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The Quiet Canadian Way

September 27, 2003

Many Americans, now enduring month nine of their 22-month, mind-numbing president-picking saga, may be pleasantly surprised to learn that Canadian Liberal Party members, in effect, quietly chose their country's next prime minister the other day. And who down here knew?

He's Paul Martin, a multimillionaire, former businessman and finance minister whose conservative and disciplined fiscal policies impressed many by not only trimming his government's once willful deficits but producing five consecutive surpluses. Try that with Canada's abiding affection for social welfare programs. His supporters won more than 90% of the seats for next month's Liberal leadership convention. That means Martin will succeed Prime Minister Jean Chretien this winter when the grumpy veteran finally gives up the stale ghost of 13 years as party leader.

Martin probably will move promptly to warm what he calls the "fundamental" relationship with the United States, Canada's more populous neighbor and largest market. Then, to renew his controlling majority against a badly fractured opposition that has only regional bases, he'll probably call a national election for spring. (Canadian campaigns typically are a gloriously short 36 to 60 days.)

It's one measure of Canada's wizened politics and lame, vision-free opposition parties that Martin -- a 64-year-old businessman and the son of a longtime politician who lost two bids for party leadership -- could spend nine years running the budget and finances for an entrenched Chretien administration and still campaign successfully as a fresh face and force. Chretien pushed Martin out of the Cabinet last year when his maneuverings became obvious and forced a tired Chretien to promise he would resign in February 2004.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 09, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 16 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Canadian politics -- In an editorial Sept. 27, the age of Canada's probable next prime minister, Paul Martin, was misstated as 64. He is 65.

Martin, like Chretien a Quebecer, spent his months since leaving the Cabinet as a parliamentary back-bencher, quietly listening and speaking across that vast diverse land, which is 10% larger than the U.S. but with 10% of the population. He even won over some western Canadian conservatives by stressing fiscal discipline and inclusion. He speaks regularly of cutting taxes, controlling government spending and reducing debt further.

He wants to reform Parliament and the arrogance of Ottawa to dilute the sense of distance to Canada's varied regions, especially the less liberal West. Before a recent major address, Martin also had a courtesy visit with U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci, an action that would not be Chretien's first instinct.

As Roy MacGregor, the noted Canadian commentator, said last week, "Politicians don't win elections in this country; they lose them." Only days after winning anointment as prime-minister-in-waiting, Martin seems well on the way to not losing.

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