MONTREAL (Nov. 18)
Paul Martin Jr. will become Canada’s new prime minister in about four weeks, but he remains a mystery to many Canadians.
Elected last weekend at the leadership convention of Canada’s Liberal Party, Martin will replace Jean Chretien when the prime minister retires Dec. 12.
Martin, 65, is not well known among Canadian Jews, though he has been rubbing elbows with Jewish leaders for many years.
The son of the late Paul Martin Sr., a Franco-Ontarian who made his mark with the Liberal Party during the 1960s, Martin Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps — and gone even further.
Martin Sr. won 10 consecutive elections during a 33-year political career, representing the district of Essex East in Windsor, Ontario. He served as Canada’s health and welfare minister, but twice failed to win the post he wanted most: leadership of the Liberal Party.
Now his son has accomplished that goal.
Before being elected party leader, Martin, a fiscal conservative, had made his mark with the Liberals.
As finance minister under Chretien, Martin — a member of Montreal’s business elite as the millionaire owner of Canada Steamship Lines — tamed the federal deficit in a landmark 1995 budget. That budget cut spending by approximately $17 billion over three years, eliminated 45,000 public service jobs and reduced employment insurance benefits and business subsidies.
The moves had a disastrous impact on the nation’s social programs, but the public loved the fiscal results.
Now a member of Parliament from Lasalle-Emard in Montreal, Martin is a devout Roman Catholic who attends church regularly and who is said to be impatient, have a fiery temper and be very inquisitive.
He has been married for 38 years and has three grown children.
Martin’s curiosity, which drives him to listen to what others are saying and to ask pointed questions, makes him a good choice for prime minister, one Jewish community leader said.
Three months ago, when Martin met with Jewish community leaders over brunch, he expressed an interest in issues related to the Middle East. He asked the community leaders questions about Israel’s positions and the position of the Montreal Jewish community.
“We told him that it was time the Canadian government made strong statements regarding the Middle East,” said Joseph Gabay, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Quebec region.
Gabay said Martin “was very open to us and stated that Israel has the right to live in peace and the duty to protect its citizens. He made it clear that he wants to understand the situation, and proved it by his many questions. I think he has what it takes to be an excellent prime minister, and so do a majority of Canadians.”
Observers say Martin isn’t shy about is making his views on anti-Semitism clear.
Martin spoke at the inauguration of the Montreal Holocaust Museum in June, and has been outspoken on issues of Jewish communal concern, including racism.
Recently, on Martin’s Internet journal, or blog, he commented on recent anti-Semitic remarks by Malaysia’s outgoing prime minister, Mahathir Mohammed.
“Late last week, I was on the road in Alberta when I heard of comments from Mahathir Mohammed, Malaysia’s prime minister, directed at the world’s Jewish peoples, that can only be described as hateful, hurtful and deeply offensive,” Martin wrote.
“In my view, it is important to speak out against such comments — if for no other reason than to make clear that, from Canada’s perspective, this is unacceptable. It is hate-mongering and it should be called out as such without equivocation. For that reason, I was pleased to see the swift reply of my friend Bill Graham, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.”
“While it may not be the diplomatic thing to do, I believe it is also important to point out that this is far from the first inexcusable outburst from Dr. Mahathir. For years he has used language that can be barely described as code with respect to Jews,” Martin wrote.