The story’s always the same these days when Paul Martin slips into the news again. Mr. Dithers (the media moniker for the former PM) is forgotten and St. George, the fearless deficit-slaying finance minister, rides boldly across the stage.
And so it was last week when Martin’s official, Mulroney-like, portrait was unveiled on Parliament Hill.
“He confronted a fiscal crisis in this country, one that was on the verge of crippling our economy,” said Trudeau II echoing the main media fable about Martin.
“His bold choices were right for the time and ended up paying dividends that we still see to this day,” Trudeau continued.
Oh yeah, “dividends” like record student debt, below-poverty-line welfare rates and a critical shortage of affordable, public housing — all legacies of the fearless St. George and the Harper Conservatives who gladly followed his neo-liberal, hell or high water trail.
Or maybe by “dividends” the well-heeled Justin meant Martin’s multi-billion dollar tax giveaways to corporations and the lucky members of Canada’s elite 1% club.
Canada’s greatest finance minister
The silliest media piece on the unveiling was penned by the CBC’s Neil Macdonald. He recalled riding with the finance chief in the cheap seats on a commercial airliner headed westwards while some backbench MPs sipped champagne and yukked it up in business class.
Macdonald asked Martin if it wasn’t a weird scene especially since some of the backbenchers were Reform Party members who had denounced such business class travel.
He just shrugged, and put on that rueful grin of his, and went back to the pile of business on his lap.
Rueful. That was always his look. Almost apologetic, somehow.
As usual, Macdonald goes on to observe that St. George’s budget slashing “worked.”
Martin began running surpluses for the first time in a quarter century. Five consecutive surpluses, which shrank the debt and, yes, allowed restoration of program spending.
Well, not exactly. In 2000, Martin delivered the biggest tax cuts in history while maintaining federal spending as a proportion of the economy at the low levels not seen since the late 1940s and early 50s — well before the advent of federal-provincial social programs in health, education and welfare.
And as for his flying in the cheap seats, Macdonald appears to have forgotten that in 2003, Robert Fife, then Ottawa Bureau Chief for CanWest News Service reported:
Paul Martin flew on private corporate jets of some of Canada’s wealthiest businessmen for pleasure and business during his years as finance minister.
The trips were not publicly declared as required under federal conflict of interest rules.
According to Fife, the ethics commissioner privately OK’d Martin’s flights on the grounds that his benefactors were personal friends.
Neil Macdonald writes that during the unveiling ceremony, Martin “was referred to as the greatest finance minister in our history.”
Although Macdonald doesn’t say who uttered those words, maybe it was one of those high-flying capitalist benefactors, perhaps Paul Desmarais Jr. of Power Corp, the french-frying McCains or Gerry Schwartz of Onex Corp, grateful that their St. George had kicked the shit out of those disgusting, weak-kneed types who shamelessly fed at the troughs of welfare-state entitlement.