Jean Chrétien's 80th birthday bash was a who's who of Canada's past and present political establishment. Friends (federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne) and political foes (former federal Progressive Conservative Leader Jean Charest and ex-Tory cabinet minister John Crosbie) alike turned out in droves to fete the former prime minister at a gala dinner in a downtown Toronto hotel.
But there was one man conspicuous by his absence: Mr. Chrétien's finance minister and successor, Paul Martin.
While the two worked closely to slay the federal deficit in the 1990s, the relationship eventually broke down as Mr. Martin sought the leadership of the party.
On Wednesday, Mr. Martin said it was a simple scheduling conflict that kept him from attending. He was opening a business education program, sponsored by his Martin Aboriginal Educational Initiative. The event, on the Blood reserve near Lethbridge, Alta., had been planned far in advance, he said.
"I was in Lethbridge last night. We have a high-school business program for aboriginal students on reserve and off-reserve that's been very, very successful. We were opening our program at the Blood band," he said at Queen's Park, where he was advising Premier Kathleen Wynne on pension reform. "It had been planned for some six months there were a lot of people coming. I had to be and I wanted to be there."
Asked if his absence had anything to do with a "blood feud" with Mr. Chrétien, Mr. Martin quipped: "[The event] was at the Blood reserve."
Mr. Chrétien defeated Mr. Martin for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party in 1990. Mr. Martin served as finance minister for most of Mr. Chrétien's prime ministership, but his leadership ambitions caused tension between the two men. Mr. Martin ultimately left Mr. Chrétien's cabinet, then succeeded him as prime minister.
He defeated Stephen Harper in the 2004 general election, but lost two years later.
Mr. Martin was part of the organizing committee for Mr. Chrétien's birthday party.