OTTAWA — Liberal Party leader Jean Chretien took office as Canada's 20th prime minister Thursday and immediately set to work on economic problems that drove the Conservatives from power.
He scheduled his first Cabinet meeting hours after being sworn in by Governor General Ramon John Hnatyshyn and hinted that one of his first tasks will be renegotiating terms of a North American free trade zone.
He also canceled contracts for British-Italian military helicopters worth $4.8 billion Canadian ($3.6 billion) to free up government money for social programs.
Chretien was expected to quickly announce a meeting with provincial premiers to begin implementing a $4.5-billion public works program to create 120,000 jobs.
Chretien, 59, a colorful Quebec lawyer, named a 22-member Cabinet, including Montreal businessman Paul Martin, architect of Chretien's victorious election platform, as finance minister; Andre Ouellet, a Quebec lawyer who served under former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as foreign minister, and Sheila Copps, a feisty politician from southern Ontario, as deputy prime minister.
The left-of-center Liberals swept to victory in last week's general election, winning 177 seats in the 295-seat House of Commons. Kim Campbell's Progressive Conservatives, who had governed for nine years, fell from 155 seats to a mere two in the worst political clobbering in Canadian history.