Meet Your Neighbor, Paul Martin

By Adamson, Rondi | The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Meet Your Neighbor, Paul Martin


Adamson, Rondi, The Christian Science Monitor


With a simplicity that might make the Democratic candidates for 2004 turn green, Canada will get - sans primaries or being yelled at by Chris Matthews - a new leader on Friday. Paul Martin, Canada's former finance minister, was crowned - with virtually no competition - the new head of the Liberal Party in mid- November. He takes over as Prime Minister Jean Chretien steps down after 10 (it seemed like more) years.

Mr. Martin is not required to call an election until 2005 but will probably not wait that long. It is doubtful he'll lose, as there is no effective opposition to the seemingly always in power Liberal Party.

Still, the change in leaders represents, if not a sea change in policy, then at least a change in style. Martin is mature and diplomatic, less fractious than Mr. Chretien. But as he has had little opposition within or outside his party, he has not been required to say much regarding his beliefs. One thing he has said, though, is that improving US-Canada relations will be a priority.

Not that that should be difficult after the climate of overt hostility created by Chretien. Under Chretien's leadership, a federal politician referred - publicly - to Americans as "bastards," and his communications director called President Bush a "moron." All to the obvious delight of many Canadians. Chretien blamed Sept. 11 on Western - aka American - "greed" and his transport minister, David Collenette, publicly mourned the passing of the Soviet Union because there'd be no one around to check American "bullying."

Were that not enough, Chretien gleefully told NATO leaders that "I make it my policy" not to do what the United States wants. So there. He also shook the hand of the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, shortly after the latter made his infamous anti- Semitic comments in October.

Chretien and Martin have had their own share of conflict, culminating in Martin's being booted out of the federal Cabinet in 2002. (Chretien said Martin quit. Martin maintains he was fired.) The official line was that the two men could no longer work together, but comments about Chretien's "megalomania" did get bandied about. Chretien was said to be angry that - according to him - Martin was already angling for the job of Liberal Party leader.

Regardless, during Martin's term as finance minister, Canada recorded five consecutive budget surpluses and erased a $42 billion deficit. (Prior to his involvement in politics, Martin, the son of another Liberal Party politician, was a success in the private sector, as chairman and CEO of Canada Steamship Lines.)

The cost-cutting was done at the expense, in large part, of the Canadian military, such as it is or was. But Martin's choices most likely came from the overall spirit of the government he was serving. While Canada does have troops in Afghanistan, Chretien, after much waffling, announced two nights before the start of the war in Iraq that Canada would give no support there.

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