Wednesday 18 February 2009

Open Letter to Paul Martin: Help!

Dear Paul Martin,
In reading your autobiography Hell or High Water, I have been reminded of your undoubted accomplishments during your time in office, especially as Finance Minister in the 1990s when you were instrumental in bringing about (with due credit to Chretien for support of the effort) two enormous changes that benefit Canadians - the elimination of the federal deficit with significant debt reduction and the reform of the Canada Pension Plan to put it on a sound footing.

Since you are evidently frustrated at not being able to stay in power and still rarin' to go, may I suggest you consider refocusing your efforts away from African and Aboriginal development, laudable as those causes might be, to something far more important in that it affects every human being - financial reform and debt control on a global scale. Canada is unique among the major developed countries of the G7 in its low level of debt per capita. The 1990s debt reduction you started is exactly what allows the government to now launch stimulus spending with much less future negative impact on government finances than other countries like the USA which are starting from a quite high debt load.

Of course the debt reduction cannot start right away until economic recovery starts. In the meantime, there is reform of the financial system to ensure that the credit crunch "can never happen again" (to use that painfully worn expression). As Finance Minister you were willing to tell the big five Canadian banks to take a hike when they wanted to merge (keeping them small in global terms and maybe saving them from themselves?), which gives you good street cred in dealing firmly with financial institutions.

Governments around the world, starting with the biggest, our friends the Americans, will sorely need the advice of someone who actually did it, to reduce debt once the recovery is underway. As you well know, it is hard for governments to turn off the debt tap with real reductions in government spending. But that is essential since the credit crisis has shown us that it isn't enough for us Canadians to be virtuous as the errors of our neighbours come to have negative consequences on us too. Your experience could be invaluable.

So Paul, your book shows how you wanted to be Prime Minister for a long, long time and how disappointed you are that a little something out of your control named Sponsorship scandal derailed all your plans.

Maybe it could all fit together somehow. With apologies to the Rolling Stones,
"You can't always get what you want /
And if you try sometime you find /
You give what we need"
Your service to fellow man would be far greater than you ever imagined.

PS if that doesn't work out, a more modest but extremely valuable task would be figuring out how to rescue all those underfunded corporate pension funds so many Canadians depend on for retirement

PPS I was amazed to see that a former PM's book doesn't yet have a single review on Chapters or Amazon (Jean Chretien's has one)

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