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Paul Martin, thus far - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER - So, who is Paul Martin? Sure, he's Prime Minister, but what is he politically? The platitudes of the campaign trail aside, as well as his first Throne Speech today, what are his plans? What drives him? From whence does he come? After success in the business field, why politics? Why indeed.

When observing politicians from this standpoint, one naturally looks for perspective about those who occupy our political consciousness. The need to look beyond newspapers or television to books is necessary for something definitive. The book industry knows this and sure enough this past fall, around the time of Martin's ascension to the Liberal leadership, thus 24 Sussex Drive, three books appeared ready to ready readers with an up-to-date précis on the man who still remains very much ambiguous, even an enigma. This does not mean that Marin is devoid of any meaningful achievements. On the contrary, Martin has had many tangible achievements to point to, least of all his ten years as finance minister. Yet two books do a lot at shedding light into who Paul Martin is, and what lead him to where he finds himself today.

Paul Martin: The Power of Ambition by John Gray (Key Porter, 2003) is written as a biography about the life of Paul Martin, what made the man into what he is today: his parental influence and his personal experiences. John Gray, a former Globe and Mail correspondent does some very good work into deconstructing the man, whose famous name (thanks to both his father's own life, as well as his own subsequent achievement), has long been a fixture in the political life of the country. The second book, Juggernaut by Susan Delacourt (McClelland and Stewart, 2003) looks into Paul Martin and his political life during, as the book's subtitle says, Paul Martin's campaign for Chrétien's crown. Less grand in scope than the Gray book, Delacourt focuses on the recent years, probably the last decade, while Martin stewed waiting for the top job to open.

Quickie biographies are always necessary when people in politics come to the fore. Of the two, Delacourt's Juggernaut is probably the most readable. Though both Delacourt and Gray are journalists, Delacourt's book has a quickened pace to it, delving into the ins and outs of the politics of the Liberal Party. Jean Chrétien's tenure is deconstructed, and Paul Martin's fervent ambition is revealed. Martin Jr., she reports took after Martin Sr.'s political advice to, "Find yourself a good newspaperman," someone friendly and complicit. Delacourt seemingly brags that since Martin has been in political life, she has been worried that she was that so selected journo. She feigns her pleading, "Please, please, don't pick me."

One doesn't suggest that Delacourt is soft on Martin. Her access has however, given her a book that gets inside the tight bubble that Martin has put around him. She outlines the struggles had by the Martin camp, who were the players, and paints a vivid picture of the desire that these people had at getting at the crown - the Liberal leadership. One finds however, no reason given as to what drove Martin and his supporters. What was their purpose? It isn't Delacourt's fault frankly; the Martin team has denied that it has anything to do with avenging his father's losses in the past, or an insatiable dislike of Jean Chrétien. It's probably power, pure and simple that drives Martin and the dozens of operatives in his midst. Delacourt does a superb job at penetrating this cluster, and does a generous job at outlining those players, those individuals who will be this new government's Jean Pelletier, Eddie Goldenberg or Françoise Ducros.

Delacourt's book has the immediacy of columns that she has written over the years at the National Post and now the Toronto Star. It's novel-like in a way. They say that journalism is the first draft of history, and Delacourt, being one of the trade's top scribblers, parlays her day job to the pages of Juggernaut, making it a good second draft of the political times. Hers reads as if she was a fly on the wall, as Martin and Co. moved to unseat Jean Chrétien

John Gray's Paul Martin however, is a little drier. It's not boring, far from it. It's more a biography, and as a history of Paul Martin's life, it is a fine job. It is the definitive, to this date, biography of Canada's current Prime Minister. Gray probably thinks that what drives Paul Martin is a sense of service and a desire of power, as well as his influences. He goes into detail about Paul Martin Sr. and the profound influence he had. As well, in a successive chapter on the Martin women, Gray discusses the impact of his mother Nell. The most curious thing about the Gray book is that though he goes into a lot of detail about Nell Martin, there is no photo of her in the 14 photographs included. One supposes that it says a lot about the book and both authors' proximity to Martin in the photos that are used in each book. In Gray's book, the photos are overwhelmingly from Canadian Press, whereas in the Delacourt book there are a number of photos from Paul and Sheila Martin. This is not to say that the Martin's were not forthcoming to Gray; who notes that Martin did grant an interview and Sheila Martin did provide many a ham sandwich.

No matter the discussion had in both Juggernaut and Paul Martin: The Power of Ambition, Paul Martin remains very much an enigma to the Canadian people. He isn't a mysterious enigma as Pierre Trudeau was, but in reading both books, you don't feel like you want to get to know this man, who heretofore has remained private for lack of much colour or personality. Both John Gray and Susan Delacourt in their respective tomes do a good job considering the lack of colour in the life of Paul Martin, though his exploits as a politician have been rather interesting to say the least.

(There was a third book on Paul Martin that was released last fall around the time of these other two books. Considering the author's left-wing tendencies, Murray Dobbin's Paul Martin: CEO for Canada is perhaps less measured than Gray's book, even less than Delacourt's. The Commentary's efforts to obtain a copy of Dobbin's book for this review were unsuccessful.)

Of the two, Juggernaut is the more readable simply because Delacourt writes with the immediacy as she does in her newspaper work. John Gray's book, by virtue of the blandness of who he has to work with, doesn't lend itself to leisure reading, unless one were doing research on the life and times of Paul Martin. Yet, Gray's book is the more balanced and sober of the two. Whatever the case, if you are starved for information on Paul Martin, these books make a terrific companion to today's Throne Speech, or this spring's election manifesto. It's a good start nonetheless.

Juggernaut: Paul Martin's Campaign for Chrétien's Crown by Susan Delacourt, published by McClelland and Stewart, is $34.99 CDN (ISBN: 0771026056); and Paul Martin: The Power of Ambition by John Gray, published by Key Porter, is $29.95 CDN (ISBN: 1552632172).

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