Cablegate: No Push for Elections As Canadians Focus On Local Issues

DE RUEHON #0090/01 0881200
R 281200Z MAR 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: No Push for Elections as Canadians Focus on Local Issues

Sensitive But Unclassified - Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Mission Canada reporting officers concur that,
from the brink of defeat in the fall of 2007, Conservative Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's government has established itself as a
stable minority government, pushing through a relatively impressive
policy agenda such as a renewed commitment to Canadian engagement in
Afghanistan, Haiti and Darfur; domestic security measures such as
the Omnibus crime bill and a refined security-certificate process;
and significant tax cuts. On March 25 Mission Canada reporting
officers concluded that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's
government draws its stability from different sources across the
country. Provincial governments and the populations they represent
(except Ontario; Newfoundland and Labrador; and Nova Scotia) are
either focused more on local issues or have established a relatively
peaceful relationship with the Harper-led federal government.
Across the country the federal Liberals-particularly Leader Stephane
Dion-- are perceived to be weak, ineffectual, and incapable of
forming an effective opposition, let alone a viable alternative to
Harper's Conservatives. Economic and environmental concerns tend to
dominate voters' minds in eastern Canada, with crime a higher
priority in the west. This first country-wide DVC dialogue among
reporting officers from eight Mission Canada posts reflected the
wide variety of issues and diversity of provincial government
configurations, illustrated the difficulty of generalizing political
developments, and underscored the delicate balancing act the federal
government faces, especially in a minority status. END SUMMARY.

Mission Canada Confers

2. (U) Mission Canada reporting officers on March 25 initiated a new
monthly DVC forum to focus on political and economic issues by
exchanging views and offering different local and provincial
perspectives on national issues. The kick-off topic was the
perception of the performance of the Harper government so far, and
prospects for a new federal election. Reporting officers from all
Canada posts took part, as well as representatives from WHA/CAN.

The Provinces Make Do

3. (SBU) Across Canada, most provinces are relatively satisfied with
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's leadership, or are so absorbed in
their own provincial issues that a change in federal leadership is
seen as unwanted and/or unnecessary. Big picture national issues
such as Afghanistan do not appear to have traction in the day-to-day
provincial evaluations of the federal government's performance.

4. (SBU) Given PM Harper's roots in Western Canada, support for the
Conservatives in Alberta and neighboring Saskatchewan remains high.
Some ConGen Calgary contacts have complained that Harper's
government is insufficiently accommodating on issues important to
Western Canadians, such as emissions regulations and climate change.
However, given the Liberal alternative, a significant reduction in
support for the Conservatives is extremely unlikely, a trend
reflected in the overwhelming victory of Alberta Premier Ed
Stelmach's Progressive Conservative party on March 3, and the
election win by center-right Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall in
November 2007.

5. (SBU) Further west in British Columbia, the flourishing economy
and uniquely independent character of the BC Liberals in the
provincial government have enabled them to establish a cooperative
and generally positive relationship with the federal government.
With the 2010 Olympics rapidly approaching, the provincial
government is busy creating the fundamentals to solidify lasting
economic growth, including the Pacific Gateway, and is implementing
new programs that largely complement federal economic initiatives.
Currently, there does not appear to be a groundswell of support in
BC for change at the federal level.

6. (SBU) Dalton McGuinty's Ontario government, in contrast, has
staked out policy priorities intentionally designed to contrast with
the government in Ottawa. The ongoing partisan spat between the
Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan and federal Finance Minister
Jim Flaherty over Ontario's business tax policy is just one of an
ongoing series of conflicts. Targeted assistance to Ontario's
ailing manufacturers is another major area of disagreement.
Neither the Ontario government nor federal ministers have concealed
their respective desires for different partners (Note: Prime
Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty appeared
to have at least temporarily buried the hatchet on March 27 when
they jointly announced C$709 million in federal support for
provincial assistance programs. End Note).

7. (SBU) In Atlantic Canada, the long-standing sense of neglect
compared to the rest of the country continues to varying degrees.
Newfoundland and Labrador's Premier Danny Williams, although a
Conservative himself, has vowed to campaign actively against the

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Harper government in the next federal election. "Anyone but
Conservative," is his battle cry. Similarly, but with less vitriol,
Nova Scotia's Rodney MacDonald (also a Conservative) has had
problems with how PM Harper has treated his province, although there
are recent signs of an incipient rapprochement between the two
leaders. In contrast, New Brunswick's Liberal Premier Shawn Graham
has established a solid working relationship with the federal
government. Despite their misgivings about the federal government,
absent a more competitive federal Liberal alternative, there is not
a widespread appetite among Atlantic Canadians for a federal
election at this time.

