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Martin easily wins Canada leadership vote
( 2003-09-22 11:31) (Agencies)

Former finance minister Paul Martin on Sunday took a giant step toward becoming Canada's next prime minister when he easily won the race which will decide who becomes head of the ruling Liberal party, his aides said.

Liberal Member of Parliament Paul Martin gestures to supporters as he votes to elect a delegate to attend the Liberal party's leadership convention, in his Montreal riding of LaSalle-Emard, September 19, 2003. [Reuters]
Liberal party members voted this weekend to choose delegates to a convention in Toronto on Nov. 15 which will elect a new leader.

Martin aides said that as of 9:45 p.m. he had the support of 3,491 delegates, well over half the 5,800 delegates he needed for victory. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, the only other candidate, had just 231 delegates.

This means that barring disaster, Martin will be elected leader of the party in November and will replace Jean Chretien when he retires as prime minister next February.

"This is just beyond belief ... this is the result of all the hard work that all of you have put in," Martin told his aides by telephone in a scene captured by CBC television.

Martin, a fiscal conservative, has promised to improve Ottawa's cool relations with Washington and stresses the need to continue paying down the national debt.

Copps, speaking before the unofficial delegate count was announced, vowed to stay in the race.

"The status quo is not good enough. I've run a very vigorous campaign with a whole lot of people who believe in my vision of Canada and I owe it to them to put forward that vision on Nov. 15," she said.

Liberal Member of Parliament Paul Martin hugs his wife Sheila after voting to elect a delegate to attend the Liberal party's leadership convention, in his Montreal riding of LaSalle-Emard, September 19, 2003. Martin is the frontrunner to replace Prime Minister Jean Chretien who will step down in February 2004.  [Reuters]
Martin's win had long been predicted, since he is widely popular and his allies have gained control of many local Liberal associations across the country.

The victory will also put more pressure on Chretien to retire earlier than planned, since Canada will effectively have two leaders after the November convention.

"We've gone from well beyond doubt to absolute certainty (that Martin will be the next leader). The situation becomes more and more awkward every passing day," Liberal legislator John McKay -- a Martin backer -- told Reuters.

But Chretien, who sacked Martin last year for plotting against him, refuses to consider leaving early.

Chretien defeated Martin in a 1990 leadership race and led the party to national election victories in 1993, 1997 and 2000. The fractured nature of Canada's opposition means many expect Martin to steer the Liberals to victory at the next election, which is likely to be held in 2004.

Financial analysts say they would recommend buying the Canadian dollar if Chretien left early because they assume Martin would spend less, be more friendly to business and be more open to tax and debt cuts.

In the weekend voting, up to 4,750 delegates were being chosen for the convention, out of a total of 5,800 delegates. The remaining 1,050 either have the automatic right to go or will be chosen later.

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