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Flat Mark returned to his buddies in Karlo Cabrera's civics class at Fenside Public School in North Toronto yesterday, bringing along his new friend, Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Children dressed in their best shirts and shiny shoes and waving tiny Canadian flags lined the school's long central corridor to greet Flat Mark and the man who had escorted him around Ottawa in the days leading up to the transition of government in December.

Flat Mark is a paper doll, about 35 centimetres tall, with turquoise pants and a brown shirt. The students in Mr. Cabrera's class drew him and sent him to Mr. Martin last fall as part of a literacy and civics project, asking the then incoming Prime Minister to show the doll what it is like to take over as the leader of Canada's Parliament.

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"What Flat Mark has done is he has brought to Ottawa, to the nation's capital, to the government, this idea from you about how important it is that government look at new ideas, that they look at things differently and that government learn from people," Mr. Martin told the roughly 50 Grade 4 students at the homecoming.

He then described a few of the adventures that he and the paper doll had shared, such as his Dec. !2 swearing-in at Rideau Hall .

"Flat Mark got into some trouble, and there are stories I don't think I should tell you, but he did a terrific job," Mr. Martin said.

He was extremely helpful when the transition team was devising policy, the Prime Minister said.

"Every time I needed support, I would look over at Flat Mark and I'd say, 'Am I right?' and he would just nod and he would smile, and I knew then that I was on the right path," said Mr. Martin, holding his one-dimensional friend in his fingers.

The idea to send Flat Mark to Mr. Martin came from nine-year-old Steven Matskoulis, who had visited the Parliament Buildings with his parents. He suggested it to Mr. Cabrera after reading Flat Stanley, a story about a boy who is squashed flat by a bulletin board but makes the best of the situation by doing things other children can't do, like mailing himself to a friend in California.

The popularity of the book prompted the Flat Stanley project, which has students in more than 1,000 schools around the world sending paper dolls to classes in other countries, where they are treated as guests and mailed back with journals of their visits.

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Flat Mark also returned with a journal of his adventures, a big red binder full of photographs and captions written by the paper doll that Mr. Martin presented to the students.

In one of the pictures, Flat Mark and Mr. Martin are reading a newspaper. You can see that the doll is frowning, the Prime Minister said: That happens a lot when people in Ottawa read the news stories written about them.

In later photos, Flat Mark is posing with the newly sworn-in cabinet ministers. The doll and the Canadian leader must have grown close during the time they were together because, by the end, they were on a first-name basis. "Paul and I pose at Rideau Hall," Flat Mark wrote under a picture of Mr. Martin grimacing on a couch.

In return for Flat Mark's journal, the students gave the Prime Minister three books containing their "hopes and dreams and wishes for Canada."

One child asked for "no more wars" and "no more SARS."

Another wanted people to stop cutting down trees, to be kinder to animals, and to stop robbing banks.

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Many talked about their desire for a better environment.

"Certain things that are in here," Mr. Martin said of the books, "are things that should be in the Speech from the Throne."

For their part, the children seemed thrilled by the arrival of the Prime Minister and his entourage -- and the swarm of media cameras.

"It's pretty cool," said nine-year-old Grace Li. "When they took a picture, my stomach was full of bubbles."

And what did the students think Mr. Martin learned from his visit?

"That little things can turn into big things," 10-year-old Justin Vahedi said.

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But the reporters who attended the event were less star-struck; one pointed out that the education the children were receiving had suffered as a result of government cutbacks.

"We have two major national priorities in this country, health care and education," Mr. Martin replied. "In those areas where we have jurisdiction we are going, in fact, to continue to reinvest very, very heavily in education."

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