After many successful years in business and public life – Paul Martin is living his dream of making a difference in the Third World; in Africa and closer to home… in Canada’s North

“After graduating with my law degree, I wanted to work in the Third World, particularly in Africa. I approached Maurice Strong with this in mind, and he told me that I should get some business experience – that Africa didn’t need attorneys as much as engineers. So I went to work at Power Corporation to get that business experience”.

Decades later, having achieved tremendous success in business as the owner of Canada Steamship Lines (one of Canada’s great companies); in politics as the nation’s longest serving Finance Minister and Canada’s 21st Prime Minister; Paul Martin is now deeply involved in Third World development in Africa; and Aboriginal development in Canada.

Moreover, it is significant that his involvement in Africa has come at the request of then United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.. These and other international politicians and diplomats became familiar with Paul Martin as Canada’s Minister of Finance, as the initiator of the G20, (the international committee of Finance Ministers); and representing Canada as Prime Minister in the G8. Having earned the confidence of his international colleagues – Paul Martin is very much in demand to apply his formidable intellect and business acumen to help the African states to develop their economies and indeed – a continental economy so that it’s citizens can look forward to a better life. He has also signed on to co-chair a fund together with Professor Wangari Maathai from Kenya, who is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. The fund was established to preserve the Congo Basin Rainforest, the second largest rainforest in the world, and an important element in the battle against global warming.

At an age when most people are well into retirement – Paul Martin has accepted the invitation to take a leadership role in Africa; and at the same time launch his own initiatives for the betterment of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. “It’s sad to say – but we have our own Third World right here in Canada. How can we honestly work in Africa and beyond; without also recognizing the plight of our own Aboriginal peoples?”

Answering his own question; Paul Martin has raised $50 million for the CAPE Fund (Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship) a private sector fund whose mission is to further a culture of economic independence, ownership, entrepreneurship, and enterprise management among Aboriginal peoples, on or off reserve through the creation and growth of successful businesses. He personally funds the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI), a charitable organization whose mission is to reduce the drop out rate among Aboriginal students and encourage them to complete their high school diploma and go on to post-secondary education.

Let’s go back to the beginning, when the boy who would become Prime Minister and a world-renowned Third World Advocate was driving around Essex County in south western Ontario on Sunday afternoons, helping his MP father to visit his constituents. “I didn’t think of it as politicking at the time – I just wanted to be with my Dad.”

Paul Martin Sr. served as the MP for Essex East for 33 years, a riding which included the city of Windsor. Across the river form Detroit, the auto industry was a major employer and influence. He had to campaign diligently to take the seat away from the Conservatives, and out of necessity and much before it became standard practice – Martin senior developed an effective riding association and volunteer network. Summers were spent at the family cottage in Colchester, on the shores of Lake Erie. “For me it was a magical place.” So special in fact that Paul made his life’s most important decision in Colchester; “Many years later I took Sheila back there and asked her to marry me.”

Paul Sr. was appointed to the Mackenzie King cabinet in 1945, (he continued to be in Cabinet under Louis St-Laurent, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau) and the Martins moved to Ottawa because of the increased demands on his time. He would travel to Windsor on the weekends to visit his constituents. However, summers were still spent at the cottage in Colchester.

Paul was seven in the summer of ’45, and he caught the polio virus. In his book, Hell or High Water, he recounts that he didn’t feel much pain; but there was great concern in the family. His father had polio as a boy, and although he recovered, Paul Sr. lost the use of his left arm and was blind in one eye. Paul recounts how a nurse used to sit with him every evening (he was in quarantine ward with other children) and how, even on her day off, she visited to comfort the lonely young boy who was away from his family.

Paul Martin Senior’s riding of Essex East was largely populated by middle-class families and auto workers. Reflecting the desires of his constituents and his own sense of fairness, Martin Sr. championed the battle for public pensions, employment insurance and health care. Paul Jr. writes that; “…this form of social Liberalism… has a deep respect for individual freedom and a belief that the state has the responsibility to open up the social, educational and employment opportunities that will enable the poor to achieve that freedom.” Paul also notes that sound finances are a necessary ingredient – something he would contribute as Finance Minister, decades later.

Paul attended the University of Toronto, and he held a variety of summer jobs in the North, developing a lifelong love of Canada’s northern frontier. It was also at U of T that he became more involved in politics as a member of the U of T Young Liberals; and worked on his father’s leadership campaign for the party on 1958. It was during law school that he became reacquainted with Sheila Cowan, who states unequivocally that she is much younger than he.

