New Canadian PM

Started by Bilbo, Dec 12, 2003, 05:55 PM

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What's the scoop on the new guy?

Canada's PM Jean Chretien steps down

David Crary

Dec. 12, 2003  |  OTTAWA (AP) -- Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he was proud of his decade in office as he prepared to give way Friday to a conservative former finance minister who has pledged to seek smoother ties with the United States despite strains over Iraq.

Martin, who was being sworn in as prime minister on Friday, has been a powerful figure for years in the governing Liberal Party and overwhelmingly won a leadership election after Chretien announced his retirement plans earlier this year.

Chretien, raised in a Quebec mill town, was one of the longest-serving heads of government among major Western nations. He enjoyed a warm friendship with former President Clinton, but relations with the Bush administration have been tense due to Canada's refusal to join the war in Iraq.

Martin, considered slightly more conservative than Chretien on some issues, has expressed interest in improving ties with Washington, for example by forming a Cabinet-level committee dedicated to Canadian-U.S. relations.

However, he spoke critically this week of President Bush's plan to exclude countries outside the U.S.-led coalition from bidding on lucrative rebuilding contracts in Iraq. Bush's decision was "difficult to fathom," said Martin, indicating he would raise the issue with American officials.

Chretien said Bush called him on Thursday to congratulate him on his career, express thanks for Canada's deployment of troops in Afghanistan and suggest that there might be some flexibility regarding the contract ban.

"He was basically telling me not to worry," Chretien told reporters Thursday after his last Cabinet meeting in Ottawa, the capital.

Chretien, who was sworn in as prime minister in 1993 and turns 70 in January, had planned to retire in February but agreed to leave earlier after pressure from Martin, Liberal Party members and opposition parties.

"We had a good kick at the can," Chretien said. "We are proud of what we have done collectively."

Chretien angered Bush earlier this year by refusing to contribute Canadian forces to the Iraq war, prompting the U.S. president to cancel a planned visit to Ottawa in May. Previously, some of Chretien's subordinates publicly ridiculed Bush over his unilateral policies; one aide was dismissed after calling the president a ``moron.''

Bush and Martin could hold their first official meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Mexico in January. Iraq might not be the only contentious topic; though the two nations are the world's largest trading partners, they have long-standing trade disputes over lumber and other commodities.

On the domestic front, Martin, 65, is a fiscal conservative credited with balancing Canada's budget during his nine years as finance minister. He is expected to call for national elections early next year and would be the favorite to win a full five-year term over any opposition candidate.

The Liberals' biggest domestic challenge is to rebuild major programs that have been cramped by reduced spending, including the military, the universal health care system and education. Martin also inherits two high-profile pieces of social legislation from Chretien -- proposals to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and legalize gay marriage.

The new finance minister, according to Canadian news reports, will be Ralph Goodale, who had been Chretien's public works minister, while Foreign Minister Bill Graham reportedly was in line to keep his post.

Martin reportedly was planning to create a new public security portfolio in his Cabinet, combining the oversight of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the national intelligence agency, and the departments controlling borders and ports.

Martin entered politics in 1988 after a career heading Canada Steamship Lines. His father, also named Paul, was a long-serving Cabinet minister who lost bids for the Liberal Party leadership.
It is impossible to reason a man out of something he was never reasoned into in the first place- Swift

"The cardinal principle of judicial restraint--if it is not necessary to decide more, it is necessary not to decide more."

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