“Whether I agree with what he’s doing or not, Paul Martin is obviously in the top of his area,” Harper says. “He has good support within his party, he’s very popular with within the cabinet and caucus and he’s just a very good performer as well.” “Those things all make him difficult to attack.”
Harper had quite an appreciation for Paul Martin, and he made it vocal – and not just once, this isn’t an isolated incidence – there are at least 5 other quotes of fondness towards Paul Martin in the leaked compilation. It wasn’t just Harper, either, it was many on the right who had an admiration of sorts for Paul Martin, then Finance Minister under Jean Chrétien.
“The dirty secret of contempory Canadian politics,” neo-conservative David Frum wrote in 1998, “is that from the point of view of right-of-centre Canadians, the Liberals are running quite a tolerable government.” (1)
The reason for this is most obvious: under Chrétien and Paul Martin, the Liberals persisted, promoted and implemented economic neoliberalism – an assault on the public sector. Privatization, government downsizing, and of course, tax cuts.
If you noticed, Harper, and even David Frum, gave credit to the Liberals and Paul Martin well before he became Prime Minister in 2003. This is because Paul Martin had de-factor control of the economic direction of the federal government under Jean Chrétien.
Ministers and their ministries…effectively went into defensive mode….
In Chrétien’s government, Martin didn’t just decide how much had to be cut from total spending in the critically important 1995 budget; he and his senior officials actually decided how much each department would have to give up…
By allowing Martin and his financial officials to make all decisions, Chretien, in effect, handed the reins of government to his finance minister. (2)
And, boy, was Martin cruel. His budget cuts were incredibly steep. During the build-up to the 1995 budget, Martin and his staff handed sheets to each department minister with expected budget cuts as percent of spending over the next three years, and “the size of the required cuts left the ministers gasping: in many cases, they were all well above 50 per cent [reductions].” (3) For the Department of Industry, Martin expected a 60% reduction, and in conclusion, actually got around 50% budget cuts for two departments (Natural Resource and Transport).
In their 1995 budget the Grits introduced $25 billion in cuts and eliminated 45,000 jobs, approximately fourteen times the spending promises in their election manifesto, the Red Book. By 1997 Chretien’s [and Martin’s] government had downloaded roughly $6 billion to the provincial governments, an overall 30 percent reduction †.(1)
Some cuts were even steeper than Harper’s current expectations (around 30% from most departments – for example, in 2012, CBC is getting slashed 10 percent), a staggering reality*. Overall, though, they match**. Contrast to the expected loss of over 15,000 federal employees in 2012 thanks to the Conservatives.
Paul Martin appeased those on the right because Paul Martin did what those on the right wanted. Economically, there was barely any difference between the Liberal party and the Reform-then-Alliance (predecessor to the current Conservative party). Harper noticed this, too:
Only on some ‘social’ values are the Liberals and the Alliance [successor of the Reform party, predecessor of the CPC] radically different.
Admitting there are only ‘social’ values that said parties disagreed on obviously means that economically, they’re quite similar, if not identical. Indeed, the economic direction of the Liberal party then is eerily similar to the economic policy of Harper’s government now – and it’s understandable. Martin did what Harper liked.
Harper even once referred to Paul Martin as the “messiah in waiting” for the Liberal party (07/10/2002).
† Some claim it to be as much as a 40 percent reduction (5). Such cuts had dire consequences for the provinces,
Newfounland lost $73 million, the equivalent of more than half of all payment to physician; Nova Scotia lost $118, or twice the provincial spending on mental health services; Quebec saw a $1.1 billion cut, the equivalent of half of all payments for doctors’ services. Ontario took the biggest hit at $1.4 billion – twenty times the amount spent on community health centres – and Manitoba lost $139 million, the amount it takes to operate the provinces sixty-five smaller hospitals.(6)
The departments that received the smallest cuts corresponded with what neo-liberals and economic rationalists traditionally saw as the core activities of the state: justice, immigration and foreign affairs and international trade… (4)
Again, very similar to the direction of our current Conservative government.
** Martin would later lighten up on his neoliberal fever for political reasons, similarly to Harper.
(1)Laird, Gordon. Slumming It at the Rodeo: The Cultural Roots of Canada’s Right-wing Revolution. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1998. Page 123-124
(2) Dobbin, Murray. Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? Toronto: James Lorimer &, 2003. Print. Page 67-68
(3) Ibid Page 74
(4) Ibid Page 76
(5) Barlow, Maude, and Bruce Campbell. Straight through the Heart: How the Liberals Abandoned the Just Society and What Canadians Can Do about It. Toronto: HarperPerennial, 1996. Print. Page 150
(6) Dobbin, Murray. Page 78