She had been a good friend of Paul’s sister Mary Ann when the Martins had lived in Walkerville. Paul asked Sheila out, they began dating, and during a visit to Colchester over Christmas in 1964, Paul asked Sheila to marry him. “The truth is that in a life blessed with luck, my greatest good fortune was to meet Sheila. I loved her when she was in her twenties; I love her even more now….she has been a wonderful companion as well as a wonderful wife.”

Now married and a full-fledged lawyer, Paul wanted to work with the United Nations or the World Bank for the betterment of the Third World – specifically Africa. “I approached Maurice Strong, who had already established a fine reputation for his unusual combination of business and development work.” Strong told him that the Third World didn’t need the services of a fledgling lawyer, and advised Paul to get some business experience first – and to that end; he offered Paul a job as his executive assistant at Montreal-based Power Corporation.

“In addition to getting my business experience, I wanted to come to Montreal and be a part of the Quiet Revolution – I wanted to live that.”

He describes his work at Power Corp. as being “a corporate firefighter”. “We’d acquire a business, strengthen it; and then operate it at a profit or sell it.” After a successful reverse takeover of the company from the founders, Paul Desmarais convinced Paul to stay for one year. Those 12 months turned into 13 years, seven in charge of Canada Steamship Lines.

“I had always wanted to be my own boss, and that opportunity came in June1981.” Paul Desmarais decided to make a bid for Canadian Pacific. Like CSL, it also had shipping and trucking components. Desmarais called Paul into his office and told him to sell CSL. “Fine; except I don’t want to sell it – I want to buy it,” was Paul’s reply. Desmarais gave him some time to put financing and an offer together, plus calling the Royal Bank to tell them that they were free to deal with Paul Martin for the transaction (the bank was also Power Corp.’s banker). Paul formulated his plan while walking over to his friend Ladi Pathy’s office. “I didn’t have much money, and I needed a partner before going to the bank for financing. I did have the advantage of knowing the company inside out.” In 20 minutes Paul outlined his plan, Pathy agreed, and the two friends shook hands. The negotiations with Power Corp would take several more months, but; “I knew I had crossed my Rubicon – there was no going back if the deal went sour.”

Canada Steamship Lines flourished under Paul Martin’s leadership, “…and we had some good luck when interest rates didn’t go as high as we had budgeted.” Still, in the back of his mind was Paul’s desire to help in the Third World. “You’ve got this dream about helping in the Third World. You ask yourself; is going to Africa the best thing – or could I help by influencing Public Policy here in Canada.” He decided to run federally, and in 1988 Paul Martin was elected member of Parliament for LaSalle-Emard.

Paul won his seat, but the party lost the 1988 election, and the Liberals became the opposition. Returning to government in 1993, Paul accepted Jean Chrétien’s offer to become Finance Minister. “We were spending 36 cents of every dollar in interest payments. We had to put our financial house in order, to curb government spending and eliminate our deficit.” Travelling to the world’s financial capitols, Paul quickly learned that Canada had a poor financial reputation in New York, London and Tokyo. Vague promises by previous governments (both Liberal and Conservative) to reduce government spending over 5 year terms hadn’t worked. “It’s too long a time period to set 5 year objectives – it just doesn’t happen. That’s why I set two year rolling objectives. The shorter time frame kept our feet to the fire; and we reduced and then eliminated the deficit. We embarked on our regulation of Canada’s Banks which certainly paid off given today’s crisis and we rescued the Canada Pension Plan.”

During his time a Finance Minister, Paul was also playing a leading role on the international stage. He established and served as the first Chair of the G20, an organization of Finance Ministers from the world’s leading economies, as well as Finance ministers from emerging countries such as India, Pakistan and China. Canada’s Paul Martin was earning the respect of the international community; including institutions such as The United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. He would soon be making a very real contribution to Africa – as Canada’s Minister of Finance.

It would come at the concurrent meetings of the G7 and IMF in Prague. “The African nations were paying more in interest than they were receiving in aid. We had been discussing debt forgiveness at the G7, but not much was happening. I told the G7 Finance Ministers delegation that we were going to take the lead. They weren’t too happy, but I made the announcement that Canada would begin forgiving African debt.” In his book, Paul notes; “The other industrialized nations began to follow our lead to accelerate debt forgiveness to the poorest countries in the world. This has made a significant contribution to the welfare of millions of people, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.”

It was in Prague after his announcement that the world-famous rocker and activist Bono asked to meet Paul. “I know there are all kinds of ‘celebrity’ activists – but Bono knows as much about Africa and the Third World as anybody.” The two have become friends, although they sometimes disagree. “I agree with 0.7 of Gross National Product as a target for foreign aid – but there’s a real problem with countries making commitments and then they don’t follow through.” Continuing, Paul states; “If we set intermediate goals of 0.25%, we could accumulate up to the 0.7% goal close to 2015.”

