New book examines Paul Martin's record as a guide to the future

April 26, 2004

Ottawa--Canadians remember Paul Martin as the man who slew the deficit dragon "come hell or high water. " He fulfilled that promise by making the largest non-military public program cuts in Canadian history.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives today released "Hell and High Water," the most comprehensive assessment to date of the new Prime Minister's record as Finance Minister and its implications for the future. Ten policy experts examine major aspects of his record--debt and deficit, tax, economic, social, environmental, federal-provincial, and international.

Paul Martin has promised as one of his top priorities, to repair the damage to Canada's social foundations, which, ironically, is also a legacy of his budgets. Where will he take the country? How will Paul Martin, Prime Minister, be different from Paul Martin, Finance Minister? Will his deficit hero image hold up as the era of fiscal surpluses continues in ever starker contrast to the reality of crumbling public infrastructure. How long will the cold comfort of small government--his most important legacy to date--be tolerable as the price to pay for the social disintegration of the last decade? Hell and High Water seeks to shed light on these questions.

What the authors of "Hell and High Water" are saying about Paul Martin's Record:

"The hallmark of Paul Martin's permanent revolution is the permanent devolution of responsibilities: passing the buck (but not the bucks) on to lower levels of government and, ultimately, onto individuals. It implies continued under-investment in health care, early childhood education, and our cities. It undermines the very nature of the federation. It strangles community capacities and individual opportunities." Armine Yalnizyan

"Instead of concluding that Martin is a hero for leading Canadians in an epic battle to eliminate the deficit (a battle which, after all, 18 OECD countries in total accomplished), perhaps we should be asking why he implemented such dramatic reductions in government programs that have been enduringly painful, yet, in retrospect, were unnecessary. Our new Prime Minister might then be wreathed in a different aura indeed." Jim Stanford

"His [$100 billion] tax policy "coup" etched in stone his vision of a smaller, less influential federal government in a way that none of his actions in the previous five years could have done... ...Martin's move to slash capital gains taxes...put the finishing touches on a tax plan so disproportionate in its favouring of the highest-income taxpayers that it would have made Brian Mulroney's notoriously pro-business Finance Minister, Michael Wilson, blush." Hugh Mackenzie

"As a result, one legacy of Martin's time in Finance is weaker municipal services, even in areas that do not fall under federal jurisdiction, such as municipal infrastructure...As Finance Minister, Martin engineered the spending cuts and offloading that threw cities into crisis. Martin is now dining out on a promise to solve a crisis that he, more than anyone, created." Todd Scarth

"Incomes have improved modestly, but wages have stagnated and income inequality has greatly increased. The social wage has been cut deeply, and insecurity has risen. The Canadian economy remains weak in terms of its ability to support well-paid jobs into the future. Martin's [economic] record needs to be debated rather than uncritically celebrated." Andrew Jackson

The Chretien/Martin record on social policy, with some notable exceptions, was a very neglected part of the complete legislative agenda. The overall proof is in the pudding of unacceptably high sustained levels of poverty and widening inequality in Canada. John Anderson

Reducing the deficit, "come hell or high water," did leave Canada's treasured Medicare system treading dangerous waters. A Minister of Finance truly concerned about Medicare would have allocated every available surplus dollar to shore up the heavily burdened program..." Cindy Wiggins

"The bottom line is that those who care about environmental issues can hold out some hope that Paul Martin will become the knowledgeable and enthusiastic environmentalist he always claimed to be. But they should also expect him to continue to be the political opportunist he always was. " Dale Marshall

"[Martin's] economic integration agenda [with the US] will closely parallel that of his big business allies, The biggest difference is that he will avoid any "Big Idea" approaches. He will move step-by-step, below the radar where possible...He will move carefully, given public sensitivities about becoming more closely tied to the U.S. and subservient to its interests, and about his big business connections." Bruce Campbell

"Throughout those years of engagement on [third world] debt issues, Paul Martin seemed to be a man struggling with two visions. On the one hand, he could advocate for socially progressive policies like debt relief. On the other hand, his personal predilection for market ideology would not allow for debt cancellation without adherence to stringent neo-liberal economic conditionalities imposed by the IMF and World Bank." Joe Gunn