On May 17, the interns were honoured to meet with the Right Honourable Paul Martin over coffee and chocolate tarts in a quiet room off the Legislative Assembly’s Great Hall. For many of us, Mr. Martin’s tenure as prime minister aligned with the moment we began paying attention to politics, and so this meeting held extra excitement – and we were not disappointed! Mr. Martin was warm and open, taking time to respond to each question in detail over the course of an hour. Our discussion ranged from pipeline dispute on the West Coast to the best way to manage Cabinet, but the constant theme was the importance of a responsible, honest, and open communication between the provinces and the federal government.
Mr. Martin described his time as a finance minister, and the difficult process of negotiating health care payments with the provinces. Although no province wanted to accept cuts, the eventual agreement only worked because each province felt they could trust the government to follow through on funding commitments once the government had succeeded in balancing the budget. The most important part of this equation, Mr. Martin reminded us, was to fulfil your promises; otherwise, that trust could be gone forever.
We moved on to discussing the dynamics of party leadership, and the surprisingly complex series of events that led to Mr. Martin’s succession to Mr. Chrétien. For us political junkies, this was the most exciting part, as we learned about how a new leader builds his or her team and focuses on the priorities that they see as most important. Mr. Martin concluded by asking us for our perspectives on the #metoo movement, and what changes we saw as necessary within political culture, admitting that harassment and violence in politics was a problem to which no single person had an answer. The solution, however, he posited, would come from our generation, as we sought systemic change within politics and society.
We are grateful to Mr. Martin for taking the time to meet with us, and hope that he may find time in his schedule for interns in years to come, as this meeting was extremely rewarding.