Martin quits party post, ending talk of comeback plan

Published March 19, 2006

Canada's former prime minister, Paul Martin, has formally resigned as Liberal leader and ended speculation he might try to stage a comeback in the next federal election.

Martin, whose government was defeated in January, sent a letter of resignation to party executives, who are meeting this weekend to plan for a leadership convention.

"I look forward to continuing to serve and contribute to the party that I have always and will always regard as my second family," Martin said in his letter.

On the night of his government's election defeat, Martin announced he would step down as leader but continue as a Montreal-area member of Parliament.

Among those considering succeeding Martin are former Ontario New Democratic Party Premier Bob Rae and Liberals Maurizio Bevilacqua, Scott Brison, Stephane Dion, John Godfrey, Tony Ianno, Michael Ignatieff, Belinda Stronach and Joe Volpe.

Bill Graham is the party's interim leader until the leadership convention expected late this year, possibly in Montreal.

Harper rallies troops

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has returned home after rallying Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

In his first foreign trip since taking office, Harper spent two days with the troops and met with Asian leaders. He expressed strong support for the Canadian military and its mission in Afghanistan and rejected calls from opposition politicians that Canada's role be debated in the House of Commons.

Harper and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai discussed Canada's peacekeeping and anti-terrorist operations. Harper also met with Pakistani leaders in Islamabad.

News in brief

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins said plans continue to institute some form of official border identification card that won't negatively impact trade or travel. Speaking in Victoria, Wilkins said he is aware there are concerns about identity cards to be required at land border crossings by the end of next year. A recent survey showed 68 percent of Americans and 54 percent of Canadians would be unlikely to pay for such a card.

Canada's new Conservative government maintains its support in public opinion polls despite some furor over Prime Minister Harper's Cabinet choices. A Decima poll found the government had the support of 37 percent of decided voters, up from 36 percent on election day. The Liberals were down 2 percent at 28 percent, while the New Democrats were up one at 19 percent and the Bloc Quebecois down one at 11 percent.

Canada's net worth has grown to $4.5-trillion, or $137,000 a person, Statistics Canada reports. It was up $60.4-billion in the fourth quarter last year as Canadians and companies put away more savings. Debt eased slightly to $1.08 owing by each household for every dollar of disposable income.

Facts and figures

The Royal Bank predicts Canada's economy will grow 3.5 percent and add 300,000 jobs this year.

The annual inflation rate dropped by 0.6 percent to 2.2 percent last month, helped by easing prices for gasoline and fresh produce. The Bank of Canada's key interest rate is steady at 3.75 percent while the prime lending rate is 5.5 percent.

Canada's dollar is slightly higher at 86.21 cents U.S. while the U.S. dollar returns $1.1599 Canadian before bank exchange fees.

Stock markets are higher, with the Toronto composite index at 12,088 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange at 2,652 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 2, 7, 15, 23, 25, 45; bonus 41. (March 11) 12, 13, 19, 20, 21, 29; bonus 38.

Regional briefs

Alberta's controversial Premier Ralph Klein plans to call it quits at the end of October 2007 but will remain in office until early 2008 to allow time for his Conservative successor to be chosen. To avoid "perception of any conflicts or personal advantages," Klein ordered Cabinet ministers seeking his job to resign their portfolios by June.

Manitoba is joining British Columbia and Nova Scotia in a multibillion-dollar legal battle against the tobacco industry. A provincial bill would allow it to sue tobacco companies to recover the costs of treating people with diseases linked to smoking. Ontario has passed a bill to make all workplaces, including casinos, smoke-free after June 1.

Ontario Colleges and Universities Minister Chris Bentley has intervened in the strike by college teachers to try to find a basis of settlement. Bentley is meeting with both sides to discuss the two-week-old strike by 9,100 faculty that affects 150,000 students.

Allen Abney, 56, of Kingsgate, British Columbia, has been freed on a military discharge from Camp Pendleton, Calif. He was taken there a week ago after being arrested for desertion while crossing the U.S. border. Abney, who was born in the United States but grew up in Canada, deserted the U.S. Marines in 1968.

Jim Fox can be reached at canadareport@hotmail.com