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Hell or High Water: My Life in and out of Politics [Hardcover]

Paul Martin
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 28 2008
National bestseller

Paul Martin was the Prime Minister we never really knew — in this memoir he emerges as a fascinating flesh and blood man, still working hard to make a better world.

“The next thing you know, I was in a jail cell.” (Chapter 2)

“From the moment I flipped his truck on the road home to Morinville…” (Chapter 3)

“When I came back into Aquin’s headquarters I had a broken nose.” (Chapter 4)

These are not lines that you expect in a prime ministerial memoir. But Paul Martin — who led the country from 2003 to 2006 — is full of surprises, and his book will reveal a very different man from the prime minister who had such a rough ride in the wake of the sponsorship scandal.

Although he grew up in Windsor and Ottawa as the son of the legendary Cabinet Minister Paul Martin, politics was not in his blood. As a kid he loved sports, and had summer jobs as a deckhand or a roustabout. As a young man he plunged into family life, and into the business world. After his years as a “corporate firefighter” for Power Corporation came the excitement of acquiring Canada Steamship Lines in Canada’s largest ever leveraged buy-out, “the most audacious gamble of my life.”

In 1988, however, he became a Liberal M.P., ran for the leadership in 1990 and in 1993 became Jean Chrétien’s minister of finance, with the country in a deep hole. The story of his years as perhaps our best finance minister ever leads to his account of the revolt against Chrétien, and his time in office.

Great events and world figures stud this book, which is firm but polite as it sets the record straight, and is full of wry humour and self-deprecating stories. Far from ending with his defeat in 2006, the book deals with his continuing passions, such as Canada’s aboriginals and the problems of Africa.

This is an idealistic, interesting book that reveals the Paul Martin we never knew. It’s a pleasure to meet him.

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Product Details

Product Description

Quill & Quire

Considering the appeal of easy access to a pulpit, one of the biggest perks of political office, it is not surprising that firing off one last ideological salvo in the form of a memoir has become de rigueur for former heads of state. The general appeal of such works is questionable, but given the Liberal Party’s continuing decline, highlighted by its historically poor showing in the last federal election, few people seem better positioned to offer perspective on the party’s fortunes than Canada’s last Liberal prime minister. The story starts in Windsor. The young Paul Martin, Jr., always within earshot of his father’s politicking, feels an “ambivalence for the profession,” and instead chooses law school and a career in business. Martin takes the helm at Canadian Shipping Lines, capitalizing on an entrepreneurial vigour and a boyhood love of all things nautical. His eventual entry into politics, though logical, seems almost out of character.  Once on the Hill, Martin, with his corporate pedigree, was an obvious choice for finance minister, charged with the job no one wanted: balancing Canada’s books. Martin is at his best when writing about his years as budgetary axe-man in the 1990s. He clearly and concisely explains the implications of national debt and makes a strong case for global financial reform. Through the first half of the book, Martin maintains a healthy balance between insight, humour, and a minimum of self-flattery. The writing is by no means engrossing, but it is certainly readable. The book’s second half, which begins with the 2004 election campaign, is dramatically different. A social visionary with a healthy dose of financial pragmatism, Martin was the odds-on favourite to lead the country. But the Liberals’ victory did not shepherd Canada into the expected golden age, prompting the obvious question: what went wrong? Instead of providing an answer, Hell or High Water degenerates into self-aggrandizement and finger-pointing. As might be expected, Martin revisits his clashes with Jean Chrétien and dwells at length on the infamous sponsorship scandal, which he blames for weakening the Liberal Party’s integrity and hindering his own ability to govern. Just as Chrétien did in his plodding yet vitriolic 2007 memoir My Years as Prime Minister, Martin reopens an ugly chapter of Canadian political history, one the public would rather forget, but whose main players incomprehensibly insist on rehashing at every opportunity.   When it comes to talking about his work as prime minister, Martin is sweeping and perfunctory. He predictably lauds his own policy initiatives, and even defends some of his more questionable decisions, such as his blind-eye policy toward China. But on the key question of why Canadians, so enamoured with Martin the finance minister, did not throw their support behind Martin the prime minister, he provides no answers.    


“Martin writes presciently of our current financial crisis — and settles several scores.”
— Montreal Gazette

— CTV News

“Charming, self-deprecating.”
Policy Options

“Martin does not hesitate to dish.”
Ottawa Citizen

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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fitting Swan Song Sept. 7 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
While former prime minister Paul Martin's autobiography reveals very little that is startlingly new, it does provide a decent profile of the life of a prominent career politician dedicated to serving the Canadian public at the highest level possible. What I found most fascinating about Martin's reflections on his life in Ottawa over five decades (including the time he spent in the nation's capital as the son of another famous politician) was his ability to develop and pursue a vision for a stronger Canada on the economic world stage. He doggedly stuck to forcing the country to adopt a serious fiscal restraint program in the 1990s so it could be more able to afford better social programs like national daycare and improved health care. His life as a highly-successful businessman, turned politician, is a story that comes with many interesting twists and turns, but all invariably leading him to eventually becoming PM, a role in which he could best encourage constructive national change. Undoubtedly, Martin was well equipped for the job of finance minister during those troubling deficit years, as witnessed by his determination to turn around government spending before it sank the country. However, in his run for the top, he admits that he lacked a certain political savoir faire as to how to handle his enemies within the party. His many disagreements with Chretien and the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party came back to haunt him big time during his brief tenure as national leader. Reading between the lines, I get the distinct feeling that Martin never quite understood how to be politically adept when it came to outsmarting those who had it in for him. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Expected March 6 2013
Paul Martin is the most highly respected finance minister in Canadian history. I was mostly interested in the recipe: how did he control the federal budget? How did he set the priorities? How did he get cabinet cooperation? How did he manage provincial expectations? I was also curious about his business career and what he thinks of the financial mess that preoccupies us now. I normally hate politics...but I actually liked the anecdotes, the war stories and the humour.

He comes across as an ambitious pragmatic man with noble goals in a vicious snake pit!
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't reach the mark May 21 2009
Paul Martin's attempt at an autobiography ranks low in terms of recent similar works by Mulroney and Chretien. While the first part of the book gets the reader's hopes up, with some great insight into Martin's life in business and education, in addition to heartfelt stories about his father and mother, the second part is painful at points. It is clear that according to Martin, his tenure as finance minister was mired by attempts by former PM Chretien to undermine him constantly, and the parts dealing with his time as Prime Minister seems to be a litany of excuses for why things did not get done, and how everyone else was to blame.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful March 17 2013
By A. Benson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Very insightful and thought-provoking. Our democracy would have been stronger with him if he had survived in politics longer. This is the end of my review.
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