Martin trumps Harper as guest; Summit invites the former PM Will join Blair and others in S. Africa

PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star | DATE: 2006.02.09 | BYLINE: Susan Delacourt | SOURCE: Toronto Star

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn't welcome at the international summit on "progressive governance," but former prime minister Paul Martin will land in South Africa today to take part in the high-level meeting.

Martin will be trading big ideas this weekend with the likes of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The Progressive Governance Network, as it's known, has far more interest in hearing from Martin than his successor, according to the network's director, Matt Browne.

"Paul Martin is a respected statesperson. He may not be prime minister of Canada, but in terms of how the progressive, centre-left across the globe view him, his track record as both a prime minister and a finance minister is believed to be impeccable," said Browne, speaking by telephone from London prior heading to South Africa.

"People will be looking forward to engaging with him, hearing his views ... despite the fact that he's no longer in office."

Browne said there was no thought of rescinding Martin's invitation when he lost the election on Jan. 23, nor was there any consideration given to transferring it to the new Canadian prime minister.

Martin won't be the only former Liberal prime minister kicking around Africa this weekend. Jean Chretien, Martin's predecessor, is also due to leave today for Senegal, where he's been doing his own consulting on matters of governance.

Chretien spoke at a previous gathering of the Progressive Governance Network, which was founded in part by Blair and former U.S. president Bill Clinton in 1999-2000. Browne said Chretien will not be attending this year.

Meanwhile, Toronto lawyer Martha Hall Findlay yesterday became the first declared candidate for the Liberal leadership. Findlay, 46, hasn't held political office but she lost to then-Conservative Belinda Stronach by 689 votes in the 2004 federal election in Newmarket - Aurora.

with files from Canadian press