Former NDP leader returns to his roots in education
Ray Martin is well known as a former leader of the Alberta NDP, but he got his start as a guidance counselor and teacher. He holds a master’s degree in education.
His appointment as chair of NAIT’s Board of Governors this March, then, is a return to his roots. Succeeding Fountain Tire CEO Brent Hesje, Martin will spend his 3-year term helping to manage and operate the polytechnic in accordance with its mandate.
“I see my role as an advocate for NAIT, and to draw on the strengths of the people on the board,” Martin says of his new position.
Over the years, he’s worked at high schools in Calgary and Sherwood Park, at one point coaching basketball and wrestling (even mentoring a young Bret "The Hitman" Hart – the seven-time world wrestling champ).
Martin parlayed a long-time interest in politics into a new career in 1982, when he was elected as a Member of the Legislature Assembly. He went on to spend a combined 15 years under the dome, including nine years as leader of the Official Opposition (following the death of NDP Grant Notley in a 1984 plane crash).
Here Martin reveals more about what attracted him to NAIT, what it was like to coach The Hitman, and reminisces about life in politics.
What appealed to you about this position?
NAIT is going to be absolutely crucial for Alberta as we move forward. It’s always been crucial, along with SAIT in Calgary, but I think there’s even a bigger role now, as the economy diversifies. Looking at the future, NAIT is important to Alberta, even to Canada.
"NAIT is important to Alberta, even to Canada."
What about NAIT makes it well-positioned?
NAIT has always looked at its final destination. This institute is career-oriented and looking at the future. It’s very nimble.
You’ve had a varied career. One of your students at Ernest Manning High School in Calgary was now-retired professional wrestler Bret "The Hitman" Hart. Tell us about that.
The first Hart I knew was Dean [Bret’s older brother], and Dean’s passed away. And then Bret was on the wrestling team when I was there.
Obviously he had a wrestling background from his dad [Stu, founder of Stampede Wrestling], but he was an easy kid to work with. It was fun to see what became of him. In an interview to the papers, Stu once said I kept him in school. He was a good, solid kid.
You’re best known for your time in the legislature. That’s a trying job. Is there anything you don’t like about politics?
I think you can agree to disagree, but you don’t need to be disagreeable. I remember [Progressive Conservative] Dick Johnson was the [provincial treasurer]. He and I would go at each other. He’d call me a communist and then we’d go back and have a coffee and laugh about it. I find politics a little more mean-spirited now.
"I find politics a little more mean-spirited now."
Is there one moment that stands out from those years?
Grant Notley being killed. Grant and I had lunch together in Edmonton on [that] Friday. He said he probably couldn’t get home [to Fairview] until the following day because he had a party meeting. That night, I got a call from [Premier] Peter Loughheed’s office. They asked, “Do you know if Grant was on this plane?” It had gone down. I said, “I don’t think so.”
As it turned out, the meeting hadn’t gone as long as he thought and Grant was able to catch it, so he was on the plane. The next morning, I got a call from Loughheed [to tell me the news]. It was a shock. Grant was my best man and we spent so much time together.
Do you miss being an MLA?
I enjoyed my 15 years in the Alberta legislature. In a way, I’m still in politics, because I’m a school trustee. But it’s a different sort of politics – you have to try to get along there.
Other new board appointments
In addition to Martin’s appointment, 4 other new members have joined NAIT’s board.
Vi Becker has held senior leadership positions at Stantec (including vice-president of marketing and communications). She understands post-secondary education and governance, having served as vice-chair of MacEwan University’s board of governors. She has also served on the Workers’ Compensation Board and the board of Telus World of Science.
Yasmin Jivraj is an accomplished IT professional and entrepreneur. In 1987, she co-founded Atlas Systems Group and assumed the role of president (1988-2000). In 2000, Atlas Systems Group merged with CompCanada and formed Acrodex, a national supplier of information technology services and solutions. Jivraj was president of Acrodex from 2000 to 2016 and is a director with Dexcent. She received an honorary degree from NAIT in 2011.
Matthew Woodley is a lawyer and partner with Edmonton-based Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP, where he focuses on education, human resources, privacy, media, defamation and public law. He has represented clients before all of the Courts of Alberta and before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Mary Lynne Campbell is the executive director/CEO of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta. She began her teaching career in Alberta at Elk Island Public School System. She was previously superintendent and CEO of schools for Parkland School Division.