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Former prime minister Paul Martin. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Former prime minister Paul Martin. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Paul Martin - politician, business leader and philanthropist Add to ...

The Transformational Canadians program celebrates 25 living citizens who have made a difference by immeasurably improving the lives of others. Readers were invited to nominate Canadians who fit this description. Over several weeks, a panel of six judges will select 25 Transformational Canadians from among the nominees.

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Nominations remain open until November 26. Submit yours today.

Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada, has been selected as one of 25 Transformational Canadians.

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By the look of things, Paul Martin hasn't had much time to reflect on his many political and business accomplishments. In fact, the former prime minister is still tackling several of the economic and social problems that consumed him during his two decades in public office. Since stepping down in 2008 as Liberal MP for Montreal's LaSalle-Émard riding, Mr. Martin has devoted himself to African development and Aboriginal education and entrepreneurship - and kept pushing world leaders to work together for the greater good.

Africa has long been a concern for Mr. Martin, 72. When he finished university, he says, he planned to go there and work. "I only desisted when it was pointed out to me that probably the last thing anybody in Africa needed was a fresh-faced law-school graduate," Mr. Martin recalls. "The advice that was given to me was to go into business and learn a little bit about business - and then you'll really be able to do something when the time comes."

Before he entered politics, the Windsor, Ont., native ran Montreal-based shipping and engineering company CSL Group, which he and Laurence Pathy acquired from Power Corp. in 1981. Although Mr. Martin served as PM from 2003 to 2006, his political legacy may rest on Canada's elimination of its $42-billion deficit when he was finance minister during the 1990s.

In that role, Mr. Martin advocated debt forgiveness and women's education in Africa. Today, he's an advisory board member of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA), a forum sponsored by the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. Mr. Martin also co-chairs a $200-million British-Norwegian fund dedicated to fighting poverty and encouraging sustainable development in the 10 nations of the Congo Basin.

Africa's development efforts must be led by a robust African private sector, he says. "Foreign investment is crucial, but no economy will thrive unless there's strong local entrepreneurship and a sense of ownership of the economy."

At home, the architect of the 2005 Kelowna Accord and his son David have set up two projects that benefit the Aboriginal community. The Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative aims to reduce high-school dropout rates and boost post-secondary enrollment, while the Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship Fund helps people launch and grow their own businesses.

In Mr. Martin's view, improving education for Aboriginal youth is one of the most important moral and economic issues facing this country. "If Canadians are going to be working in Africa - and you see Canadians all over Africa - I do not believe they can turn their backs on our Third World at home."

Mr. Martin also remains active in the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors - an organization he conceived and originally chaired - and the International Monetary Fund. Globalization is nothing new, he argues, but the interdependence of nations has never been deeper. Whether it's currency wars or banking regulation, Mr. Martin believes the answer lies with the G20.

"It's crucial for a country like Canada, which is wealthy but has a small domestic market, that globalization works," he explains. "And for globalization to work, it needs a steering committee - it needs a group of countries that are able to come together and hopefully act in the global collective interest."

Looking back, Mr. Martin says Canadians made slaying the deficit a great national objective. But he adds that his goal was also to build up surpluses as a bulwark against cataclysms like the latest financial crisis, from which Canada emerged relatively unharmed. "We are very much dependent upon the world, and so it's very important that we be in strong shape."

Responding to the charge that he short-changed health care and other social services, Mr. Martin says the deficit was bleeding those programs. "If we want to preserve them - if we want to have social programs that work - then we've got to have a balance sheet that works."

Mr. Martin wants Canada to take charge in places where there's an absence of leadership from outside. For example, he says, we could use our expertise to help Africa build its infrastructure. "This is one area where Canada can actually be the leader, and we should be doing it."

Paul Martin on what leadership means to him

First of all, you can't be a strong leader unless you have strong convictions. And unless you know where you want to take [things]- if you're in business, where you want to take your company, or if you're in political life, where you want to see the country go….What's every bit as important is that you've got to bring people with you, and the only way you bring people with you is if you listen.

I went around the world talking to finance ministers and governments about setting up the G20….I said, 'This is what we want to do. Now, let's talk about what are the issues we have to deal with.' And so it applies at the highest political level, but it also applies when you're dealing with the smallest division in a very small company. You've got to be prepared to listen.

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