Before dreaming of becoming prime minister, Paul Martin was an undergraduate student at U of T. He graduated with an Honours BA in Philosophy and History from St. Michael’s College in 1961, after which he went on to complete his law degree, also at U of T.
“I was very actively involved in college life,” said Martin. He lived in residence, was a member of the Young Liberals, and could usually be found working out in the Hart House gym and swimming pool.
“I think it’s a win-win situation,” said Martin on U of T’s college system. “It offers you all the advantages of a major university [with] all the advantages of a smaller college system.”
Growing up in Windsor, Martin was very active in the Michigan civil rights movement. “[That] was during the time of Martin Luther King Junior,” said Martin. “If you talk to a lot of people my age, they’ll tell you the same thing.”
Martin had no intention of going into politics; rather, he planned to travel to Africa after finishing law school. He was convinced upon graduating, however, to gain practical business experience. “I went into business for two years and stayed for 20,” he laughed.
Martin had a long career in business, and only after his children were older did he begin to consider entering politics. “I’d had some success, and so I decided at the point the time was come to fish or cut bait.”
Martin’s first summer job was on a fishing boat when he was 13. “We had a cottage on Lake Erie, and I just went down to the docks,” he recalled.
One summer, after working on oil and gas fields in Alberta, Martin hitchhiked up to the Hay River and Great Slave Lake where he found a job working as a deckhand on a tugboat in the Beaufort Sea. “I wanted to see what the far north was like,” he said.
“I had a great fascination with the north, and still do,” revealed Martin, who believes it was easier to get summer work when he was young. “You could get jobs because people were desperate. […] [I just] said, ‘Look here, I’ve got my union card! Can I get a job?’”
While working up north, Martin worked with the First Nations and witnessed “the absolute unfairness [with which] we as Canadians have painted out the country’s first people. [This] became one of my strongest convictions.”
Martin thinks that it is crucial for young people to have a variety of experiences before choosing a focus. “Before you make a career decision, you should have a pretty clear idea of what opportunities are out there,” he advised.
“If somebody isn’t prepared to get as wide a spectrum of what life is all about at a young age, they will inevitably cocoon themselves, and they’ll simply isolate themselves into something and they’ll miss out on what the rest of the world has to offer.”
Martin sees the value in working or studying abroad. “It is just impossible to deny [its] importance […] and the perspective that it gives you,” he said, particularly stressing the benefit of working in Africa.
Martin, who first entered the political world in his mid-forties, suggests that young people do not jump into political careers. “My own advice is that you should go into public life after you have some real experience behind you,” he said. “To understand where the world is going and what life is all about […] gives you an opportunity to make a contribution [that is] probably better than most.”