Next Canadian leader plans greater role in continent's security

Sunday, November 16, 2003

TORONTO -- Canada's next prime minister on Saturday promised a greater role in North American security and pledged to work closely with President Bush on the mutual interests of Canada and the United States.

Paul Martin, in his first news conference after becoming leader of the governing Liberal Party the night before, blamed policy differences and a lack of communication for strained relations between outgoing Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Bush.

"I think what's important, really, is that the prime minister and the president establish a strong understanding reflecting the fact that they will have different interests at stake," Martin said.

When he succeeds Chretien, who is expected to step down in upcoming weeks, Martin will promote stronger relations with Bush and strengthened ties between Canada's Parliament and Congress.

Chretien angered Bush this year by refusing to take part in the war in Iraq, prompting the U.S. president to cancel a planned visit to Ottawa in May. Before then, some of Chretien's subordinates publicly ridiculed Bush over his unilateral policies.

At the same time, longstanding trade disputes involving softwood lumber and other commodities added to the perception of hard feelings between the countries. They share the world's largest trade partnership, worth $1.4 billion a day.

"I think that some of the reasons for the more recent strains are fairly obvious," was all Martin would say about the tension. "Some simply have been communication, and some have had to do with very substantive issues such as softwood lumber."

In a multibillion-dollar battle that has raged for more than 2 1/2 years, Washington accuses Canada of subsidizing its softwood lumber industry. Last year, the United States imposed punitive duties totaling 27 percent on imports from four Canadian provinces.

Canada calls the duties unwarranted and has filed challenges with the World Trade Organization and under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. officials also have criticized Canada for cutting defense spending in the 1990s, when Martin was finance minister and balancing the budget. The cuts have reduced the nation's ability to participate in NATO campaigns.

Martin insisted that Canada, the second-largest country in the world behind Russia, would work with the United States on overall North American security in the age of international terrorism.

"We are responsible for protecting the northern half of North America and we will fulfill that responsibility," Martin said. "It is not simply an American issue; it is a Canadian issue as well."

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