NATIONAL

Martin’s makeover

The former prime minister sets out to refurbish his reputation

JOHN GEDDES October 2 2006
NATIONAL

Martin’s makeover

The former prime minister sets out to refurbish his reputation

JOHN GEDDES October 2 2006

Martin’s makeover

NATIONAL

The former prime minister sets out to refurbish his reputation

JOHN GEDDES

Paul Martin might want to stay out of bookstores this fall, or at least away from the new-releases displays. Former governor general Adrienne Clarkson’s memoir, Heart Matters, has already made headlines for the way she portrays Martin’s brief prime ministerial tenure as marred by his narrow experience in government and by the gaucherie of his allegedly sloppily dressed aides. Due out later this month is The Way It Works: Inside Ottawa by Jean Chretien’s long-time confidant and adviser Eddie Goldenberg, who actually gives his old boss’s nemesis a fair amount of credit—but gets in plenty of the expected sharp digs, too. Then, late next month, Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells, a noted Martin critic and Chrétien admirer, publishes Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper’s New Conservatism, a book not expected to rank high on the Christmas wish lists of Martin loyalists.

What’s a backbench MP to do in the face of such an onslaught? In fact, the right honourable member for Lasalle-Emard has already begun quietly laying the groundwork for at least two projects that might help refurbish his reputation. Martin is concentrating on First Nations issues, a field that certainly offers no shortage of opportunities for good works. Could it become for him what climate change is for Al Gore? Maclean’s has learned Martin has been in private discussions with business leaders about founding what a source familiar with the plan called an “Aboriginal economic development fund.” The idea is to create an investment pool entirely without public funding. As well, he is investigating the possibility of importing an innovative stay-in-school program, pioneered in tough New York City neighbourhoods, to native communities in Canada. A pilot project could be up and running in a community in northern Ontario early next year.

But if taking on the plight of native people gives Martin a chance to look forward, his once-powerful coterie is not neglecting the recent past. After keeping their heads down for the most part in the months following the Jan. 23 election loss, some members of Martin’s inner circle have begun pop-

ping up to correct what they see as unjustified attacks on the record of the man they lifted, so briefly, to the pinnacle of Canadian politics. Tim Murphy, Martin’s former chief of staff, now relocated as a Toronto lawyer, said in an interview his inclination is to “make sure the facts are right” when Martin’s record is written about.

Not every point, though, is deemed worthy of a public sparring match. Clarkson’s claim in her memoir that some of Martin’s “closest non-elected advisers” came to his Liberal government’s July 2004 swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall wearing T-shirts and running shoes set off a flurry of calls among the Martinites to see if anybody remembered the lapse in decorum. They all claim it’s not true, but several declined to get

WHILE OTHER MPS SCRAMBLE BACK TO OTTAWA,

MARTIN WILL ATTEND BILL CLINTON'S FORUM IN NEW YORK

into a public feud with the former GG over it.

That sort of restraint could be the key to refurbishing Martin’s reputation, perhaps even restoring a little lustre to the tarnished image of his old machine. After all, he’s now at the stage of easing into a new persona as elder statesman. (He gets $140,000 on top of his MP’s budget to fund activities befitting a former PM.) It won’t do to be reminding people about how competitive and combative he and his team once were.

Still, certain passages in Goldenberg’s book could well bring out their scrapping instincts. While he describes “complete co-operation” between finance minister Martin and prime minister Chrétien on the big job of tackling the deficit, Goldenberg casts Martin in an

unflattering light on several files. At various points, he remembers Martin trying to cut seniors’ benefits (Chrétien stops him), resisting foreign aid spending increases, and blocking child care funding.

But much more galling for Martin and his followers than any of these policy points will be Goldenberg’s take on the politically catastrophic sponsorship affair. Martin’s former aides view the scandal as the toxic legacy bequeathed to them by Chrétien. They view Martin’s response—appointing Justice John Gomery’s inquiry to sort out the mess—as the only chance Liberals had of persuading angry voters the party took the fraudulent misspending of millions seriously. Goldenberg disagrees. “[Martin] might have taken the approach of referring

everything to the RCMP,” he says. “Instead, Martin decided that it would be in his political interests to separate himself from his predecessor by highlighting what in fact was an isolated case of unacceptable greed, abuse, and wrongdoing by a few officials in government, a few advertising executives, and a few Liberal party organizers in Quebec, all acting on their own behalf and in their own interests.”

The bitter argument over whether Martin was dealt a losing hand or just played his cards ineptly is one aspect of the battle over his record. The Goldenberg book also details the uneasy relationship between Chrétien and Martin, outlining the elaborate steps

that staffers for each had to take simply to set up meetings and make sure they came off smoothly. And Goldenberg provides his account of the weekend Martin exited Chrétien’s cabinet, portraying Martin as indecisive at best in the way he tried to keep open the option of remaining finance minister after his own public remarks on his deteriorating relationship with Chrétien had clearly made that impossible.

Martin’s bid to make sure historians have the benefit of his own version of all this is already under way. Friends and former political allies say he spent long hours this summer holed up at his farm in Quebec, talking about his personal and political past with Sean Conway. The former Ontario provincial Liberal politician is interviewing Martin extensively on behalf of the National Archives of Canada, as well as helping organize Martin’s papers for the archives. The exercise of sifting through his memories is expected to help Martin as he sets about writing his own book, which friends say will be both a memoir and a manifesto for the future. “Paul Martin is working on a recollection of his time in public life and a look at the challenges and opportunities facing Canada,” Murphy said. He had no details on how long Martin plans to work on the book or when it might be published.

In the meantime, Martin doesn’t seem to be neglect-

ing the international network he cultivated during his high-flying decades as a millionaire shipping magnate and then a powerful politician. This week, when other MPs are scrambling back to Ottawa for the return of the House of Commons, Martin is slated to be in New York City attending the fall meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative, former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s exclusive forum for discussions among “the world’s best minds and most distinguished problem solvers.” Among the featured participants are Bill Gates and Kofi Annan—neither of whom is likely to trouble Martin by raising the subject of this fall’s crop of Canadian political books. M