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Cablegate: Canada to Call Federal Election On September 7

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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8444
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 001171

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ECON SENV CA
SUBJECT: CANADA TO CALL FEDERAL ELECTION ON SEPTEMBER 7

Ref: A) Ottawa 305 (Election Primer)
B) Ottawa 702 (Canadian Political Parties)
C) Ottawa 833 (Green Shift)

1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Stephen Harper will trigger a
Canadian federal election on September 7 with voting day on October
14. The Conservatives are well-positioned to win a second minority
government and late August polls suggested they will gain seats in
key provinces. However, tight Ontario and Quebec races make the
outcome unpredictable, according to our contacts and local media
analysts. The economy, the environment, and leadership are the
major campaign issues, according to polling data and our contacts.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion is especially in the spotlight, heading
his first national campaign. The election terminated Anti-Terrorism
and IPR bills not yet passed in Parliament. End summary

READY, SET, GO
---------------

2. (U) PM Harper will meet the Governor General at 09:00 EST on
September 7 to request that she dissolve Canada's 39th Parliament
and order elections on October 14 in all 308 national constituencies
or "ridings" (Ref A), according to a September 5 press release from
the PM's office. Harper will launch the national campaign directly
after meeting the Governor General. At dissolution, the
Conservative minority government held 127 seats, the Liberals 95,
the Bloc Quebecois 48, the New Democratic Party (NDP) 30, and the
Green Party one seat in the elected House of Commons. There were
three Independents. The parliamentary dissolution cancels four
incomplete by-election races, which will fold into the national
campaign.

3. (U) In triggering an election now, Harper pre-empts his own
legislation passed in 2007 providing fixed-date elections on four
year terms, with the first such election scheduled for October 19,
2009. Recently, Harper has argued that the existing minority
Parliament is dysfunctional and that Canadians need greater
certainty in unsure economic times. Harper's government is the
second-longest serving minority government in Canadian history (31
months) and our contacts generally believe he will not pay a penalty
for calling an early election.

THE ECONOMY, THE ENVIRONMENT, AND LEADERSHIP
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The economy, the environment, and leadership will be the
principal campaign issues, according to the majority of our
contacts. The two major parties will offer distinct and
incompatible visions of Canada's economic future. PM Harper and
Liberal leader Stephane Dion also plan to question each other's
character, competence, integrity, and fitness to hold office,
according to party insiders. Neither side expects the conflict in
Afghanistan to be a ballot box issue. The Conservatives will run on
their economic credentials and hit hard on Stephane Dion's "Green
Shift" carbon tax. Harper will also highlight his record on crime,
tax cuts, defense and national security, defending Arctic
sovereignty, national unity, and consumer and product safety. The
Liberals' Green Shift will be their primary policy plank (Ref C),
supported by issues of child poverty, health care, social justice,
culture and food safety (in direct competition with the left-leaning
NDP). Dion also told media he will run against what he termed
Harper's "right-wing hidden agenda," Harper's relations with
President Bush, and an ideology that makes Harper "more right-wing
than John McCain." Culture and the defense of Quebec's interests
are central issues for the Bloc Quebecois.

ONTARIO AND QUEBEC: THE MAJOR BATTLEGROUNDS
-------------------------------------------
Q-------------------------------------------


5. (SBU) Ontario and Quebec have the largest number of seats. They
also have most of the suburban and rural swing ridings, making them
the principal battlegrounds. Ontario is a key region for the
Liberals who hold 62 of 106 seats in the province. Since 2006 the
Conservatives have targeted marginal Liberal seats in rural Ontario
and have worked to supplant the Liberals as the first choice of
federalist voters in Quebec against the Bloc. The Conservatives
dominate in the West, the Liberals in much of Ontario and Atlantic
Canada, and the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec (Ref. B). The campaign
will be a series of highly regional, even local, contests. Late
August polls suggested that the parties begin the campaign close to
their 2006 support levels when the Conservatives captured 36.3
percent, the Liberals 30.2, the NDP 17.5, and the Bloc 10.5 percent
of the national vote. The fledgling Green Party's support has risen
to 10 percent from 4.5 percent in 2006. A party needs 155 seats to
win a House of Commons majority. The governing Conservatives need
28 additional seats to achieve that objective.

COMMENT

6. (SBU) The Conservatives are the best funded and positioned of the
major parties to contest a fall election, according to many of our

OTTAWA 00001171 002 OF 002


contacts. The snap campaign has caught the opposition Liberals off
guard, according to several of our contacts. The Liberals had been
gearing up to defeat the Conservatives in Parliament later in the
fall for an election in late October or November. By forcing the
issue now, Harper has taken control of the timing and seized the
initiative. The Conservatives reportedly wanted to hold the vote
before the economy worsens and before the U.S. election, according
to media reports. Harper told reporters last week that he expects
another minority government. However, some local political analysts
believe the Tories are capable of winning a majority.

7. (SBU) The stakes are high for Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who
starts the campaign on the defensive. He lags his party in popular
support. The complexity of the Green Shift and its introduction
amid high gas prices do not help the Liberals. In a recent poll
only 21 percent of Canadians trusted Dion to govern the country in
tough economic times. However, the Liberal brand is resilient and
Dion is an untested -- and perhaps underrated -- national campaigner
who could turn low expectations to his advantage. His campaign
performance will be a key to the election and critical to his
political future. Dion will face a mandatory leadership review at a
national Liberal policy convention expected in 2009. Both sides
telegraphed to us that the campaign will be negative, centering on
the personal battle between Dion and Harper. In this contest, the
NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Greens are secondary players, but with the
potential decisively to impact the major parties in key three-way
regional races. End comment
WILKINS

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