Former Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin is almost assured of becoming the country's next Prime Minister after winning the leadership of his country's ruling Liberal Party. Mr. Martin is expected to take over early next year, at a time when U.S.-Canadian relations have been strained by disagreements on a number of trade and foreign policy issues.
Paul Martin clinched the leadership of Canada's dominant Liberal Party a few days ago when his supporters won 90 percent of the vote at a series of nationwide internal party meetings.
This means the 65-year-old former business executive will succeed Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who has announced he is stepping down next February, after 10 years at the helm.
Mr. Martin was Canada's Finance Minister from 1993 to 2002. He is credited with erasing a massive budget deficit and restoring solvency to Canada's public finances - as well as investor confidence in one of the world's largest economies.
He said that as prime minister, he will work to reduce Canada's public debt and improve conflict-ridden relations between Canada's central government and the powerful provincial premiers. On foreign issues, Mr. Martin wants to increase Canadian aid to developing countries and give Canada an even larger role than it already has in international peacekeeping efforts.
Analysts say he will also have to use his political skills to improve relations with the United States.
These were starined, earlier this year, by Canada's refusal to participate in the U.S.-led war against Iraq and by other issues, such as Canada's plans to legalize same-sex marriage and marijuana.
Barbara McDougall, a former Canadian foreign minister, who heads the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, based in Toronto, says, "I think first of all, Paul Martin will want to develop a very congenial relationship with the president of the United States. It has always been in our interest to have that kind of relationship. We don't have that at the moment. The second thing that he will want to do is strengthen our embassy in Washington. It's important that our ambassador in Washington be someone who is seen by senior officials to have a good relationship with the prime minister."
As prime minister Mr. Martin will also have to deal with trade disputes that have sprung up between Canada and the United States despite the signature 10 years ago of the North American Free Trade Agreement comprising these two countries and Mexico.
"The Americans have levied some tariffs on lumber exports from Canada to the U.S. That's a significant export industry in Canada," said Carl Sonnen, who chairs Informetrica, an economic analysis firm based in Ottawa, Canada's capital. "Recently, we had a case of mad cow disease or BSE and exports to the U.S. were cut off for a time, they have been opened a little bit. More generally, the Americans have a list of irritants or complaints that they publish each year for every country in the world. In Canada's case, the cultural industries are something that they are not particularly happy about. They think of those as something we protect."
Barbara McDougall says trade issues may also stand in the way of a positive relationship between Canada and developing countries, as shown by the recent dispute over agricultural subsidies at the World Trade Organization conference, in Mexico.
"Agricultural subsidies are the real holdout on the part of the developed countries. The European countries all subsidize their agriculture, the United States does and so does Canada. The developing countries are never going to be able to trade and build their trade and build their exports unless they can export their agricultural products to the developed Western countries," she said.
Ms. McDougall says the next Canadian leader has a head start in efforts to resolve trade issues between Western and developing countries.
As Canada's finance minister for nine years, Mr. Paul Martin helped start the G-21 group, which includes the world's largest economies as well as developing nations like India, China and Brazil.