Paul Martin (Interview)

AFTER A TUMULTUOUS 12 months in power, Paul MARTIN strides through the door looking like a man with no time to spare.

Martin, Paul (Interview)

AFTER A TUMULTUOUS 12 months in power, Paul MARTIN strides through the door looking like a man with no time to spare. He chooses an armchair in the modest upstairs sitting room at 7 Rideau Gate, a government guest house near his 24 Sussex Drive residence, shoos away his official photographer, and leans into the task of defending his record. A year and a day after being sworn in as Prime Minister, he seems eager to talk foreign policy, but is also ready with answers on hot domestic issues, from same-sex marriage to Senate appointments. Over a half hour, though, he relaxes - at least a little. After all, this is a break of sorts from the bright lights set up downstairs, where he is taping two days of year-end TV interviews. He even puts his feet up on a coffee table to discuss how he has had to adapt his micromanaging style to the demands of running the government.

The sponsorship affair, a gruelling election, learning to run a minority government - has this been your toughest year in politics?

There's no doubt there were some rough patches in the first part of the year. But I think that since the election we've hit our stride. The health agreement was a major achievement. We've done most of the work required on the cities and communities agenda. We're well advanced on the child care agenda. These are all transformational files.

In that health deal, you agreed to give the provinces a lot of money. How can you be sure they'll deliver shorter waiting times?

Essentially, we're establishing national benchmarks. The provinces are going to be establishing national objectives. They will be judged in terms of those objectives. And, of course, all governments, including our own, will be held to account by Canadians. Ultimately, we're all responsible to our voters.

You've spent an extraordinary amount of time abroad recently. Any lasting memories?

I don't know if you saw the pictures of the two schools I went to in Africa. To go off into a corner and talk to a little girl - in one case the girl spoke French, and I think we communicated. This is not an arid statistic; these are real live kids, who are so cute you want to pick every one of them up and take them home. Many are orphans or have lost brothers and sisters. I'll tell you, that touched me like you wouldn't believe. We've got to change the world because, for these kids, it's not fair they should grow up in this world.

Such experiences inform your foreign policy?

Look, we live in a world where out of every billion in new population, 50 million are in the wealthy West and 950 million in countries where the average income is less than a dollar a day. That kind of unfairness will not last. Sooner or later, there'll be a massive rebellion against it. Our children will pay the cost because we didn't deal with it.

Has being on the road so much tired you out?

No. On every one of those trips, we accomplished a great deal. I suspect if I came back from a trip and it was a bust, I'd be tired. I've also got a pretty good constitution and I can sleep well on the plane.

You're contemplating having Canada play a role in the upcoming Iraq election. Do you think the vote should be postponed beyond Jan. 30, until there's greater order there?

It remains to be seen. This is an Iraqi election. They're going to have to make a judgment call as to their ability to hold it.

At home, same-sex marriage will surely be remembered as one of 2004's biggest stories. You struggled personally with the question. Do you now wish you'd been a leader on it rather than following the courts?

Five years ago, when there was a vote in the House during which a majority of MPs, including myself, voted for the traditional definition of marriage, the courts had not made the decision that this was contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter is a living document that evolves with society. All we have done is simply allow the references to the courts to play out. Now, it is our responsibility to carry that forward.

But shouldn't elected politicians, not appointed judges, drive this sort of social change?

Do I believe government should be ahead of the curve? Absolutely. Having said that, it's the courts that interpret the Charter.

Social Development Minister KenDRYDENis expected to deliver big things on early childhood education in 2005. Why are you focusing on nationwide daycare rather than just helping parents, no matter how they choose to raise their young kids?

First of all, this is not daycare, this is early learning and child care. We want to make sure that children are ready to excel as soon as they go to formal school, regardless of income. What Ken Dryden is doing is setting up that national program with the provinces. This doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing other things, but we are breaking new ground here. But should one have a broader view? Of course.

In the election campaign, you promised to add 5,000 troops to the armed forces. Some now say that would cost too much. Is it doable?

It's doable, but over the course of the mandate. There is not the money there today, but I think those troops are required. Unfortunately, you can't do it overnight. It's more important to do it right.

Sticking with defence, what more do you need to know to come to a decision on whether or not Canada should join the U.S. national missile defence program?

We have certain principles, one of which is no weaponization of space. We have to make sure we have a voice, and not an illusory voice. We understand the Americans are putting this up for their defence, but there have to be structures that say we have a voice. Until we have the answers to those questions, we're not going to make a decision. People are saying, 'Make the decision now.' Well, I'm sorry, I'll make the decision when it's in Canada's interest to make the decision. I won't make it before.

There are now 15 empty Senate seats. Last month, Alberta voters unofficially elected three candidates for their province's vacancies. Do you plan to appoint those candidates?

We do consult, but the final decision is ours, and that's the way it goes. And that's the way we'll proceed until such time as we have comprehensive Senate reform.

As finance minister, you were known for taking a personal role in hashing out just about every decision, and often having heated arguments with your officials. Have you had to adjust your style as Prime Minister?

Am I able to get in there and debate thoroughly every issue and throw things? No. When I was at finance, 10 people could get around a table, have a huge argument, make a decision and go with it. Now there aren't 10 people I can sit around with and argue the thing. It's too big.

So, what I've had to do - and I've had to learn this a little bit - is accept that there are only four or five issues that I'm going to be able to engage in fully. So I engaged fully in health care, and now I've withdrawn somewhat. I'm always going to be fully involved in foreign policy. I'll get involved in child care and cities, but then I'll withdraw and move on to the next issue. I've got to be much more targeted in the degree that I'm really in there.

There have been reports that 24 Sussex Drive is run down and drafty. Is it true that you and Mrs. Martin have to bundle up to sit in the kitchen for breakfast?

Basically, my life is, I come in late at night, I go to bed, I get up in the morning and go to work. The house has a lot of character, and I don't notice anything else about it.

Are you concerned that your government could fall this spring, maybe over the issue of the budget?

We're not looking for an election. We want to govern. If we go into an election early, it will be because the opposition has pushed us into one. Would I prefer to have a majority government? Yes. I think the country would benefit if we didn't have this uncertainty about when we're going to have an election. But I think things are working out fairly well. It will be interesting to see how the budget unfolds.

Maclean's December 27, 2004