Leaning To The Right? A Look At Canada’s New Prime Minister

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Former Canadian finance minister Paul Martin was sworn in as prime minister this month replacing Jean Chretien who has headed up the Liberal Party for the last 10 years. We go to Ottawa to speak with Tony Clark of the Polaris Institute. [includes transcript]

Canada’s former finance minister Paul Martin was sworn in as prime minister on December 12th. Martin replaces Jean Chretien who headed up the Liberal Party as prime minister for the last 10 years.

At Martin’s swearing-in ceremony, a Native Canadian elder conducted a “cleansing ceremony” complete with burning sage as a sign that the government would change course, even though Martin has succeeded a fellow Liberal whom he served as finance minister.

Martin has announced his aim to strengthen Canada’s international standing, particularly in relations with the United States. He has appointed David Pratt defense minister who urged the previous government to join the invasion of Iraq. Pratt is expected to be an articulate advocate for increasing the military budget.

Martin visited the Department of National Defense headquarters after only three days while former Prime Minister Chretien never set foot in the building during 10 years in office.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by Tony Clark of the Polaris Institute in Ottawa Canada. Can you talk about the new prime minister and where you expect him to take the country and how he compares to the former Prime Minister, Cretien?

TONY CLARK: Yes. Well, when you look back on the Liberal Convention which was the last one that Jean Cretien spoke to he made it very clear. He said how that the warning to the Liberal Party about being aware and be aware of the right within the party. He looked right at Paul Martin when he said that, and it’s kind of like reminiscent of the warning that Dwight Eisenhower gave as he was leaving the White House office about leaving the military industrial complex. Martin has become clear about his position on the military front. He does favor much closer cooperation with the United States on this. He sees himself as substantially increasing the military spending of Canadian government on military matters. And he wants to see Canada join the American missile defense systems. We’re likely to see a major shift in that direction towards increased military spending and buildup as far as the United States is concerned. This is all part of a whole attempt to develop a new political agenda between the United States, between Canada and the United States. Beyond free trade into things that deal with military security, homeland security and energy security in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the whole issue of globalization and where Canada fits in? Canada, the United States and Mexico signing NAFTA, nine years ago, almost ten years ago and where Martin compares to Cretien, a well known ani?

TONY CLARK: I think what’s happened is now that the access has been certainly fairly well formed in terms of free trade on the continent, an the question is how do — to move forward from her, and it’s more than just free trade in the sense of goods and services going across borders now, although that’s still a part of the agenda. The question is how to secure those and how to make sure that this power base that’s been dealt in terms of the economy expands throughout the Americas and elsewhere in the world. That means from the standpoint of some people, and I think many of them are Martinites, is that they need to consolidate a relationship with the bush administration and with the United States in order to further expand Canada’s role in the world. Martin in many ways sees Canada’s future lying in terms of the stronger relationship with the United States. The point I’m making is that’s going to come at a different price. It’s just a question of more goods and services going across the borders. It’s going to be making sure that we are in there playing a very active role with the United States on the military front. It means beefing up and really coordinating and consolidating the homeland security with that of the United States and furthermore, it means making sure that Canada is the constant guaranteed supplier of energy outside of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Looking at a “New York Times” piece from Saturday, It said, “Mr. Martin would push ahead with the legislation to decriminalize smaller amounts of marijuana but with higher penalties than those of Cretien. He dodged questions about same-sex marriage. Cretien backed appeals court decisions in Ontario and British Columbia allowing gay and lesbian couples marry and to expand marriage rights nationwide. Martin said he would consider the issue before parliament votes on the law. He would ask the Supreme Court for its opinion Legal scholars doubt that the Supreme Court would approve any law falling short of a total equality.

TONY CLARK: In terms of the other decision issues on the record that the Cretien government put in front of them, Those are the ones that Martin now has to deal with. It’s interesting to see that he’s going to — the position he may take on marijuana, on same-sex marriage, I think that’s reflecting — Martin’s position is largely reflecting his perspective as a Roman Catholic from that angle. He definitely wants to make a separation between civil marriage and marriage that’s conducted under the ceremony. He wants to retain the distinction between those two in order to avoid a conflict that he will have to face. He’s back off of those directions that I think that the certainly the Cretien government will spend the legacy that Jean Cretien was following as far as social matters.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Tony Clark, director of the Polaris Institute in Ottawa.

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