- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

TORONTO — Former Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin, an outspoken advocate for mending ties with the United States, has all but been crowned the country’s next prime minister.

“The party has chosen,” a glum-faced Deputy Prime Minister John Manley said this week, conceding Mr. Martin has locked up the party’s leadership race well before the first ballot is cast.

In announcing the end of his leadership campaign, Mr. Manley confirmed a coronation the Liberal Party tried desperately to avoid.

Mr. Martin simply outshone his competition with his record as finance minister. During his nine years on the job, he achieved five consecutive budget surpluses, wiped out a $42 billion deficit and reduced more than $36 billion in debt.

Along the way, the Canadian shipping magnate made a splash on the world stage for his fiscally conservative thinking.

His smooth-talking, deficit-slaying mantra was a hit with Group of Eight finance ministers, but his liberal compassion for those in need in developing nations saw him join forces with the likes of Irish rock star Bono.

Addressing the issue of strained Canada-U.S. relations, Mr. Martin has also vowed to undertake a “systematic and coordinated effort to confirm and strengthen” that partnership.

Speaking to members of the Canadian Newspaper Association in Toronto in April, he said his efforts will include establishing a permanent Cabinet committee and House of Commons committee on Canada-U.S. relations to monitor and review “this vitally important relationship.”

The 64-year-old politician, however, faces an agonizing seven-month wait before he can claim the title of prime minister. He still has some competition and some red tape to overcome before assuming the Liberal Party’s top job.

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps is the only other candidate in the leadership race. She vows to keep campaigning, despite the fact Mr. Martin is supported by almost 130 of 169 Liberal members of Parliament.

Polls show average Canadians welcome the prospect of Mr. Martin taking over as prime minister, but they won’t have a say in the matter. Parliamentary procedure dictates the leader of a governing party is automatically named prime minister.

The ruling Liberals are scheduled to choose a successor to Prime Minister Jean Chretien — whose icy relationship with President Bush has made headlines on both sides of the border — at a leadership convention in November.

Mr. Chretien doesn’t plan to retire until February at the earliest and has vehemently resisted suggestions he leave sooner.

Despite Mr. Martin’s success as finance minister, he and Mr. Chretien have a hostile relationship, exacerbated by accusations that Mr. Chretien fired Mr. Martin a year ago for plotting to replace him.

Meanwhile, anxious Liberal backbenchers are calling for Mrs. Copps to call it quits and for Mr. Chretien to step down quickly.

“[He] should leave early — instead of February, maybe the end of September,” said Gurbax Singh Mahli, a member of Parliament.

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