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Interview with the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/06/15


The Rt. Hon. Paul Martin is a Former Minister of Finance (1993-2002) and a Former Prime Minister of Canada (2003-2006) for the Government of Canada. Also, Martin is the Founder of the Martin Family Initiative (MFI). He discusses: the inspiration for starting the MFI; the wider determinants of individual Indigenous wellbeing; better student outcomes and better community outcomes; building and maintaining relationships with Indigenous communities through MFI; the impact of the MFI pilot programs; and interventions from the MFI and Indigenous communities to close health and educational gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Keywords: Canada, Government of Canada, Indigenous, Martin Family Initiative, Minister of Finance, Paul Martin.

Interview with the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin: Former Prime Minister, Government of Canada; Founder, Martin Family Initiative[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The Martin Family Initiative focuses on ways to better support and provide for the educational needs of the Indigenous population in Canada. What inspired you to start the MFI?

Rt. Hon. Paul Martin: When I was about 19, I worked as a deckhand on the tug barges on the Mackenzie River. All of the young men that I worked with were either Inuit, Métis or First Nations. We formed great friendships living and working together 24/7. However, these hardworking and intelligent guys had a certain melancholy about them, which I didn’t understand until I learned about residential schools. This experience has stuck with me ever since.

That is one of the reasons why, when I became prime minister, I incorporated a smudging ceremony into my swearing-in process. It was also why I brought the First Nations, Métis and the Inuit together with the territories and provinces to discuss what became the Kelowna Accord and why we booked $5 billion in new funding for healthcare, housing and education. I believe that if the government that followed mine had carried through with the Kelowna framework we would be 10 years ahead of where we are now in terms of the vast range of social programs for Indigenous people.

It is also why when I stepped down from government I focused on the area that could give Indigenous people the biggest step ahead, which is education.

2. Jacobsen: MFI engages with the wider determinants of an individual Indigenous learner’s life, such health and wellbeing. Can you talk about these factors?

Martin: The wider determinants of education are health and early childhood wellbeing, which is the focus of our newest program. Canadian society does better than many countries in a number of areas because of our strengths in these areas.

Fundamentally, to deny Indigenous people the same benefits that have allowed others to progress in Canada is morally wrong and economically backward.

3. Jacobsen: How do better student outcomes make better community outcomes?

Martin: If you look at the history of the world, education – that is to say learning from previous generations, asking what the world is all about, where it has been and where it is going – is the foundation of a person life.

At the root of all progress is the education of the young, who benefit from the learning of those who came before them and who in turn develop new learning from which their children benefit.

4. Jacobsen: Why is building and maintaining relationships with Indigenous communities an important part of MFI’s approach?

Martin: The essence of reconciliation is trust and the foundation on which our future relationships will be based is partnership. We must learn to understand each other more and more.

5. Jacobsen: What impact have MFI’s pilot programs had? What are your long-term goals for the next 2, 5 and 25 years?

Martin:  I will give you an example from one of our programs. Research shows that if you cannot read and write by the end of Grade 3, your chances of graduating from high school are greatly diminished. Faced with the fact that due to a lack of proper funding the literacy numbers in many reserve schools are lower than they are in public schools, we started a 5-year literacy program in two schools in southwestern Ontario. By the end of the fifth year, 81% of the kids could read and write (up from 13% before the program and higher than the provincial average of 78%).

We also have an entrepreneurship course for Grade 11 and Grade 12 students, which teaches hands-on business principles to Indigenous students within the context of their communities, traditions and culture. It has been a huge success. We are now in 42 schools across the country and over 3,500 students have taken the courses.

The fact of the matter is that the consequences of the residential schools and the underfunding of Indigenous education in the last 50 years have caused enormous harm. We are trying to turn that around in partnership with the First Nations, Métis and the Inuit. It is showing real results. The more Canadians work on partnerships with Indigenous people then the better off we are all going to be.

In the next 2, 5 and 25 years our work will continue with the same approach. We develop programs with Indigenous partners as communities identify their needs. In the long term, we want to work ourselves out of a job. Only when Indigenous children and youth across Canada have the same opportunities as other Canadians will we have succeeded.

6. Jacobsen: With these kinds of interventions from MFI and Indigenous communities, how long will it take to close the gaps in health and educational outcomes?

Martin: Decent healthcare is an essential determinant of a good education, just as a decent education is an essential determinant of good healthcare.

We have to go beyond education in its strict definition. One of our newest initiatives targets the point directly. It is an early childhood program. Essentially, its purpose is to ensure that expectant and new mothers and their children are supported in their health, wellbeing and early childhood development.

In the Early Years program, primary caregivers – mothers, fathers and other family members – gain a better understanding of their children’s important developmental progress. The program supports them in their roles as their children’s first teachers. They are also supported in social service navigation, so that they might fully avail of services available to families.

The initial pilot program will function as a proof of principle that we hope will be eventually be taken to scale across the country.

7. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr. Martin.

Martin: You’re welcome.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Martin Family Initiative; Former Prime Minister (2003-2006), Government of Canada; Former Minister of Finance (1993-2002), Government of Canada.

[2] Individual Publication Date: June 15, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2018 at

[3]B.A., History and Philosophy (1961), University of Toronto (St. Michael’s College); LL.B. (1964), Law, University of Toronto.

[4] Image Credit: Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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