The Martin chronicles

Waiting for Martin “star”
David Bernans on his quest for an audience with the PM

Canadians following the current sponsorship scandal who are surprised to
learn that dirty politics exists in Canada would do well to check out Magnus
Isacsson and Sophia Southam’s new documentary, Waiting for Martin.

“When you watch the film, you kind of get this idea that I’m
obsessed with Paul Martin,” says political activist David Bernans, the
“star” of the film, over the phone as he puts his son to bed.
“But that’s not true. I’m not obsessed with Paul Martin.
He’s just a convenient symbol.”

Strongly influenced by cheeky left-wing documentaries like Michael
Rubbo’s Waiting for Fidel and Michael Moore’s Roger and Me,
independent filmmaker Magnus Isacsson (Emperor’s New Clothes, View from
the Summit) and animator Sophia Southam follow Bernans on his mission to
personally question Paul Martin’s political accountability and track
record as a CEO. For three years Bernans has attempted to meet Martin,
attending press conferences, running against him as a NDP candidate in
Martin’s riding and using a little good ol’ shit-disturbing
activism to attract attention to his mission.

“In the beginning,” Bernans explains, “Isacsson was
planning on doing a film about Paul Martin coming to Concordia University in
the fall of 2000 for a public accountability session. But he cancelled, so
the idea for the film was gone. At that point, the election had been called
and the NDP had been talking to me about running in Martin’s riding
because I was involved in organizing a protest against giving Martin an
honourary degree when I was teaching at Concordia.” Bernans, armed with
a Ph.D. in political science, decided to approach the problem
grassroots-style, staging skits, interacting with Martin supporters and
attending media scrums. But his antics had a serious goal in mind.

“To me,” Bernans says, “the whole idea of following Paul
Martin around is a means to an end of bringing up the cause of corporate
influence on government and how powerful the corporate lobby is. (Bernans
cites the Business Council on National Issues—now the Canadian Council
of CEOs—as a prime example of this phenomenon.) “Whatever party
is in power, there are a lot of structural pressures upon them to continue to
do what Paul Martin has been doing.”

Bernans points out how Martin, when he was finance minister, promised to
eliminate child poverty in Canada by 2000, but instead sat idly by as child
poverty rose and the gap between the rich and the poor widened. “These
are direct results of his policies,” Bernans says, “and if you
follow these policies—cutting taxes for the rich and cutting programs
that help the poor—you have a growing gap. It’s not rocket
science. This is Paul Martin.”

Ultimately, Bernans (who currently works as a writer for the Canadian
Centre for Policy Alternatives and doesn’t actually get to
meet Martin and modestly calls his efforts “only a drop in the
bucket.” However, he’s amazed by the strong public reaction to
Waiting for Martin. “The film,” he says, “is providing
inspiration and motivation for people to get involved that can affect the
outcome of the election itself, but it’s not like a mass propaganda
tour.” Funding has come from unions and public arts grants; a Montreal
company, Cinema Libre, is working on the distribution; and a five-minute
trailer for the film ran on CBC’s Zed last week. Bernans also hopes to
do another tour, once Martin stops delaying and calls an election.

Which begs the question: what does Bernans think will happen when
Canadians finally go to the polls? “My sense,” he says, “is
that there is quite a possibility for a minority government. There have been
a few minority governments in Canadian history and they’ve quite often
been a way to get through some progressive legislation such as the NDP and
Liberal minority government of the early ’70s under Trudeau. That, to
me, would be an interesting possibility.”

And with current Ipsos-Reid polls putting public Liberal support at only
35 per cent, it could turn out to be more than just a possibility. V Waiting
for Martin Directed by Magnus Isacsson and Sophia Southam • Featuring
David Bernans • Zeidler Hall, The Citadel • Fri-Sat, Apr 16-17
(7pm) • Metro Cinema • 425-9212

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