By BETH DUFF-BROWN
Stephen Harper, who promises to mend Canada’s frayed relations with the United States, was sworn in as the nation’s 22nd prime minister Monday, marking the first time in more than 12 years that the Conservative Party will rule this traditionally liberal nation.
The 46-year-old economist has pledged to cut taxes, clean up government corruption and reconsider such hot-button issues as gay marriage. He takes over for outgoing Liberal Party leader Paul Martin, whose 18-month government was marred by indecision and the inability to rise above an ethics scandal that outraged many Canadians.
“As a government, our mission is clear,” Harper said shortly after being was sworn in. “We will act on the collective priorities of Canadians so that our country remains strong, independent and free.”
Harper’s personal politics are in line with that of many Republicans south of the border. He is anti-abortion and against gay marriage and big government – and many believe rocky relations will now improve with the White House.
But to govern effectively and remain in power, he will have to balance his own beliefs with the many Canadians who disdain the Bush administration and, in particular, the war in Iraq.
Harper said during his campaign that he intends to introduce another vote on same-sex marriage – passed by the House of Commons last year – and reconsider Martin’s rejection of President Bush’s offer to join a continental anti-ballistic missile shield.
But he used his first press conference after being elected on Jan. 23 to reiterate a campaign pledge to increase Canada’s military presence in the Northwest Passage of the Arctic, a region that Washington believes is in international waters. Harper has also said that Ottawa would continue to fight Washington over its tariffs on Canadian lumber.
Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, in Toronto for a forum on border security with former deputy prime minister John Manley, urged Harper to take another look at the concept of a common North American defense perimeter, one of the recommendations released last year by a task force co-chaired by Manley.
“Sometimes people confuse the notion that you’re going to compromise sovereignty with collaboration,” Ridge said.
Harper went into his first Cabinet meeting with ministers who also were sworn in. The new team had been kept under wraps and was made public only minutes before the ceremony.
Peter MacKay, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, was sworn in as minister of foreign affairs and Stockwell Day became minister of public safety, an important post that works closely with Washington on security and anti-terrorism issues.
Gordon O’Connor was sworn in as minister of defense. Harper declined to name a deputy prime minister, doing away with the post under him.
The 26-member cabinet, which includes six women, is much leaner than the 39 positions the Liberals had. They arrived in cars and taxis to be sworn in – an apparent effort to show they are closer to the people than the Liberals, who used limousines.
“My smaller Cabinet and more streamlined Cabinet structure are designed for work not for show,” Harper said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press.