Career change, as it is for many people, is among the top New Year’s resolutions for Keith Martin. The former Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP decided to step away from politics last May after speaking out against what he calls Ottawa’s hyper-partisan politics.
“I’m ultimately looking for a job – a permanent platform I could work from to address global health, conservation, environmental and policy challenges,” said Martin, the former physician who spent almost 20 years representing this region in Ottawa. “(I’m looking for) a nimble organization that is interested in using the knowledge that we have and helping to scale that knowledge up – bridging the knowledge-action gap.”
Martin has spent the past few months doing just that. His work has focused on partnering people doing ground-breaking research with those who could use the work to bring change. One example was connecting Dr. Hayat Sindi, a medical researcher and inventor of inexpensive cancer diagnostics, with a colleague of Martin’s who had recently received a grant to conduct breast cancer research in the Middle East.
“Our universities and scientists discover inventions and they publish them, but they’re not necessarily scaled up to be able to benefit the largest number of people,” Martin said.
From his View Royal home, Martin has also been contributing to aid efforts in the horn of Africa and co-ordinating the delivery of medical supplies to Libyan doctors who had been operating without anesthesia.
Earlier in 2011, he was asked to join the International Union for Conservation Nature, a group that includes 11,000 scientists. Martin created an online mechanism that connects political leaders to scientists in the union.
He also joined PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, as well as the Consortium of Universities for Global Health as a way to address issues regarding poverty, the environment, food security and endangered species.
Martin plans to continue his volunteer work while exploring career options.
But he has no regrets about stepping away from the current political climate that he says has stripped MPs of their power to affect change.
“It had become such a sad and tragic reality show where MPs were told to read off talking points, written by rabidly partisan 20-year-olds around the leadership of their parties. In times past in parliament, you could develop the partnerships to address the big issues, but now, tragically, in the House of Commons there is no place to do that.”
Still, Martin describes his time in parliament from 1993 to 2011 as an incredible honour.
His efforts did not go unappreciated. He was named as the most underrated MP on Parliament Hill in 2009 by CBC’s political pundit Rex Murphy. And when Martin officially retired in May, his friends in Greater Victoria were quick to sing his praises.
“He has done so much for the community, so much for the county,” said Bob Saunders, a Colwood business owner and Martin’s longtime friend who encouraged the one-time emergency room physician to try his hand at politics. “It’s a big loss to Canada.”
Martin’s friends and colleagues say he always stayed connected to his constituents while working on global issues in Ottawa.
“That gave me the opportunity to connect with people at home in Victoria and other areas, to address issues in the riding, in the country and internationally,” Martin said.
-with files from Edward Hill