and in 1981 he and a business partner bought CSL for $116 million. They had to borrow the funds for the purchase, and interest rates were above 20 percent at the time. On the day that Martin signed the loan papers, a well–known Wall Street analyst predicted that rates might rise as high as 30 percent. "I gambled everything that interest rates had reached their peak," Martin recalled in an interview with Anthony Wilson–Smith in Maclean's. "If they had continued to rise, I was cooked."
Fortunately for Martin, interest rates fell, and in 1988 he was able to buy out his original partner and become sole owner of CSL. That same year, however, he ran for and was elected a Member of Parliament (MP) as the Liberal Party candidate from Montreal's LaSalle–Émard riding, as electoral districts are called in Canada. The party was the official opposition at the time, with its rival, the Progressive Conservative Party (PC) in power since 1984 under Brian Mulroney. In June of 1990, Martin made his first bid to chair the Liberal Party at its leadership caucus in Calgary. He came in second to Chrétien, a veteran politician with several cabinet posts on his resume by then. In 1993, Chrétien took the Liberals to a major victory in national elections, and named Martin his new Minister of Finance.
As a federal minister, Martin avoided charges of a possible conflict of interest over his ownership of CSL by handing over the reins of his company to his sons. He concentrated on improving Canada's ailing economy, which was on the verge of a serious crisis by 1994: its generous social programs were draining resources, and economic growth was stalled because the country's higher corporate tax rates discouraged new investment. By 1995, the federal government was saddled with a $26 billion deficit, and Martin announce a program of drastic cutbacks. His work to balance Canada's budget and avoid financial catastrophe helped the Liberals maintain the majority in 1997 national elections, and the country's budget went into surplus–status the following year. By 2001, the surplus had reached an impressive $11 billion.
Political pundits had long pegged Martin as one of the likeliest of successors to Chrétien, beginning with his energetic bid for the Liberal Party leadership back as a political novice with a famous name in the 1989–90 season. Within the party itself, some believed that Chrétien was perhaps remaining too long at the top, and there came increasing calls for him to step down. A lengthy list of scandals was also blackening the Liberals' reputation as well, with members of Chrétien's government linked to apparent backroom deals that proved profitable for them or business associates who had been campaign donors. Internal strife among Liberal Party members intensified in 2000, after Chrétien led the party to a third term in power and continued on as prime minister.
In June of 2002, the battle between Martin's supporters and the Chrétien camp caused Martin to lose his post as Finance Minister. Chrétien asserted that Martin had quit, while Martin told the press that he had been fired. The break between the two seemed to accelerate the divisions within the party, and at a parliamentary caucus meeting in Saguenay, Quebec, in August of 2002, Chrétien announced he would retire from the leadership at a later, as–yet–undetermined date. Martin seemed to be positioning himself for a larger leadership role. "There is a great debate in the world about the sovereignty of nations, about how in the shadow of the United States, other nations can find their niche," he told a crowd of Liberal Party supporters in September, according to Maclean's. "Well, I can tell you that we can find ours by being the most successful nation in the world, by being a place where the best and the brightest will want to come."
Finally, it was the threat of a newly reconstituted PC that spurred Liberals to act to end Chrétien's reign. In October of 2003, the PC allied with Canadian Alliance to form a coalition. The Canadian Alliance had originally been constituted as the Reform Party, which split from the PC in the 1980s after dissatisfaction over Ottawa's policies toward the country's western provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan. On November 14, 2003, at the Liberal Party leadership convention, Martin made a bid for the party chair post, and took 94 percent of the vote. The gathering was notable for presence of Irish rock star and international political activist Bono, lead singer of the group U2, whom Martin had invited to the convention to speak to delegates about global poverty. On November 18, Chrétien announced he would leave office on December 12, 2003. On that day, Martin was sworn in as the country's twenty–first prime minister.
