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Martin to add independent ethics commissioner

By Associated Press
Published December 14, 2003

OTTAWA - A day after he was sworn in, Prime Minister Paul Martin met Saturday with his Cabinet and said the first order of business would be creating an independent ethics commissioner to monitor his Liberal Party government's behavior.

Martin, who served nine years as finance minister for former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, also rejected a call from the leftist New Democratic Party to cancel several billion dollars in planned tax cuts in order to bolster health care and other social programs.

Martin said the tax cuts were needed to stimulate job creation and indicated his government was more likely to look hard for cutbacks in nonessential government spending.

Conflicts of interest and other ethics problems cropped up frequently during Chretien's 10 years in power. A bill to create an independent ethics commissioner died in Parliament this year, but Martin said it would be swiftly reintroduced.

Martin has ordered his ministers to travel on regular commercial aircraft and avoid use of private jets unless authorized by the ethics commissioner. Martin recently expressed regret for his failure to immediately disclose trips he took on associates' corporate jets while he was finance minister.

The new finance minister, Ralph Goodale, said it would be difficult to control government spending in a period where an array of first-time Cabinet ministers would be seeking money for attention-getting initiatives. He smiled when a reporter asked if he merited the nickname "Minister No."

"I hope it's "No' for a purpose, not "No' just to be a miserable character," he said. "It's "No' because we have to make the right choices for Canadians."

One department where spending increases will be considered is the military. Martin and other officials have indicated they support funding for a new model of military helicopter.

However, Martin, though professing a desire to improve U.S.-Canadian relations, was cautious when asked if he would take further steps to increase Canada's defense budget as U.S. officials have urged.

"Eventually there will be increases," Martin said. "But they're only going to be taken when we're absolutely convinced this is the right way to go."

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