OTTAWA – For years, Paul Martin was a fixture in the halls of Parliament, as finance minister in Jean Chretien’s Liberal government and then as prime minister himself.
Now, a portrait of Martin has been unveiled that will – just as Martin did in real life – displace his former boss.
The new painting means Chretien’s picture will be bumped down the corridor leading to the House of Commons, because the PMs are displayed in order of their time in office.
The portrait by renowned artist Paul Wyse depicts Martin standing ready for a debate in the Commons.
It’s a reflection on the need for Parliament to shape the policies that affect the every day lives of Canadians, the 77-year-old Martin said after the curtain was pulled to reveal the work.
“Parliament is important,” Martin told a room filled with family, MPs, cabinet ministers and current and former Liberal staffers, but without the presence of Chretien.
“And I believe if Canadians are to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead in this ever-changing world, they will have to be presented with the choices before them,” he said.
“And that means that Parliament must reclaim centre stage as the place where those choices are made.”
Wyse had to make his own choices as he attempted to capture Martin’s essence with a brush.
The portrait of Martin unveiled Wednesday was actually the second one that Wyse completed.
The first one sits in his private collection because it didn’t properly convey the image of Martin that he was trying to capture, said the artist.
“There was a lot of things that we discussed that we wanted to have included in the portrait,” Wyse explained.
“But taking a moment and thinking about (the first portrait), it was kind of like rearranging the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to get a better fit.”
Martin used the unveiling to lament the failure of the previous Conservative government to formally adopt the Kelowna Accord, which aimed to improve the health and well-being of Canada’s indigenous peoples.
“Had the accord been honoured, I believe we would have lived a very different decade,” said Martin.
“But since 2006, too little has changed. The unfairness was allowed to persist, and time marched on,” the former PM said before congratulating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his actions to rebuild the federal government’s relationship with First Nations communities.
For his part, Trudeau commended Martin for fostering five years of federal budget surpluses during his time at the helm of the Finance Department.
“He confronted a fiscal crisis in this country, one that was on the verge of crippling our economy,” said Trudeau.
“His bold choices were right for the time and ended up paying dividends that we still see to this day.”
The Conservatives were quick to point out what they described as the stark contrast between the Trudeau government’s plan to go into deficit spending with no balancing of the budget in sight, and the measures Martin enacted in the mid-1990s to curb federal spending during times of economic growth.
Trudeau also noted that Martin stood with the Liberals in the last election campaign in support of borrowing money to grow the economy.
Wyse’s other works include portraits of former Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, pop legend Billy Joel and actor Harry Connick Jr.
The portrait of Martin will be the 21st to hang in the Centre Block, occupying a wall space directly across from a main elevator close to Confederation Hall in the corridor leading to the House of Commons.