8. (SBU) In Quebec, home of significant Conservative breakthroughs
in the 2006 federal election, PM Harper has been surprisingly
successful. His 2007 motion to recognize Quebec as a "nation within
Canada" was a strategic victory that continues to work to his
benefit. Harper gets credit for delivering the programs he promised
during the election campaign. He has a politically pragmatic
relationship with Premier Charest. While the federal Liberals may
still be strong in Montreal, in the rest of Quebec, a visceral
distaste for Stephane Dion leaves the Conservatives as the only
viable alternative to the Bloc Quebecois.

Stephane Dion: Who is This Guy?

9. (SBU) Provincial contacts across the country have commented that
Stephane Dion's leadership has been a disaster and that the Liberals
are currently not in a position successfully to contest an election.
Dion's perceived ineptness has proven to be a source of stability
for the minority Harper government. Conservative insiders in
Vancouver and Toronto have noted that Dion is a "better" alternative
from the Conservative perspective than any of the other potential
Liberal leaders, who might provide stronger leadership in
opposition. The recent by-election victory of Liberal foreign
affairs critic Bob Rae is a reminder that the federal Liberals have
several high-profile, politically talented personalities who could
credibly assume the party's leadership mantle upon Dion's departure.

10. (SBU) While merely unpopular in most of the country, Dion is
still reviled as "traitor" in large parts of Quebec due to his past
strident opposition of Quebec sovereignty, and, especially his role
in the federal Clarity Act which sets the guidelines for any new
Quebec referendum on secession. By-election defeats and criticism
of his Quebec "team" have contributed to the decline of the party in
areas outside Montreal.

11. (SBU) Apart from Dion's leadership problems, the Federal
Liberals might be financially unable effectively to contest an
election if they were to bring the government down, contacts have
noted. Though Ottawa-based Liberal leaders have denied that the
party is in financial trouble, several failed candidates from the
2006 leadership race are still paying off debts resulting from the
campaign (Note: This week deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff
and Stephane Dion were both in Montreal independently fundraising
for their separate campaign debts - the former asking C$1,000, and
the latter C$100 per attendee. End Note).

Key Election Issues, Whenever

12. (SBU) Whenever the next federal election is held, different
issues will come to the fore in each region of Canada. The economy
will likely be the highest priority issue for Canadians in Atlantic
Canada (economic and resource development); Quebec and Ontario
(manufacturing slow-down); and Alberta and British Columbia
(maintaining economic growth). Crime is a key election issue for
Manitobans and British Columbians. Environmental issues are
important to Quebecers, Ontarians, Manitobans, and British
Columbians. Social issues are important in Alberta (health,
education, and affordable housing), Quebec (health, education, and
immigration), and the Atlantic provinces (out-migration).

13. (SBU) Canadians seem to be universally fascinated with the U.S.
Presidential election, with some Canadian political activists musing
to us about how they would like to "volunteer" to work on a
particular U.S. presidential campaign. Many of our interlocutors
across the country quickly change the subject from the prospects for
a Canadian federal election to what is happening in the U.S.
Presidential election. We believe Canadians would by and large
prefer to watch the U.S. election through to its conclusion before
thinking about heading to their own polls to vote for the next
Canadian federal government.

14. (SBU) COMMENT: Across Canada, there is little appetite for an
early federal election or significant desire for the fall of the
Harper government. Among the various key priority issues at the
provincial level, it was striking that none of the posts cited
border issues or WHTI as a major local concern. This first

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country-wide DVC dialogue among reporting officers from eight
Mission Canada posts reflected the wide variety of issues and
diversity of provincial government configurations, illustrated the
difficulty of generalizing political developments, and underscored
the delicate balancing act the federal government faces, especially
in a minority status. Canada is an immense country where the gaze
of the population is as often focused southward on political and
economic developments in the United States -- particularly at this
time given the U.S. presidential campaign -- as on issues with
east-west resonance across Canada. END COMMENT.


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