Northern News Services
"I will support (Martin) when the time comes," said Liberal riding president Ted Blondin while in Yellowknife on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien surprised many Wednesday when he announced he will not seek re-election and will retire after his mandate runs out in February 2004.
The simmering, undeclared leadership race for top spot in the Liberal party is now in the open.
Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew wouldn't say Wednesday who she would support.
"I don't want to talk about that at this particular time and neither does (Paul) Martin," said Blondin-Andrew. "We are all reflecting on the PM's leadership and accomplishments."
Riding association president Blondin, who was re-elected last Saturday at the annual general meeting, said he supports Martin personally and would like the association to support the former finance minister.
Martin, dumped from his finance post by Chretien earlier this summer, has for some time been considered the front-runner to replace Chretien.
Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, Finance Minister John Manley and Industry Minister Allan Rock are also considered early contenders.
The Associated Press reported Chretien, 68, a 40-year political veteran, is the longest serving Western leader.
Chretien, in power since 1993, has been prime minister for three consecutive majority terms.
Chretien's announcement came during a period of internal party strife that threatened to come to a head during this week's Liberal caucus meeting in Saguenay, Que.
Many in the party wanted him to quit believing he had held power for too long.
"I will not run again," said Chretien in a speech delivered Wednesday.
Chretien said he will focus his remaining time on issues such as children living in poverty, aboriginals, health, environment, urban infrastructure and public sector ethics.
The Canadian Press reported caucus members gave the prime minister a standing ovation and some cried.
Blondin-Andrew said Chretien's sudden decision shows what a great man he is.
"It speaks of his character," said the MP. "He was willing to put the country before his own political aspirations and to put the party ahead of himself."
Now the government can get down to business, said Blondin-Andrew, who plans to run again in the next federal election.
Chretien's announcement doesn't change anything for the territorial government, Premier Stephen Kakfwi said in a prepared statement released late Wednesday.
But he was more vocal in criticizing the PM the following day.
"The prime minister has personally committed to complete devolution before he completes office. That is a major concern to us," he said, adding that the government still has not delivered on the promise of a federal negotiator by March, 2002.
Wayne Bryant, president of the Progressive Conservative Western Arctic riding association, said Chretien made the right choice.
"I personally think what has been going on the past couple of months within the Liberal party is ridiculous," said Bryant.
Bryant said the PC party will be raring to go come the next election here in the North.
Blondin-Andrew, who has worked politically with Chretien since 1988, said she took time to reflect on her own experiences with the Prime Minister.
She remembered standing on the steps of the Deline community hall as a 17-year-old in 1968 and meeting Chretien, then Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.
Blondin remembered Chretien at the 1972 opening of the Chief Jimmy Bruneau school in Edzo shaking hands with legendary Dogrib Chief Jimmy Bruneau.