Ottawa — Paul Martin, respected as a deficit-chopping finance minister, succeeded Jean Chretien as prime minister Friday and immediately created an expansive new national security agency intended to help mend Canadian-U.S. ties that frayed under Chretien.
Martin said he would lead a new committee devoted to assessing and improving relations with the United States. He expects to confer by phone with President Bush on Monday and meet one-on-one with him at a regional summit in Mexico next month.
Martin, 65, took the oath of office in fluent French and English in a nationally televised ceremony at the offices of Canada's governor-general. Beforehand, an Indian elder dusted Martin with an eagle feather in a purification rite; afterward, a children's choir sang "O Canada."
Chretien, beloved by most Canadians but at odds with the Bush administration over Iraq and other issues, stepped down in a private ceremony an hour earlier after 10 years as prime minister and 40 years in politics. Raised in a Quebec mill town, the 18th of 19th children, he was one of the longest-serving government leaders among major Western nations.
Though Martin won plaudits for eliminating a budget deficit during nine years as Chretien's finance minister, the two men were uneasy rivals within the dominant Liberal Party. When Chretien announced his retirement plans earlier this year, Martin won an overwhelming victory as the Liberals' new leader and joined in pressuring Chretien to step down two months earlier than he intended.
Martin is expected to call national elections this spring, and will be heavily favored to defeat any opposition candidates.
"I look forward to the opportunity to rally Canadians toward a new sense of national purpose and around a new agenda of change and achievement," Martin said.