Canada: Paul Martin and those deaths

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Society
May 28th, 2004 • 3:23 am

The big news yesterday in Canadian politics (yes, we too are in an election year) was NPD candidate Jack Layton accusing Paul Martin, the current Liberal prime minister and candidate to his own succession, of being responsible for the deaths of homeless people because of his drastic cost-cutting measures when he was Minister of Finance under Jean Chrétien in the 1990s, which eliminated budget deficits and turned Canada into one of the few western democracies with yearly budget surpluses.

Paul Martin responded to this accusation by saying that it was shocking, a “low blow” and amounted to an “ad hominem personal attack“.

I find Mr. Martin’s response hugely disappointing. First of all, I fail to see what in the accusation amounts to a personal attack. It was he who was Minister of Finance at the time, after all, and he who made such drastic cuts to health care and other budgets for essential services. And there is little doubt that those cuts was directly responsible for a degradation in services that led to poor care and, yes, in some cases, deaths for people waiting for months or even years for essential, life-saving care or support. How is accusing the minister responsible for these cuts of causing such deaths a “personal attack“? It’s little more than a statement of facts.

I think it’s about time politicians take responsibility for their actions. Yes, political leaders make decisions that will cause or prevent civilian deaths — and not just by going or not going to war. Is it shocking? No. What’s shocking is these leaders’ failure to admit it and address the issue openly.

What Paul Martin could have responded is that, yes, it might very well be that these budget cuts led to a number of deaths and a certain amount of suffering, but if he hadn’t done anything, the national debt would have become so huge that the national health care system would have imploded, and then many more people would have been left without proper health care, suffering and dying without help.

That would have been much more convincing, and a useful contribution to the debate. But his hissy fit about being attacked personally and his opponent resorting to “low blows” is simply shameful. It demonstrates a total inability to take responsibility for one’s actions when it comes to their real impact on people’s real lives. Mr. Paul Martin needs to get off his high horse and face the fact that politics is not just a matter of juggling with numbers and ideas — but also an activity with a very real social and human impact.

It is he, Paul Martin, who, by responding in this way to Mr. Layton’s “accusations”, is shedding an embarrassing light on his own personality.

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