Martin urges Liberals to leave convention 'side by side'

With Liberal delegates in Montreal preparing to choose a new leader, former prime minister Paul Martin urged them to unite and fight for the "Canada we believe in."

With Liberal delegates in Montreal preparing to choose a new leader, former prime minister Paul MartinThursday urgedparty membersto unite following the vote and fight for the "Canada we believe in."

Party members paid tribute to the former Liberal leader in an event hosted in the evening by former Olympian Mark Tewksbury and featuring speeches and musical tributes.

"When the final ballot is cast, all of us must leave here arm in arm, side by side … to fight hard for the Canada we believe in. To fight hard and to win," Martin said.

Martin, who stepped down as party leader following his loss in the last election in January 2006, took shots at his Conservative opponents, accusing them of turning their backs on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, aboriginal people, national day care and the environment.

"I look at this Conservative government, I see its methods, I watch its manner and, let me tell you, it makes me proud to be a Liberal," he said.

He urged Liberals to send a message to the Tories.

"Our goals for a progressive society will not disappear nor will our resolve to see them through. Progress and fairness may be delayed but they will not be denied."

Rejects criticism

Martin rejected criticism that his brief tenure as prime minister was unfocused.

"There are those who will say, have said, that we tried to do too much. Well, I would rather have tried to do too much than be guilty of caring too little," he said.

"We may have lost an election, but we will never lose the faith."

Martin also had kind words for his political rival, former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was not in attendance for the tribute.

Martin said Chrétien provided the change the country needed when he was elected in 1993, adding that he was proud to serve in his cabinet.

Martin's tribute comes three years after he sweptto victory to becomeleader of the Liberal party.

Martin, who had been hailed for turning a federal deficit into a succession of eight consecutive surpluses during his time as finance minister,won93 per cent of the delegate vote.

A month later hewas sworn in as Canada's 21st prime minister.

But he was soon hit with a report by Auditor General Sheila Fraser on the Liberal sponsorship program that revealed millions of dollars had been misspent.

When he called an election months later, Canadians handed him a minority government.

Despite the kudos he had received as finance minister, his role as prime minister was criticized by some for lacking direction.

The prestigious international magazine The Economistnicknamed him"Mr. Dithers" for being indecisive in his first 14 months in office.

In 2005, the sponsorship scandal came back to haunt him after Justice John Gomery, who headed an inquiry into the program, released his first report.

Following the report, the opposition brought downhis minority government in a no-confidence vote and an election was set for January 2006.

But during the election campaign, Martinspent much of the time in damage control, having to deal with questions about two RCMP probes,negative ads and thecontinuing fallout of the sponsorship scandal.

Canadians elected a Tory minority government, ending a 12-year Liberal reign.

Martin immediately resigned as Liberal leader.