Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Politics is in his BLOOD

At 34, son of outspoken city MP is the premier's right-hand man

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Liam Martin might be the new kid on the legislative block, but at 34, he's already a political veteran. On Sept. 10, Martin officially steps into the job as Premier Greg Selinger's chief of staff, filling a vacancy left by Michael Balagus, who resigned earlier this year.

Politics literally runs in Martin's blood -- he is the son of NDP MP Pat Martin and has been involved in politics since he was a teenager.

"As soon as my brother and I were tall enough to reach mailboxes we were sent out on campaigns to volunteer," Martin said during an interview last week.

One of those campaigns was volunteering for Selinger when he ran for mayor of Winnipeg in 1992 (he lost to Susan Thompson). Since then, Martin has volunteered on campaign teams at the municipal, provincial and federal government levels, was former premier Gary Doer's tour co-ordinator in the early 2000s, worked at polling firm Viewpoints Research and most recently held the position as communications representative for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Martin sat down with the Winnipeg Free Press in the provincial NDP caucus room last week and answered some of our questions.

Why were you interested in taking this job?

To be in the position of influence is why all of us political animals show up on Saturday mornings, go down in the trenches and get our hands dirty. It's essentially a dream job and opportunities like this don't come around very often, so when Premier Selinger and I had the conversation it was an honour. We have a pretty good relationship we struck last year during the campaign, so it was a no-brainer. It was too big an honour to turn down.

What got you interested in politics?

We were a political family -- more often than not politics was the main topic of conversation around the dinner table. From a very young age I was being brought to political rallies and marches for various causes. Both my parents have strong values and they taught my brother and I to share those.

What exactly does the chief of staff do?

My job, the way I see it, is to make the premier's life and job as easy as possible so that he can focus on the issues that matter most to Manitobans and getting his job done, so whether that's dealing with internal issues like human resources or whether it's dealing with big-picture politics, those challenges will all land on my lap. Essentially, it's as much of a job as it's a relationship with the premier; he trusts you to enact what he sees needs to be done both for the province, and the party as well, so the job description is fluid. Every morning you get your marching orders and see what needs to be done.

Did you consult with your dad before you took the job?

Oh yeah, with both my mom and dad, but more importantly I consulted with my girlfriend. She's been very supportive -- we've told our circle of friends that they'll have to spend a bit more time with her over the next three years because I'm not going to have as much control of my schedule as usual. And I consulted with my parents -- they're happy for me and know this is a big position. Both my parents taught me to fight for what you believe in and this is going to be the best opportunity to do that. My style of fighting and my old man's style of fighting is a little bit different -- he's a bit more of a street fighter and I'm a bit more of a southpaw, so I'm going to bring that perspective to the job. One of the things my mom taught me was to count to 10 before saying anything and acting out.

What did you think of his penny elimination initiative?

The thing that's intriguing about that story, and I'm not sure if he's told this one publicly before, but he never thought this issue would get the attention that it did. He works hard at drafting a number of private member's bills and when this one made it through to debate, media in Ottawa and across the country grabbed onto it and the issue took on a life of its own. He didn't expect that this would be the cause he would be best known for -- I think he would be prefer to be known for his campaign to ban asbestos -- but I do agree with getting rid of the penny.

You are a former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers board, so how about a Banjo Bowl prediction?

I don't see us losing. Let's go 27-14 Bombers, no matter who the QB is. I think despite all the aftermath from the B.C. game, they looked pretty sharp and it sounds like feedback has been positive about (Bombers interim head coach Tim) Burke, so we'll see how it plays out.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2012 A4

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