Paul Martin Sr.: 'A Good House of Commons Man'

By Donaghy, Greg | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Paul Martin Sr.: 'A Good House of Commons Man'


Donaghy, Greg, Canadian Parliamentary Review


Most remembered today for his leadership ambitions and signature programs from ministries he led, Martin was widely regarded as a strong parliamentarian and a 'good House of Commons man' in both government and opposition.

Born over a century ago, Paul Martin Sr. is mostly remembered today for his strong attachment to his Windsor Ontario area riding and his vaunting ambition--he ran unsuccessfully for Liberal Party leader three times. Older Canadians might recall his major accomplishments: Canada's first citizenship act in 1946, the introduction of universal old age pensions in 1951, and laying the foundations for today's health care in 1956-57. He served as Secretary of State for External Affairs from 196368. But few now remember his deep commitment to Canada's Parliament, where he served from 1935 to 1974, or his reputation as "a good House of Commons man."

First elected in Essex East in 1935 (and re-elected in the next nine general elections), Martin was a shrewd and effective parliamentarian. Nicknamed "The Cardinal," he came into his own over the next decade and was a dominant House presence. Courteous and good-humoured, balancing every partisan riposte with soothing compliments, he rarely yielded ground willingly. When Tory MP General George Pearkes tackled him in committee, the General knew what was coming: "Now he's going to reply and I know what hell do. Hell praise my war record and what I have done in other fields, and then hell throw everything at me but that bust of Mackenzie King in the committee room." Margaret Aitken, Toronto columnist and Conservative MP, described Martin as the most "adroit" minister at handling probing Opposition members. "He manages to turn the question around so it becomes a plug for his department," she complained. "Every answer is a miniature speech."

Arthur Ford, the veteran editor of the London Free Press, thought him "the best orator in the present house. …

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