I Paul Martin, the only new face that counts

JOHN GEDDES December 22 2003

I Paul Martin, the only new face that counts

JOHN GEDDES December 22 2003

I Paul Martin, the only new face that counts

UPFRONT

Politics

Don’t let the new faces distract you: the man to watch in this time of Ottawa regime change is the guy who was sworn in as Prime Minister. Sure, for the politically obsessed there’s lots to pore over in the new cast of Paul Martin’s first cabinet—and almost as much to mull in the surprising number of Jean Chrétien veterans who survived. And that’s not to forget the dramatic bit players such as Scott Brison, the Tory who turned Liberal rather than work inside the new unitedright Conservative party. But in all last week’s who’s-in-who’s-out intrigue, a central fact was often lost: Martin has reserved a huge role for himself.

In a reorganization announced with the cabinet, Canada’s 21st prime minister took on a daunting range of responsibilities. No less than three parliamentary secretaries will report to him, on Canada-U.S. relations, science and small business, and cities. Martin will also chair new cabinet committees on Aboriginal affairs, global affairs, and Canada-U.S. relations. And he’s pulling expertise that used to rest in departments

under his wing in the Privy Council Office— the federal bureaucry’s nerve centre. There’ll be a new PCO Canada-U.S. secretariat, to be headed by Jonathan Fried, previously a powerful Foreign Affairs official; and a new Aboriginal secretariat. As well, Martin’s getting his own presidential-sounding national security adviser.

Native elder Elmer Courchene “cleanses” Canada’s newest PM with smoke and eagle feathers;

Martin with Brison, catch of the day

It all adds up to Martin taking close control of the issues that most interest him—a big change from Chrétien, who had no interest in micromanaging. Not that Martin will be limiting himself to pet projects. He’s also restoring the old priorities and planning committee, a sort of inner cabinet that Chrétien abolished in 1993. Naturally, Martin will chair this agenda-setting club of senior ministers. Offsetting all the PM’s clout, MPs will get more power—notably including U.S.-style review of Supreme Court appointments by a Commons committee. And Martin promises MPs will shape new law as never before. Still, with his fingers in so many pies, there’s no doubting who’s the boss now. JOHN GEDDES

Quote of the week I ‘I regard it as a death of the family.’ Former progressive

Conservative leader and ex-prime minister JOE CLARK says goodbye to the newly merged right to sit as an independent