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Cablegate: Election 2008: What's On Their Minds

VZCZCXRO3738
OO RUEHGA RUEHHA RUEHMT RUEHQU RUEHVC
DE RUEHOT #1316/01 2842034
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 102034Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8597
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 001316

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CA
SUBJECT: ELECTION 2008: WHAT'S ON THEIR MINDS

REF: A. OTTAWA 1300 B. OTTAWA 1314

1. (SBU) Summary: The global economic crisis has made the economy
the defining issue in the 2008 election campaign, with the
environment, healthcare, and crime tacking a distinct backseat.
Afghanistan and foreign policy are not under real discussion. Polls
continue to fluctuate, but the Conservatives remain in the lead,
while Liberal leader Stephane Dion has taken new hits. Polls on
October 14 will close late, with most voters going to the polls in
the evening after work, so results will likely not be available
until at least 10 p.m., or even the following morning. A new
minority government is the most likely outcome. End summary.

ECONOMIC ANXIETIES TO THE FORE
------------------------------


2. (SBU) At the outset of the 2008 election campaign, most
expectations were that the economy, the environment, and health care
would be the top three issues, with the Liberals broadcasting ahead
of time that the focus of their campaign would be their "Green
Shift" carbon tax proposal. A September 1 poll had indicated that
33 percent of Canadians felt that the economy was worsening, and 20
percent of respondents cited the economy and jobs as their top
issue. Forty-five percent picked Prime Minister Stephen Harper as
the best leader to deal with tough economic times, compared to 21
percent for Liberal Party leader Dion. The Conservatives have
emphasized a prudent economic stewardship that will preclude major
new spending or tax cuts, and its $8 billion platform is half the
$16 billion promised by the Liberals and the $51 billion by the NDP.


3. (U) The environment -- at 15 percent -- and healthcare
(especially a shortage of doctors and nurses) - at 14 percent - were
also significant issues in the September poll, while violent crime
remained a special concern in western Canada and in urban ridings
nationwide. Tackling crime has long been a major focus of the
Conservative agenda, including cracking down on youth crime, gangs,
and drugs. Promises to toughen sentences for youth offenders appear
to have backfired on the Conservatives in Quebec, along with
concerns that the Conservatives would cut spending on the arts
(despite the Conservatives claims to the contrary).

4. (SBU) The global financial crisis -- in particular in the
economy of its paramount trading partner, the United States -- has
now accentuated anxiety and made how to deal with the economy the
defining election issue. It was the key topic in the leaders'
debates (ref a) and their subsequent campaign speeches and media
interviews. Dion's difficulties in understanding a question in
English on the subject in a taped television interview in Halifax -
and his request to start the interview again -- on October 9 have
already become a new "classic" campaign blunder, with the
Conservatives underscoring that a Prime Minister does not get
"do-overs" and Harper emphasizing that, ultimately, the Liberals
have no real economic solutions. Dion's rating for trustworthiness
and competence dropped by nine percentage point in the October 9
CPAC-Nanos daily election tracking, although Harper also lost six
points -- with New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton gaining an
additional six points and coming within 10 points of Harper's once
commanding advantage.

Afghanistan off the table?
--------------------------

5. (SBU) Despite the release on October 9 of estimates by
Parliament's budget officer that Canada's Afghan commitment to 2011
could exceed $18 billion, the role of Canadian Forces in Kandahar
has not emerged as a campaign issue. The figure is more than twice
Qhas not emerged as a campaign issue. The figure is more than twice
the $8 billion the government had previously predicted, and
represents up to $1,500 per Canadian household over a ten year
period.

6. (SBU) Conservative promises on Senate reform, Arctic
sovereignty, and a unified Canada have also not resonated with
voters.

POLLING
-------

7. (SBU) In the October 9 CPAC-Nanos poll, the Conservatives
retained 33 pct support, while the Liberals dropped to 27 pct (with
a margin of accuracy of 2.8 pct) and the NDP moving up two more
points to 22 pct. The number of undecideds also grew by three
points, to 17 pct. Indications are that voter turn-out may be low
this year, which traditionally benefits the incumbent party.

8. (SBU) Voting on October 14 will be staggered, so that all
polling booths nationwide close about the same time (9:30-10:00 pm
EST), with strict control over results in individual ridings so that
votes on the east coast do not influence voters on the west coast.
The large majority of voters tend to vote in the early evening.

OTTAWA 00001316 002 OF 002


Especially in such a close race, it will be late on October 14 or
possibly the morning on October 15 before any party can claim
victory. All indications are that neither the Conservatives nor the
Liberals have any real hope of winning a majority. Canada appears
poised to face yet another minority government, with all its
inherent instabilities and Parliamentary "dysfunctionality."


WILKINS

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