Thursday, February 02, 2006

Martin's final press conference as PM (and some final thoughts on P.M.)

This afternoon Martin met with the media a final time as the PM and leader of the Liberals. On the surface Martin appeared relaxed with no overt display of emotion. But to my eyes, he appeared more muted than usual with a somewhat hangdog expression on his face (as you would expect from a party leader after an upset electoral defeat). But at the same time he did seem to be at ease with himself,and at times almost jovial. He gave his standard spiel about being optimistic about Canada's future and proud of his own accomplishments:
We leave a country in very strong economic shape, in fact, one of the strongest of the industrial world, a country that clearly has the wind in its sails. Canadians are optimistic, with every reason to be so... I think that we accomplished a great deal, and I feel very proud of what my government and what my caucus and what Canadians have done

Martin also cited the Kelowna Accord, the health accord negotiated between the provinces, and funding for childcare as noteworthy accomplishments of the Liberals while he was leader.

Given the short time he had in the PMO, and the fact that his hands were often tied as a minority leader, this isn't an insignificant list of accomplishments. To many people, the agenda of the Martin government may have seemed to be lacking in focus, but the fact is that his government was able to push forward some badly needed legislation on a variety of fronts. Ultimately Martin's reign will be viewed by most as a political failure, but he did demonstrate the capacity to carry out the administrative duties of the PMO as well as any previous prime minister. I think many people out there will agree that one of his major flaws as PM was that he left the 'politics' to his heavy-handed hacks, while he himself focused on formulating and implementing new policy. A leader out of tune with his political wing rarely lasts long or succeeds in contemporary democratic politics.

During the press conference Martin also stated he had no regrets about calling the Gomery inquiry. He stated that it was an ethical necessity, even if it may have been politically harmful. While some Liberal cynics will dismiss this as Martin attempting to sidestep a major political miscalculation, I personally take his comments at face value. I believe Martin when he says that his primary motivation for calling Gomery was to improve governmental ethics. I don't think calling Gomery was primarily a move to mitigate the fallout of the scandal. Yes, many of his closest advisors were probably primarily motivated in supporting the inquiry because it was a chance to purge the party of Chretien's influence, but Martin himself committed himself to the process on ethical grounds. The major political mistake the Martinites made during the sponsorship scandal was not calling the inquiry, rather it was the complete failure to put the scandal into any sort of context. At the very least they should have occasionally pointed out the following: 1. The scandal occurred at a very sensitive time in Canadian politics, 2. The motivation behind the sponsorship program was Canadian patriotism, 3. Not all of the sponsorship funds were lost to corruption. The public perception of any long-term political event is constantly being revised by the messages they here in the media. If the Martinites had periodically put the scandal in context during the inquiry then it would have provided some mitigating factors for why such a mismanaged and wasteful program was ever put into place. Of course they never did this, and most of the blame for this has to fall on his political advisors who are ones primarily responsible for managing the public image of the party.

One of the more interesting exchanges of the press conference concerned Martin's image during the election. A reporter asked whether the Canadian public got to see the true face of Paul Martin during the campaign. Martin essentially responded by saying that he had no clue what the public perception of him was, adding that the reporter probably had a better idea of what the answer was than Martin himself. I think this speaks volumes about the man, and gives us some insight on why he hasn't performed well as a political leader. He's consistently avoided showing his private self to the public, ever reluctant to share his private thoughts and feelings. He would probably deny this by say that his private self is reflected in the policy and decisions he made. But that just doesn't cut it, in the end the public wants to feel that they have seen the unvarnished side of a leader on occasion. The public needs this in order to trust and develop a personal connection with the leader (I talked about this during the election in a previous post). It appears as if Martin simply failed to understand the power of a personal connection in modern politics.

One thing you have to give Martin some credit for is demonstrating loyalty and tact- something he's shown time and again as political leader (and considering the ineptitude his advisors displayed, was arguably a factor in his downfall). During the press conference Martin never said anything negative about his advisors and only had praise for the good work they've done during his time in office.

He spoke briefly about his future plans, indicating that he would be interested in working for the UN commission on private sector development- an agency devoted to increasing foreign investment in the developing world. I expect Martin will be granted his wish, and will have the opportunity to play stateman on the international scene. It's been a lifelong dream of his to work for the economic development of the third world, and he'll probably do an excellent job in representing Canada on that front. I imagine he'll have a lot more success dealing with foreign diplomats and UN officials, then dealing with the Canadian public as PM.


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