Cablegate: New by-Elections a Test for Fall Elections

DE RUEHOT #1006/01 2111219
P 291219Z JUL 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

- B. OTTAWA 632

1. (SBU) Summary: Three federal by-elections for members of
Parliament will take place on September 8 to fill two formerly
Liberal seats and one Bloc Quebecois seat. As in the March 17
by-elections (ref a), the Liberals would need to win big to boost
their confidence about bringing down the government once the House
of Commons resumes on September 15, thereby forcing a possible fall
election. So far, however, the Liberals and the Conservatives
remain virtually tied statistically at between 30 and 32 percent in
national polls; there are still few visible incentives for a fall
election for either party. End summary.

Back to the campaign trails

2. (SBU) On July 25, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced three
by-elections to take place concurrently on September 8 in the
federal ridings (districts) of Guelph (Ontario) and of
Westmount-Ville Marie and of Saint-Lambert (both in Montreal,
Quebec). The Liberals hope to retain their holds on Guelph and
Westmount Ville-Marie, while the Bloc Quebecois remains the
front-runner to hold onto its seat in Saint-Lambert. The
Conservatives and New Democratic Party (NDP) are actively fielding
candidates in all three races, with the Conservatives' best -- if
still slim -- hope in Guelph, in part due to an active Green Party
campaign that could siphon off Liberal voters.

3. (SBU) The Liberals have held the Westmount Ville-Marie seat for
about five decades, and plan to field a "star" candidate, former
astronaut Marc Garneau. The NDP is looking to the riding to repeat
its 2007 upset by-election victory in a similar Montreal-area
Liberal fortress, in the riding of Outremont. Some Liberals have
privately expressed concern that the campaign team responsible for
the Outremont loss will also handle the Westmount Liberal campaign.

4. (SBU) The Bloc Quebecois wrested the Montreal riding of
Saint-Lambert from the Liberals in 2004, largely due to anger over
the sponsorship scandal and the personal popularity of the outgoing
Bloc incumbent, former Cameroonian-Canadian film star Maka Kotto.
The Bloc hopes to retain the riding even without Kotto as a
candidate, but Conservative strategists have contended that the
riding is essentially federalist and that voters may be ready to
turn to the Conservatives over the Liberals. PM Harper took the
trouble of celebrating St-Jean Baptiste Day (Quebec's "national"
day) in Saint-Lambert in June, long before the announcement about
the by-election.

Will they or won't they?

5. (SBU) The Liberals have been sending out mixed signals in
recent days about their interest in a fall election once the Commons
returns to session on September 15. (Government leader in the
Commons Peter Van Loan on July 27 ruled out either proroguing the
Commons again this year or delaying the opening of the fall session
until later in the year.) Liberal leader Dion had indicated
publicly that voters he had met during his road show to sell the
Liberals' "Green Shift" (aka "carbon tax," as the Conservatives
prefer to label it) were increasingly in favor of an election. He
even suggested an election could come "maybe in the fall, maybe in
the winter," but definitely "between now and October 2009." Other
prominent Liberals have even more recently emphasized, however, that
Dion was not specifically calling for a fall election.


6. (SBU) The by-elections will set the scene, and likely the tone,
for the return of Parliament. A strong performance by the Liberals
could provide a springboard to a fall election, while a lackluster
Qcould provide a springboard to a fall election, while a lackluster
showing -- or even losses -- would rekindle attention on Dion's
leadership woes. The by-elections will test Dion's ability to sell
Green Shift policy to voters as well as his judgment in making this
the centerpiece of the Liberal election platform. Moreover, after
suffering embarrassing setbacks in two previous sets of
by-elections, the Liberals need to show they have turned the corner,
found their issue, and are back in play. The Conservatives have
little to lose on September 8, but could conceivably score a major
strategic upset victory in Guelph. Both parties will be holding
summer caucus meetings soon to finalize their plans for the fall
session, with the Conservatives continuing to argue publicly that
they still have "an important agenda" to complete, that they remain
focused on governing, and that "leadership" will be the key theme in
any eventual federal election (ref b). The Conservatives have been
election-ready for the past year, but with the polls stuck in
neutral with around 30 pct support for each, neither major party yet
has genuine incentives to go to the polls early. In a perhaps

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telling indication of the Liberals' real feelings about a possible
fall election, the Liberal national party director recently accepted
without hesitation the Ambassador's invitation to join an
International Visitor program to witness the U.S. elections in late
October and early November.

© Scoop Media

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