Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Canada applauds Martin


Paul Martin completed his 13-year ascent to the top of Canadian politics, claiming the leadership of the governing Liberal Party to guarantee he will succeed retiring Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

After an overwhelming victory over a lone opponent to become Liberal leader, Martin challenged Canadians to join him in forging a new national will to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

"Our challenge now is to show the way and to shape the course," he said in a forceful speech on Friday that prompted repeated ovations and cheers from the party faithful. "For I believe that Canada is ready to achieve its promise, and that in these next few years we can make history."

The result fulfilled a dream the 65-year-old Martin shared with his late father -- also a longtime Liberal Cabinet minister named Paul.

Martin's father died in 1992 after a 33-year political career in which he was known as a champion of social legislation, but failed twice to become Liberal leader and prime minister.

The younger Martin, who entered politics in 1988 after a career heading Canada Steamship Lines, combines fiscal discipline with a commitment to the social causes championed by his father.

Chretien will step down in upcoming weeks, making Martin the prime minister without an election. In Canada's political system, the head of the majority party in Parliament is prime minister.

Martin is expected to call an election next year to seek a fresh five-year mandate instead of serving out the final two years of Chretien's term.

"It's a good thing that he was a businessman before becoming a politician," said Andre Beauchesne, 45, who was in the crowd of 10,000 that cheered Martin's speech. "He's not just a politician. He has more objectives."

Martin won the party leadership with 94 percent of the 3,453 ballots counted in a race so lopsided that only one opponent stuck it out until the end. Martin, who spent nine years as Chretien's finance minister, had already assumed the role of leader-in-waiting, visiting disaster areas and holding meetings with Liberal Party lawmakers.

Easily shifting between English and French in his victory speech, Martin outlined a plan for renewing political commitment in Canada, but also promised to maintain the fiscal discipline of his finance minister years while strengthening cherished programs such as national health care.

He shunned any label as a conservative or leftist, saying he wanted policies appropriate for the changing times of technological advance and globalization.

His priorities include soothing the strains created by the sour relations between Chretien and US President George W. Bush.

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