Stephen Harper has been sworn in as Canada's prime minister, marking the first time in more than a decade that the Conservative Party will rule in traditionally liberal Canada. He pledged to clean up government corruption and revive relations with the US.
The 46-year-old economist also vowed to cut taxes, get tough on crime and reconsider such hot-button issues as gay marriage. He takes over from outgoing Liberal Party leader Paul Martin, whose 18-month government built on the country's robust economy but was deeply marred by an ethics scandal that outraged many Canadians.
"As a government, our mission is clear," Harper said shortly after he was sworn in on Monday.
"We will act on the collective priorities of Canadians so that our country remains strong, independent and free," he said.
Harper's personal politics are in line with those of many Republicans in the neighboring US -- he's anti-abortion and against gay marriage and big government -- and many believe rocky relations will now improve with the White House. But to govern effectively and remain in power, he'll have to balance his own beliefs with the many Canadians who disdain US President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.
Harper said during his campaign that he intends to introduce another vote on same-sex marriage and reconsider Martin's rejection of Bush's offer to join a continental anti-ballistic missile shield.
But he's also indicated that he would not kowtow to the Bush administration. He used his first press conference after being elected on Jan. 23 to reiterate a campaign pledge to increase Canada's military presence in the Northwest Passage of the Arctic, defending its sovereignty in a region that Washington believes is in international waters.
Harper has also said that Ottawa would continue to fight Washington over its punitive tariffs on Canadian lumber.
Former US secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge, in Toronto for a forum on border security with former deputy prime minister John Manley, said Canadians shouldn't be wary of close relations between Bush and Harper.
"Clearly, Canada is not going to send troops to Iraq. That's just a fact and you've made that decision ... so that's off the table," Ridge said of Canada's refusal to join the US-led invasion of Iraq. "But maybe we re-engage on softwood, re-engage on missile defense. It's an opportunity."
Ridge and Manley urged Harper to take another look at the concept of a common North American defense perimeter, one of the recommendations released last year by a task force co-chaired by Manley.
"Sometimes people confuse the notion that you're going to compromise sovereignty with collaboration," Ridge said.
Harper immediately went into his first Cabinet meeting with ministers who were also sworn in by Governor-General Michaelle Jean in a ceremony at her residence, Rideau Hall, in the federal capital of Ottawa.
The new team had been kept under wraps and was made public only minutes before the ceremony. The 29th Parliament will convene on April 3, Harper said.
In one big surprise, David Emerson was named minister of international trade, having just been re-elected to parliament two weeks ago as a Liberal.
Peter MacKay, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, was sworn in as minister of foreign affairs and Monte Solberg became minister of citizenship and immigration.
Stockwell Day became minister of public safety, an important post that works closely with Washington on matters of anti-terrorism efforts and continental security.
Harper declined to name a deputy prime minister, doing away with the post.
He also surprised Ottawa by appointing Michael Fortier, a key Conservative Party organizer in Quebec, as public works minister even though he is not a member of Parliament.
The 26-member Cabinet, which includes six women, is much leaner than the 39 positions the Liberals had.
"My smaller Cabinet and more streamlined Cabinet structure are designed for work not for show," Harper said.
Harper reiterated his campaign pledges to cut the national sales tax to 6 percent, crack down on crime, establish wait-time guarantees for the country's beleaguered health-care system and give families C$1,200 (US$1,049) for each child in day care.
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