Paul Martin: He's Their Man

Canadian Dimension, November-December 2003 | Go to article overview

Paul Martin: He's Their Man


It is doubtful whether a decade ago fans of Paul Martin junior would have suspected he would be the one to dismantle the welfare-regulatory state. After all, this was the regime Paul's own father had taken so much credit for building up. Nevertheless, using the rhetoric of the deficit crisis as his cover, it was indeed the junior Martin who instituted the biggest cuts in program spending in peacetime history. And he was proud to do so. "Relative to the size of our economy," he boasted in his February 1995 budget speech, "program spending will be lower in 1996-7 than at any time since 1951."

Besides dismantling this country's social and regulatory infrastructure--which meant axing the Canada Assistance Plan, gutting the unemployment insurance program, eliminating the historic Crow rate subsidy for grain farmers, destroying the research and planning capacity of every branch of government--Martin also oversaw the privatization of some of Canada's oldest crown corporations. Then, when the surpluses came pouring in, he used them not to restore social programs but to engineer instead the biggest tax cut in history--with 80 per cent of the benefits going to the wealthiest 10 per cent of the population.

As Murray Dobbin shows in his excellent book, Paul Martin: CEO for Canada?, the younger Martin's earlier career working for Paul Demarais's Power Corporation was good training ground for the eventual demolition job. According to Dobbin, Desmarais soon recognized in Martin a talent for dealing with troubled companies. Paul's answer to economic problems? Close the less profitable units and slash the payroll. Martin went on to use the same management style with Canada Steamship Lines, a company he purchased from Desmarais--selling off whatever parts he deemed non-essential to the core business.

In his tenure as Canadian Finance Minister, this is also the approach he took to the overall economy--he rescued it by slashing expenditures, getting rid of "non-essential" programs and selling off everything but the core business. Clearly for Martin, the main business of government is facilitating business. Hardly surprising, given that Martin junior has always surrounded himself with Bay Street cronies and right wing economists like David Dodge--and is himself a corporate tycoon. His personal wealth is estimated at $70 million, some of that loot derived from ocean-bound CLS sweat ships flying flags of convenience to avoid Canadian taxes, minimal safety regulations and unionized wages.

As Prime Minister, Paul Martin can be expected to apply the neoliberal philosophy to fulfill the Deep Integration agenda of the CD Howe Institute and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. The DI initiative says that the Canadian state should give the U.S. what it wants and what it will take in any event--energy security and border security--in exchange for guaranteed access to the U.S. market for Canadian goods and services. That access will come in the form of a custom union that would obliterate all trade and investment obstacles between the two countries while adopting common tariff and trade policies with the rest of the world. A harmonized immigration and refugee policy is also part of the plan along with perimeter defence--with Canadian adoption of the U.S. dollar as legal tender further down the road.

The DI initiative is the final installment of the movement towards the Americanization of Canada. …

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