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Cablegate: Harper Government Advances Its Agenda... For Now

VZCZCXRO5806
OO RUEHGA RUEHHA RUEHQU RUEHVC
DE RUEHOT #2016/01 3052004
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 012004Z NOV 07 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6824
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 002016

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CA
SUBJECT: HARPER GOVERNMENT ADVANCES ITS AGENDA... FOR NOW

REF: A. OTTAWA 1961

-- B. OTTAWA 1928
-- C. OTTAWA 1924

1. (SBU) Summary: With the opposition Liberal party abstaining on
another key confidence vote on October 31, the Harper government
continues aggressively to push its policy agenda in Parliament. Key
legislation that Prime Minister Harper promised in the Speech from
the Throne (ref c) - on terrorism, crime, and intellectual property
rights, among others - should move forward quickly as the Liberals
have similarly indicated that they would not block these measures.
Prospects of an election before the December 14 Christmas recess are
now virtually zero, although an unexpected snap vote is always in
the realm of possibility. The Liberals and other opposition
parties will probably use the holidays to canvass around the country
seeking the right issue on which to bring down the government and
face the electorate, perhaps next year. End summary

LIBERALS AGAIN SIT ON THEIR HANDS

2. (SBU) On October 30, the government delivered a voter-friendly,
tax-cutting fall Economic Statement that included a cut to the
national sales tax that the Liberals vehemently oppose, and then
scheduled a snap confidence vote on October 31 to approve the
Statement. As with the final vote on the Throne Speech on October
24 (ref b), the Bloc Qubcois and New Democratic Party (NDP) voted
against the motion, while the Official Opposition Liberal Party
abstained en masse and allowed the measure to pass.

3. (SBU) The Liberals had earlier also indicated they will not
oppose the government's omnibus Tackling Violent Crime bill (ref a),
and on October 26 acquiesced in a government motion to form a
special legislative committee to speed the bill through committee

hearings, likely without amendment, and report back to the lower
house by November 22. (In the previous session, the Liberals had
vocally opposed provisions to tighten restrictions on dangerous
offenders.) Liberal leader Stphane Dion has further pledged not to
oppose legislation to amend the immigration security certificate
system to detain non-citizens on national security grounds (ref a).
Liberal justice critic Ujjal Dosanjh separately indicated that the
Liberals will approach "with no preconceived notions or bias" a bill
to restore special powers in the Anti-Terrorism Act that lapsed in
March due to lack of support from the Liberals and other opposition
parties.

HARPER TWISTS THE KNIFE

4. (SBU) Dion again defended the party's abstention tactic by
claiming that "Canadians do not want an election," which would mark
the third federal vote in three-and-a-half years. However, there is
already grumbling within the Liberal party about Dion's lack of
strong leadership and the new and apparently unprecedented practice
of "whipped abstentions." PM Harper taunted Dion in the Commons as
the "King of abstention," while NDP leader Jack Layton has begun to
refer to Dion as Harper's unwitting "coalition partner."

UNLIKELY TO LAST

5. (SBU) All parties nonetheless appear to be watching for the
right moment and best issue to trigger a new election, but obvious
prospects of that happening in 2007 are now virtually zero, so
strategists across the spectrum are looking at 2008 possibilities.
The Liberals - having already effectively yielded on the Speech from
the Throne, the economy/tax cuts, crime, and national security, and
also likely to allow a new copyright bill to pass in November - now
see the environment and use of the federal spending power in areas
of exclusive provincial jurisdiction as potential issues, but the
Liberals "own" neither of these files, nor are these issues proven
QLiberals "own" neither of these files, nor are these issues proven
vote-getters for them. The creation of the Manley panel to review
Afghanistan options has given the government at least three more
months of breathing space on that contentious issue. The Liberals
generally score more highly among voters than the Conservatives on
social policy, particularly child-care, and on aboriginal affairs,
making these issues potential hills on which to take a stand, but
they are not top-of-the-mind for the average voter.

6. (SBU) According to one respected pollster, the Conservatives
desperately need to find an election issue that will appeal to
uncommitted women voters if they wish to move from minority to
majority status in the next election, but the key issues of concern
to these voters - health care and education - are not natural ones
for the Conservatives, or even primarily federal priorities.


7. (SBU) The lower house is scheduled for a six-week recess
beginning on December 14, reconvening on January 28. The most
obvious possible trigger for an election is the federal budget in
February or March. However, parliamentary rules allot twenty-two
days per calendar year among the opposition parties to debate and
vote on a topic of their choosing. The Liberals could theoretically

OTTAWA 00002016 002 OF 002


use one of these days unexpectedly to move a formal vote of
non-confidence to defeat the government, or support the
non-confidence motion of a third party. It is possible that the
government could then fall with a whimper rather than a bang on a
minor detail or on an issue that no one can yet accurately foresee.


8. (SBU) The Liberals in particular -- but also all other parties
including the Conservatives -- will likely be in an intense
listening mood in their constituencies over the holiday recess in
order to pinpoint the issue that might best resonate with voters.
They will also want to assess the patience of their workers and the
public for maintaining the status quo for some time to come, or,
alternatively, their enthusiasm for biting the bullet and facing
elections. The Liberals' decision may ultimately have more to do
with their internal leadership dynamics, growing embarrassment at
their Parliamentary impotence, or other internal party politics than
with policy. While the Conservatives currently are benefiting from
the Liberals' stance as they advance their legislative agenda, their
ambitions to form a majority government -- emboldened by continued
good if not outstanding poll results -- will likely lead them to try
to tip this balance by the velocity of their taunts against Dion.

WILKINS

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