Martin replaced much of the Chrétien cabinet when he took office, and was obligated to set a date for new national elections before 2005. In February of 2004, a political scandal threatened to bring down his new Liberal government. Martin and his party were castigated in a report from the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, which showed that a complex system of financial transfers had enriched the business bank accounts of a number of party supporters. The so–called sponsorship scandal involved the misuse of some $75 million in funds that had been allocated for a public–relations campaign in the mid–1990s to bolster support for federalism, or a united Canada, in the province of Quebec. Over the years, the Public Works Ministry plan apparently degenerated into a number of financial transactions that moved millions from one government agency to another and provided payments to the public–relations firms—owned by leading Liberal Party donors—as commissions for the transactions. There also seemed to have been little actual public–relations work done.
Martin's first response was to peg the sponsorship scandal on a wayward cadre of bureaucrats in Ottawa, and noted that he had cancelled the program almost immediately after taking office in December. But a letter to him from a policy official in his own party dating back to 2002 surfaced in the press; in it, the colleague sounded a warning that the sponsorship program's abuses might be ruinous to the party. Martin also claimed that though he was Finance Minister during much of the time of the program, strained relations with Chrétien and his camp kept him out of the party's Quebec–strategy issues. He was also excoriated in the Canadian media for this assertion, and finally called for an official judicial inquiry. "I am sick and deeply, deeply troubled about what happened," New York Times writer Clifford Krauss quoted him as saying. "Heads will roll."
One of the first on the chopping block was Alfonso Gagliano, the former Public Works Minister under Chrétien who had recently become ambassador to Denmark. Martin immediately recalled him from the post. In late April, the Public Works Department official who had run the sponsorship program, Charles Guité, told a parliamentary–inquiry committee that in a 1994 conversation, Martin's former chief of staff in his finance ministry mentioned specific PR firms that "would efficiently distribute the sponsorship funds," according to Krauss in the New York Times. "The firms included Earnscliffe Research and Communications, a consultancy firm that included senior managers who advised Mr. Martin during his effort to wrest the Liberal Party leadership from Mr. Chrétien."
After a period of intense media scrutiny, in late May Martin finally called elections for June 28, 2004. Public–opinion polls showed that support for and confidence in the prime minister and the Liberals had dropped significantly as a result of the scandal, but the party had been working to shore up support from among younger voters with legislation designed to curry favor, such as a marijuana decriminalization bill. The parliamentary elections would pit Martin against PC leader Stephen Harper, a staunch social conservative from Alberta. Harper has supported the idea of a closer alliance, in military and economic matters, with the United States. Martin and his Liberal Party won the election but a strong showing by separatists in Quebec helped rob him of an outright majority.
Martin succeeded where his father had not: in leading the most influential political party in Canadian history. His political career had actually started at a very young age. "What I would do a lot with my dad is travel the riding with him," he once recalled, according to Maclean's journalist John Geddes. "I went to church picnics, that kind of thing. That's one of the ways that we stayed close, my dad and I. He was a tremendous constituency politician. He—probably as much as anyone—built the modern constituency organization."
BusinessWeek, December 29, 2003, p. 54.
Economist, November 22, 2003, p. 36; February 7, 2004, p. 37; March 20, 2004, p. 38.
Maclean's, December 13, 1993, p. 22; June 17, 2002, p. 32; September 2, 2002, p. 18; October 7, 2002, p. 20.
New Leader, November–December 2003, p. 9.
New York Times, February 15, 2004, p. A4; April 24, 2004; May 24, 2004.
Time Canada, December 22, 2003, p. 36; February 23, 2004, p. 12.
Time International, December 30, 2002, p. 50, p. 58.
"Canadian PM wins election but with minority government," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/americas/06/29/canada.election/index.html (June 29, 2004).
"In Depth: Paul Martin," CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/martin_paul/ (May 1, 2004).
"Liberal cabinet discusses election timing," CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2004/04/27/liberals040427 (April 29, 2004).
"Options running out for spring election call," CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2004/04/27/canada/liberalselexn040427 (April 29, 2004).
"Pundit Poll," CBC News, http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/cdnelection2004 (May 6, 2004).