In his book Hell Or High Water, the former Prime Minister describes the challenges he and the party faced going into the 2006 campaign. After losing the election, he decided that it was time for the party to renew under new leadership. He was disappointed when the Harper government cancelled his year-old National Early Learning and Childcare program and the historic Kelowna Accord with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples.

As an ordinary citizen, albeit with an extraordinary ability to organize and effect business plans, Paul Martin’s phone began to ring. His colleagues from the international community saw an opportunity to recruit Canada’s now former Prime Minister. No longer PM, Paul called in his regrets that he would not be attending the World Summit of Progressive Governance in South Africa. His regrets were not accepted…. Britain’s Tony Blair and then South Africa’s President Thabo Mbecki telephoned and insisted that Paul attend.

The first call for work came from Kofi Annan, then still Secretary-General of the United Nations. “Kofi knew of my interest in Africa, and asked if I’d be Co-Chair of a panel to set a strategic direction for the African Development Bank; along with Joachim Chissano, former President of Mozambique. Africa is a continent of 53 countries, more than any other on the planet. I firmly believe that they need to establish an economic union, similar to the European model. It will take a lot of planning, but the benefits to the quality-of-life for individual citizens will be enormous.”

The next calls came from Britain’s then Finance Minister Gordon Brown (before he became PM); asking Paul if he’d Co-Chair a fund to manage the Congo Basin Rainforest, the second largest rainforest on the planet and of key importance in the fight against climate change. With proper planning and organization, there are tremendous revenue opportunities for carbon credits to flow to the countries in the Congo basin. By the end of their conversation Paul had signed on. “I guess I’m finally fulfilling that dream of helping out in Africa.”

“Canadians have a highly developed interest in the third world – and that’s admirable,” Paul states during our conversation. “But you know – we have our own Third World right here at home. We have a long list of broken promises and enormous unfairness to our Aboriginal Peoples.” In his book, Paul notes that “…native peoples signed treaties believing that they would not be betrayed. Time and time again…we dishonoured ourselves.” Powerful and eloquent words from a man of action.

“I can’t in all conscience do this work in Africa if I didn’t do something here in Canada for our native peoples. The fastest growing segment of Canada’s population is Aboriginal Youth, and yet we spend less per capita on their education than we do on non-aboriginal youth.” Paul has set up an investment fund; Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship (CAPE). He raised $50 million to establish the fund and get it operational. “The idea is to invest in aboriginal businesses, and also to provide one-on-one mentorship.”

At the fund launch in March 2009, he stated: “Right across the board, the heads of the largest corporations in this country said that they were not prepared to turn their backs on young aboriginal Canadians. I’ve never been prouder to be a Canadian!”

Aboriginal education is another issue requiring attention – with 24% of aboriginal youth not graduating from high school – compared to 16% for the general population. One of the problems lays in the limited resources available to Northern teachers, often working with little support. Paul had learned about Steve Mariotti, a South Bronx teacher with a business background; who recognized that kids with ‘street smarts’ could convert that intellectual capacity to academic and business smarts. He asked Dr. Carlana Lindeman, and expert in Aboriginal education from Thunder Bay to visit Steve in New York and evaluate the possibility of adapting a similar teacher training program for Northern teachers.

The initial pilot program has received positive evaluation form Lakehead University in Thunder Bay as well as the provincial Ministries of Education. The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI) program is now well underway in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Regina and is working to provide Aboriginal students the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship while completing their high school diploma and go on to post-secondary education. Our local business community partners support the program through mentoring and job shadowing.

At an age when most people are into serious relaxation, Paul and Sheila Martin will be heading to Africa twice this fall; where Paul will be intensely involved in the two African projects. At the same time he will be monitoring progress at CAPE Fund and The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative; and when necessary – working the phones to maintain his networks of national and international contacts in the public and private sectors. However, with a well-established reputation based on past and current performance – leaders of countries, international organizations; and the global business community are all pleased to take a call from Paul Martin.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Martin invited me to make liberal use of his book, Hell Or High Water, (McClelland & Stewart) which I had read before our meeting. I did just that – many of the quotes are from the book. It’s a fascinating and inspirational read; providing an inside look of the challenges we faced with our domestic finances, how they negatively effected our international reputation, and how Canada can play a positive role in international diplomacy.

Judged by his actions; it’s a story of a person of high integrity. Throughout his career in business and politics, Paul Martin followed the best courses of action – not necessarily the easiest.

And while he doesn’t compare himself to others, Hell Or High Water provides a standard by which we can measure our present and future elected officials. Perhaps also to have a look at ourselves and the role we as individuals and a people want to play in our communities – and the larger world community of nations.

A great read! Hell or High Water will be available in paperback this coming Fall.

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