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Cablegate: Conservatives Easily Survive Federal Budget Votes

VZCZCXYZ5342
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHOT #0336/01 0651757
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 051757Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7463
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS OTTAWA 000336

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SENV KCRM EAID AF CA
SUBJECT: CONSERVATIVES EASILY SURVIVE FEDERAL BUDGET VOTES

REF: A. OTTAWA 257
- B. OTTAWA 319

1. (SBU) Summary: The Conservatives' third budget marks another
legislative accomplishment for the minority government, as it easily
survived three confidence votes, concluding on March 4. The budget
is a lean, low-key document, constrained by prior commitments of
C$60 billion in tax cuts and other spending in the October 2007
economic statement and concern over spillover from an economic
slowdown in the United States. However, it did provide an
unexpected bump-up in its already substantial aid to Afghanistan and
other recipients, and more domestic resources for border and law
enforcement programs and for military modernization, as well as for
protection of Arctic sovereignty and the environment. . The only
substantive concern that the USG may have over the new budget is its
provision of C$10 million over two years to Natural Resources Canada
to promote Canada's forestry sector in international markets as a
model of environmental innovation and sustainability, which may be
inconsistent with the Softwood Lumber Agreement. End summary

HOME RUN FOR THE CONSERVATIVES

2. (SBU) The House of Commons on March 4 passed the third annual
budget from the minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper
in a Conservative motion that was by definition a matter of
"confidence." The government had on February 28 and March 3 also
survived confidence votes on a budget sub-amendment motion from the
Bloc Qubcois and a budget amendment motion from the Liberal Party,
respectively. On the latter motion, all but seven Liberal MPs
boycotted the vote on their own party's amendment after Opposition

leader Stephane Dion made clear that the budget was not "harmful"
enough to warrant toppling the government (ref a). In the March 4
vote, only 11 Liberal MPs, including Dion, showed up to oppose it,
prompting Conservative MPs to taunt the Liberals for shirking their
"fundamental responsibility" to represent their constituents.

3. (U) The 2008 budget, entitled "Responsible Leadership for
Uncertain Times," is the smallest in 11 years. It projects new
spending of only C$1.3 billion (3.4 per cent growth) in 2008-2009
(unlike the first two Conservative budgets, which expanded federal
spending cumulatively by 14.8 per cent), and of only an additional
C$6 billion in total over three years. The government's earlier
C$60 billion tax cuts (representing C$14.7 billion in annual cuts)
and its determination to allocate all of the C$10.2 billion surplus
for FY 2007-2008 to payments on Canada's already modest national
debt limited the revenues available for the new budget. Finance
Minister Jim Flaherty called the budget a "prudent, disciplined, and
realistic" plan that would keep Canada's finances in the black.

MORE MONEY FOR AFGHANISTAN, FOREIGN AID

4. (U) In the new budget, Canada committed an additional C$100
million in assistance to Afghanistan, primarily for security and
training of the Afghan police and army. The one-time increase will
bring Canada's total aid for Afghanistan 2008-09 to C$280 million
and boosts Canada's total projected financial commitment to that
country to C$1.3 billion through 2011.

5. (U) The budget also lived up to a 2007 budget pledge to double
Canada's international assistance to C$5 billion by 2010-11,
including delivering on Canada's commitment (along with the other
G-8 nations) specifically to double aid to Africa (to C$2.1 billion)
in 2008-2009. Canada will also contribute C$450 million to the
Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and C$50
QGlobal Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, and C$50
million over two years to launch a development Innovation Fund.


6. (U) The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) received an
additional C$89 million over two years to add new staff, embassies,
and missions to enhance Canada's overseas network and operational
priorities, including under Canada's new Latin America strategy
(septel).

BORDER AND LAW ENFORCEMENT BEEF-UP

7. (U) The budget allocated C$165 million over two years for
measures to improve management of the border, including:

-- C$75 million for the Canada Border Services Agency;
-- C$14 million to expand NEXUS;
-- C$6 million to support provinces introducing enhanced drivers'
licenses (EDLs);
-- C$26 million to incorporate biometric data into Canadian visas;
-- C$15 million to establish a permanent facility to enhance
security of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway;
-- C$29 million to meet Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)
priorities, including for increased regulatory cooperation, better
protection of the North American food supply, and improved
trilateral cooperation on energy research and compatibility of
energy efficiency standards;
-- introduction of a higher-security 10 year electronic Canadian
passport by 2011.

8. (U) Living up to the Conservatives' 2006 campaign pledges and
priorities from the October 2007 Throne Speech, the new budget also
included:

-- C$400 to encourage provinces and territories to recruit 2,500 new
front-line police officers;
-- C$122 million over two years for federal corrections;
-- C$32 million over two years for the Public Prosecution Service;
and,
-- C$30 million for the National Crime Prevention Strategy.

MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE CANADIAN FORCES

9. (U) The defense budget is projected to rise to approximately
C$18.9 billion in FY 2008-2009, a 5.9 per cent increase over FY
2007-2008, reflecting Conservative policy decisions already in
place. Beginning in FY 2011-2012, the automatic annual increase in
defense spending will rise from 1.5 to 2 per cent, providing the CF
with an additional C$12 billion over the next two decades to buy new
equipment. The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) also
received an additional C$43 million over two years to keep pace with
advances in technology.

THE ARCTIC AND THE ENVIRONMENT

10. (U) The 2008 budget earmarked C$720 million for a new
Polar-class ice breaker (ready for duty in 2017) to replace the
current aging vessel, as well as C$20 million over two years to
collect data and for legal work to support Canada's submission to
the UN Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf and C$34
million over two years for geological mapping to support Arctic
economic development. The budget also set aside C$8 million over
two years to build a commercial harbor in Nunavut to help Arctic
fisheries.

11. (U) On the environment more broadly, the budget provided:

-- C$250 million for the Automotive Innovation Fund to help auto
companies build more environmentally-friendly and fuel-efficient
vehicles;
-- C$250 million to support research on and deployment of carbon
capture and storage technology in the power generation sector;
-- C$300 million to support nuclear energy, including the continued
development of the Advanced CANDU reactor;
-- C$33 million for better environmental law enforcement; and,
-- C$66 million to support development of a regulatory framework for
industrial air emissions.

COMMENT

12. (SBU) Having successfully -- and easily -- weathered the three
confidence votes on the budget, passed its flagship crime bill (ref
b), and achieved apparent consensus with the Liberals on a March 13
confidence motion to extend the Canada Forces' mission in
Afghanistan until 2011, the government has made significant progress
on its desired policy agenda. NDP leader Jack Layton has threatened
to table another confidence vote on March 7, when the NDP will
control the topic of debate as one of several upcoming (and
required) "opposition days," but the risk of such a vote succeeding
remains slim as long as the Liberals appear willing to avoid an
election at any cost. The only substantive concern that the USG may
have over the new budget is its provision of C$10 million over two
years to Natural Resources Canada to promote Canada's forestry
sector in international markets as a model of environmental
innovation and sustainability, which may be inconsistent with the
Softwood Lumber Agreement.

WILKINS

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