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It's official: Martin takes over Add to ...

  UPDATED AT 21:25 PM  EDT

It's official: Martin takes over

  • Bono endorses Martin, Canada in helping third world
  • Canadian Press Friday, November 14, 2003 Former Finance Minister named new leader of the Liberal Party

    Paul Martin told Canadians he won't be held hostage by any political ghosts - neither his father's nor the right and left wings of the Liberal party, as he officially accepted the leadership crown Friday.

    In an emotional debut before thousands of party members, Mr. Martin laid claim to the political prize that has eluded him once before and his late father, Paul Martin Sr., three times.

    Mr. Martin offered thousands of cheering supporters his vision for Canada after he received a ringing endorsement from superstar Bono, lead singer for the Irish band U2.

    The new Liberal leader praised his socially progressive father but assured party members and the country that he did not run merely to carry the family torch.

    "Many people have asked me about my father - asked if, on becoming prime minister, I will have fulfilled his dream," Mr. Martin said, his voice catching.

    "The answer is no. It's not about his dream, but it's certainly about what he taught me - that the role of those in public life is to make a difference in the lives of people."

    Mr. Martin pledged a "politics of achievement" of which his father, who served in the governments of St. Laurent, Mackenzie King, Pearson and Trudeau, would have been proud.

    "As he is looking down upon us tonight, he is saying - Paul, this is a big day. But it's not the day. That will come many years hence. When we can say that, yes, the country did aspire to great things - and then we got them done."

    Bono had earlier lauded Canada's track record in relieving Third World debt but called on the nation to boost its foreign aid levels.

    He, too, invoked the name of Paul Martin Sr., along with other Liberal prime ministers, as examples for Mr. Martin to live up to.

    "If he carries the mantle of Pearson, Trudeau and Chrétien, and if he joins hands with the groups that are leading this fight, then Canada - Oh Canada - will show the world the way forward."

    Mr. Martin delivered his speech in the same spot where, one night before, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien addressed a larger crowd of 10,000 for his farewell speech. Mr. Martin's turnout was pegged at 8,000.

    The speech cast the former finance minister as more than just a deficit-slayer.

    "I don't believe in right-wing dogmatism," he said to raucous applause.

    "I don't believe in left-wing dogmatism," he added, to more muted cheers.

    Mr. Martin also tried to break with some of Chrétien's legacy, one day after the outgoing prime minister warned party members not to fall prey to right-wing ideology - a warning widely viewed as directed toward Mr. Martin.

    "It is clear that we must set about doing things in a different way," he said.

    The text included several promises to improve in areas that have troubled his predecessor:

    - Canada-U.S. relations need to become a "proud partnership based on mutual respect," he said.

    - Government accountability needs to improve, and programs shown to "deliver on value ... A government that treats taxpayers' money like it is your money."

    - Backbenchers must be empowered to ensure parliamentary reform benefits all Canadians who are now feeling cynical and underrepresented, he said.

    - The education system must be "second to none" for Canada to become and remain more competitive on the world stage; technological development and innovation must be enhanced.

    - Canadians have lately been relieved of key stumbling blocks that have plagued the federation, he said. While the Quebec sovereignty movement has been quelled and western alienation is on the mend, he promised to improve federal-provincial relations.

    Deficit reduction - one of his greatest achievements as finance minister - will remain a cornerstone of his administration, but is no longer enough to ensure a thriving economy, Mr. Martin said.

    And he promised a renewed dedication to the social programs created, in part, by his father, who helped engineer Canada's public health-care system.

    Martin vowed never to allow a two-tiered approach to medical care under his watch.

    "Make no mistake, I will keep the promise of high-quality and universal health care."

    Poll after poll has shown health care as the No. 1 priority Canadians have set for the next prime minister.

    In a final tally announced Friday night, Mr. Martin won a 94 per cent ballot victory over his only challenger, Heritage Minister Sheila Copps.

    After Ms. Copps refused to drop off the ballot despite pressure from within the party, Mr. Martin won 3,242 out of 3,455 delegate ballots, Ms. Copps won 211, and two were spoiled.

    But before the ballot-counting even ended, Ms. Copps was already throwing her support behind Mr. Martin.

    "I urge you now to work your hearts out for Paul," the heritage minister told about 1,000 supporters who crammed into a tiny room to hear what amounted to an early concession speech.

    "I know that the soon-to-be Right Honourable Paul Martin will be a great Liberal prime minister."

