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Canada PM Martin brings sweeping cabinet changes
( 2003-12-13 09:14) (Agencies)

Paul Martin became Canada's 21st prime minister on Friday and immediately announced sweeping reforms, declaring a wish to bring in "a new agenda of change and achievement" ahead of an election expected for next May.

Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Paul Martin (L) shakes hands with Clerk of the Privy Council Alex Himelfarb during the ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa December 12, 2003.  [Reuters]
Martin, a 65-year-old multimillionaire businessman, replaced the man his supporters effectively drove from office, fellow Liberal Jean Chretien. The majority of Chretien's ministers lost their jobs.

Martin, pledging to "restore the tone" of ties with the United States, created a new cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations and appointed a special parliamentary secretary to help smooth dealings with Washington.

He also promised to give legislators a more effective role in Parliament and he introduced several measures designed to make government less prone to the kinds of spending scandals that dogged Chretien's last years in power.

"We must restore Canadians' trust that their government is listening to them," he said.

Among his initiatives is a review of every spending item, to find areas to cut to free up new resources. The review is scheduled to be completed by next autumn.

Martin said he would break up the enormous Human Resources and Development ministry, which accounts for much of government spending and was at the center of a big scandal.

He also announced the creation of a new Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness ministry to handle national crises and natural disasters.

Candanian Prime Minister Paul Martin holds a news conference after he was sworn-in as Canada's 21st prime minister, Friday Dec. 12, 2003.  [AP]
Martin -- who served nine years as finance minister before being sacked by Chretien in June 2002 -- was formally sworn in at Rideau Hall, the residence of the governor-general who represents Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth.

It marked the end of a 13-year struggle to be prime minister and was particularly sweet because his father -- also a Liberal cabinet minister -- had failed 35 years earlier.

Paul Martin Sr., made a run for prime minister in 1968 but was beaten by the younger Pierre Elliott Trudeau. At Friday's ceremony, the new prime minister choked back tears during the national anthem as he clutched the folded flag that flew at half-mast over Parliament in 1992 when his father died.

Martin told his new cabinet to perform like stars and get ready for an election soon after April 1. Opinion polls show the Liberals -- who have been in power for a decade -- are well ahead of other opposition parties.

"We were told these were four-month appointments," one member of the new cabinet told Reuters.

Several of top posts went to current ministers but ones who had been Martin allies rather than Chretien loyalists.

Martin picked western Canadians for the two most powerful jobs -- finance and deputy prime minister -- in a switch from Chretien's era when those posts were always held by people from the central provinces of Ontario and Quebec.


Martin wants to cut into western Canadian alienation, a phenomenon that has minimized Liberal seats in the region.

The top post under Martin is finance, which former Public Works Minister Ralph Goodale took over. Goodale, a no-nonsense, lawyer from Saskatchewan, who shares the fiscally conservative wing of the party with Martin, pledged to keep the budget balanced and to cut debt and, when possible, taxes.

Alberta's Anne McLellan, formerly health minister, became deputy prime minister and heads the new public safety ministry, intended to mirror the U.S. Homeland Security Department.

Stephen Harper, a leader in the opposition Conservative Party, said Martin should have fired all Chretien's ministers.

"For all the talk of real change and a major shake-up at the top levels of government, this was more illusion than revolution. Paul Martin shuffled the deck, but the front bench is still the same bunch of jokers," he said.

Foreign Minister Bill Graham kept his job while David Pratt, formerly chairman of Parliament's defense committee, became defense minister.

Pratt stood out against the government's opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq and wants more military spending to boost what many see as Canada's dwindling influence abroad. Martin ordered a foreign and defense policy review, which he said could easily lead to an increase in the size of the armed forces.

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