MARTIN: 'FUN ... LIKE OLD TIMES'; Grandfather-to-be rips Tory child- care plan in Commons speech

PUBLICATION: The Hamilton Spectator | DATE: 2006.05.05 | BYLINE: Susan Delacourt | SOURCE: Toronto Star

Former prime minister Paul Martin says that the Conservative government is so intent on erasing the Liberal past that it is also rubbing out vital parts of Canada's future.

"I do not understand, when you look at what they cut ... children, aboriginals, the environment and university research and development," Martin said yesterday after his first, post-election speech to the House of Commons. "Why do you sacrifice the future in order to pay for today?"

Child care is the issue that lured Martin back into the Parliament Hill spotlight yesterday. It's an issue that has taken on personal, as well as political, dimensions for him since his election defeat Jan. 23.

Not only has Martin staked it out as prime-ministerial legacy territory, but it also hits closer to home and family now.

Martin revealed that he and his wife, Sheila, are finally getting their oft- repeated wish to be grandparents. His youngest son, David, and his wife, Laurence, are expecting their first child in September.

But though Martin spoke in spirited defence of quality, institutional child- care arrangements, he planned to stay out of the decision on whether his grandchild stays at home or attends day care before entering elementary school.

"I'm not going to get involved in that," said Martin, when asked if he'd urge his son and daughter-in-law to give their child the type of early learning that he calls so crucial for the rest of Canada's children. "What I do care about is that he or she gets that kind of stimulation."

The Tories' child-benefit program replaces the Liberals' national, institutionally based system with a $1,200 annual payment for every child under 6, as well as $250 million to create some child-care spaces.

It is billed as "choice" in child care, since parents can use the money to provide care in the home or outside of it. But it's also shaping up as one of the more galvanizing, polarizing disputes in Parliament, with MPs spending virtually all day yesterday arguing over the best way for the federal government to deliver child care.

Martin, in his speech, lauded the Tories' "tactical elegance" of putting the label of choice on their program, but accused them also of ignoring all the years of study showing that early learning pays off huge economic benefits for nations.

But it was the old Liberal party that raised the temperature more in the Commons yesterday. Martin's reappearance also seemed to reignite the angry rhetoric between the parties that was so much a feature of the election campaign.

"I guess Martin hasn't come to grips with the fact that millions of Canadians voted against him and his government in the last election. That wasn't the NDP's doing," said NDP Leader Jack Layton, reacting to Martin's allegations that the NDP had killed child care by helping Tories defeat the Grits.

"Martin and his government caused Canadians to lose confidence in their ability to govern. Martin didn't give the kind of leadership that Canadians had confidence in ... that's unfortunate, I suppose, for him and it turns out to have been unfortunate for child care."

In the question-and-answer session after his speech, the three other parties piled on Martin, all saying in essence he had a lot of nerve to come back and preach about child care when he too had broken promises, reversed previous government's measures and squandered federal money while in office.

Martin said later he found this "fun ... like old times."

Since his government's defeat and his resignation, Martin has been travelling for pleasure and to scope out some future prospects for himself.

Martin added that when he's in Canada, he intends to spend Tuesday through Thursday in Ottawa, though he probably won't attend Question Period that often.