    The highest point of political drama came when Mr. Martin accepted the olive branch extended one night earlier by his longtime rival Mr. Chrétien.

    "If the true measure of a leader is whether he leaves the nation in better shape than he found it, then Jean Chrétien can be truly proud."

    He also praised Mr. Chrétien for his support when he was in cabinet.

    "One of the greatest assets I had as finance minister during the fight against the deficit was the unflinching and virtually unprecedented support of the prime minister and let there be no doubt - without that, we never could have succeeded.

    Mr. Chrétien, who watched from the stands, stood slowly and waved to the crowd and to his old rival. Later, Mr. Chrétien appeared on stage to grasp Martin's hand and raise it high.

    Mr. Martin also thanked Mr. Chrétien's wife, Aline, who he said helped the prime minister through his four decades in politics.

    He also thanked all those who once considered challenging him, only to drop out of the lopsided leadership race - Brian Tobin, Allan Rock, and Deputy Prime Minister John Manley - along with also-ran Copps.

    His wife, Sheila, was moved nearly to tears when Mr. Martin told her what her support had meant to him.

    "Sheila, let me just say, that without you, it's just not possible. With you, everything has been possible," he said.

    "You have given me everything, and you have asked nothing in return, and I will love you always."

    He also thanked his three sons, Paul, Jamie and David.

    The 10-year wait is finally over for Paul Martin.

    The former Finance Minister and current member of Parliament for LaSalle-Émard in Montreal has officially been named the new leader of the Liberal Party, taking over from Jean .

    Mr. Martin defeated Heritage Minister Sheila Copps 3,242-211 - representing a 94-per-cent victory.

    In a prepared text of the final speech, Martin praised his socially progressive father but assured Liberals and the country that he did not run merely to carry the family torch.

    "Many people have asked me about my father - asked if, on becoming prime minister, I will have fulfilled his dream," Martin said.

    "The answer is no. It's not about his dream, it's about what he taught me - that the role of those in public life is to make a difference in the lives of people."

    In the text of the speech, Martin pledged a "politics of achievement" of which his father, who served in the governments of St. Laurent, Mackenzie King, Pearson and Trudeau, would have been proud.

    "As he is looking down upon us tonight, he is saying - Paul, this is a big day. But it's not the day. That will come many years hence. When we can say that, yes, the country did aspire to great things - and then we got them done."

    He is scheduled to meet with Mr. Chrétien on Tuesday to set the dates and process for transition, ending what has been a sometimes bitter struggle between the supporters of the two powerful Liberals.

    Most believe the Prime Minister will actually leave office in mid or late December after the Commonwealth heads of government meet in Nigeria.

    Mr. Chrétien announced Wednesday that he would prorogue Parliament and that he would not be in office after Jan. 12.

    The move leaves several key pieces of legislation in limbo, including a bill to redraw the country's electoral boundaries that is a crucial element of the Liberals' plan to call a spring election.

    Mr. Martin said Thursday he expects most of the legislation introduced by Mr. Chrétien will eventually be passed. Now that Parliament has been prorogued, the bills, including marijuana legislation and re-vamping family law, will have to be reintroduced when Mr. Martin takes over.

    The new Liberal leader's desire for a spirit of co-operation with the provinces will be put to the test almost immediately when he holds an informal first ministers meeting at the Grey Cup in Regina on Sunday.

    While Mr. Martin was careful not to make any firm spending commitments during the leadership campaign, it is believed he will move quickly to eliminate or scale back low-priority or wasteful programs to find extra cash for his initiatives.

    Some insiders have suggested Mr. Martin may even go a step further, imposing a freeze on all discretionary spending to better assess what can stay and what should go. Such a freeze would save about $500-million over three months.

    Also near the top of the agenda: delivering a Throne Speech, a budget and a major foreign-policy review.

    Mr. Martin is also said to be considering numerous possible changes in government structure, even at the cabinet level. One plan considered this fall would have replicated the British cabinet model, in which about 12 senior ministers form an inner cabinet and many more junior ministers have narrow responsibilities.

    Mr. Martin was first elected federally in 1988. In 1990, he ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, finishing second to Mr. Chrétien.

    He served in the Prime Minister's cabinet as Minister of Finance from November 1993 until June 2002.

    His father, Paul Martin Sr., served almost two dozen years in Liberal cabinets under four different prime ministers: William Lyon Mackenzie King, Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau.

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