Catholic education moulded retiring MP Keith Martin

By 
  • December 6, 2010
Dr. Keith MartinOTTAWA - When Dr. Keith Martin recalls all that he has accomplished, he can't help but thank the priests who taught him at Toronto's Neil McNeil High School.

The retiring MP credits his Catholic education and the challenges created by some tough but caring priests with shaping the values of charity, compassion and kindness that have guided his life ever since.

“They taught us to look outside ourselves,” he said.


Born in England in 1960, Martin grew up in Toronto, the eldest of four brothers. He attended Catholic schools and a special enriched program at Neil McNeil. Martin’s family was not especially religious. Martin does not wear his Catholic faith “on his sleeve,” and describes himself as a social liberal. But he credits his Catholic education with shaping values of charity, compassion and kindness towards others.

At Neil, he remembers how Fr. Edward Graham raised money every day for an orphanage in Mauritius. He had a little kitty where students could deposit 25 cents a day. Martin knew many of the priests had been to Africa and found it inspiring to listen to stories of other children whose lives were so different.  

“It created a sense of social responsibility in us,” he said.

And Fr. Pat Fitzpatrick used to give his students impossible math problems that Martin would spend 12 hours a day trying to figure out. He realized the teacher was more interested in seeing that he made the effort rather than whether he got the answer right.

It was a lesson in “how to deal with impossible situations,” so you know “what’s in you,” Martin said. "It toughened our spines, created resilience and built character.

“It was a tough environment to be in, in some ways. I wouldn’t change it for a second.”

That “crucible of challenge” the priests and lay teachers created in sport and academia taught him the value of experiencing failure and “dusting yourself off and finding ways to get back in the game,” he said.

Martin is taking his leave from politics after 17 years as MP for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca in British Columbia, first as a member of the Reform Party, which merged with the Conservatives, and finally as a Liberal after falling out with the Conservatives.

Martin recently announced he will not run in the next election. He said he would like to “be able to consult for a while” and help groups implement some of the solutions he developed. He’s created Canada’s first conservation club at www.icforum.info to encourage people to mobilize on environmental issues.

He wants these solutions to be science-driven instead of ideology driven and non-political. Martin is fed up with the partisanship in politics where MPs are forced to do the bidding of their party leader and stand up for “policies put together by the young, rabidly partisan people around the Leader.”

“We have a seriously sick democracy,” Martin said. “Parliament is not a place where one goes to innovate; it’s a place where ideas go to die.”

The trim, 50-year old bachelor said he is grateful to the people of his riding who he has served over the past 17 years and the team that has helped him over the years. He thinks it might be great to get married and have children, something that was difficult to do when he has been “living out of a suitcase for the past 22 years.”

But he wants teachers like the priests he had at Neil McNeil to know they can make a huge difference in their students’ lives and what they do is the “ultimate pay it forward.”

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