Paul Martin's stunted imagination

One year on, do we have a prime minister yet?

When I decided to write a book on Paul Martin I wasn't aiming at abiography — just a political profile so that Canadians would know somethingabout their apparent next prime minister. But I guess I expected that alongthe way I would discover what made him tick. I would collect all the stuff of hiscareers — quotes, decisions, opinions of others, the people he chose toassociate with — and then work backwards to discover his essence: thatwhich drove him to relentlessly pursue Canada's top job.

But I never found it.

I concluded that it wasn't there to find and instead tried to find out why.The answer began simply enough. Paul Martin was a corporate CEO for manyyears before he ever got involved in politics and thus entered politics withno operational set of values other than expediency. He was thequintessential CEO whose actions were dictated by the single minded pursuitof the bottom line.

That's common to all CEOs — as CEOs. But other corporate figures haveentered politics and demonstrated some core essence. Even Brian Mulroney,who loved to please the powerful, was genuinely moved by the plight ofAfrica. But nothing seems to actually move Paul Martin. It's as if that partof our prime minister just never developed, like a limb that atrophied.

When he made political speeches, of course, it sounded as if he had a vision,especially during the Liberal leadership campaign: “This leadership race isabout the future and the changes we need to make as a country. It is aboutembracing new ideas and charting a new course. I want to lead a newgovernment with a renewed sense of purpose....”

But these, it turns out, were the words of Hollowman. There was nosubstance. Now there is just drift in the direction that is easiest,unfettered by principle, affected only by the hard political facts on theground, a minority government. This is true even in the area where Martindid hint at substance: creating a bold new role for Canada “in the world.”

In Iraq, Martin had the opportunity to build on what Canadians have becomeincreasingly proud of: the fact that we did not join this criminalbloodletting. But did Martin state that he was with the people of Canada?No. When asked by CNN if Canada would consider sending troops to Iraq,Martin said we didn't have enough. Pressed on whether he would not or couldnot send troops, Martin repeated his answer, implying that he would sendthem if we had them.

In Haiti, Martin shamed Canada by joining a U.S.-led coup against the electedgovernment of Jean Bertrand Aristide, a kind of Iraq-lite that he obviouslyhopes will not be noticed by Canadians. Martin recently hosted a conferenceof some 400 of Haiti's diaspora élite living in Canada, aiming to legitimizepuppet Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue. No principle discernablehere, just the worst kind of real politic in the interests of “investors.”

On missile defence, again the prime minister could have stood on principleand with the majority of Canadians who know this scheme won't work, isirrelevant to Canada's security needs, threatens to start a new arms race,is designed even in its rudimentary stage as a potential offensive weaponagainst foreign satellites, and is based on the absurd premise that acountry would willingly commit mass suicide by attacking the U.S. PaulMartin has not yet joined the coalition of the idiots. But his constantdancing around the issue is so embarrassing that even if he does eventuallystay out, he will get no credit for it, because it will not be a principleddecision.

As if to underline just how close Canada is getting to George Bush'sdisastrous policy in the Middle East, Martin has indicated that Canada willnow move closer to Israel in the struggle that is pivotal to peace in theregion, and key to convincing Muslims world-wide that the West is not at warwith Islam. This move is unforgivable opportunism especially at a time whenPalestinians are looking for reassurance from the West that choosing amoderate for their new President might actually lead to peace.

Paul Martin and his group of hard-ball loyal advisors spent so longachieving power that they lost their capacity to imagine how to use it — thatis, how to govern a nation. Ironically, it is the minority situation thathas led to Paul Martin's only public policy successes: medicare and childcare. It is ironic because these initiatives were taken not on principle but,again, in the interests of political power.

Is one year too soon to judge? Perhaps. But if Paul Martin ultimately failsto make a significant mark as a Canadian prime minister it will be due tohis failure of imagination. A man with no essence is obliged to look toothers for substance. Usually, that is a recipe for mediocrity.

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