Cablegate: Federal Election: Liberals Likely to Retain Hold On

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Despite several close races, overall there appears to be
little excitement surrounding the federal election campaign in
Atlantic Canada: voters appear to be headed toward re-electing
a majority of Liberals in the region's 32 ridings. Key factors
are a general mistrust of the newly configured Conservative
party and a relatively weak and ineffective New Democratic
Party. Regional political observers and pollsters say there
will likely be few surprises or major changes in seat
distribution in the Atlantic provinces. END SUMMARY

2. With less than two weeks to go in the federal election
campaign, it appears that Atlantic Canadians will re-elect a
majority of Liberal MPs in the region's 32 ridings. This
finding of a major regional polling company which conducted a
survey in the first part of the campaign seems to have been
borne out in subsequent weeks. In releasing their results on
June 8, the pollsters said that among Atlantic Canadian voters
who are decided or leaning towards a particular party, the
Liberals had 45 percent support, the Conservatives 27 percent
and the New Democrats 19 percent. Should this sentiment prevail
on June 28, it will mean little change in the pre-election
distribution of seats. Before dissolution of Parliament the
Liberals held 19 of the 32 seats, the Conservatives 8 and the
NDP 4. The remaining seat was held by an independent, a former
Tory now running as a Liberal.

3. Election watchers are quick to point out that the Atlantic
Liberals' wide lead over their rivals is not due to a ringing
endorsement for "L'Equipe Martin/The Martin Team." In fact,
there is much the same anti-Liberal sentiment resonating here as
elsewhere in the country. Issues such as the sponsorship
scandal, cuts to health care spending and the cost of the
federal gun registry are all featuring prominently on the
campaign trail here. The difference is that Liberal candidates
are being saved by the region's apparent reluctance to embrace
leader Steven Harper and his new Conservative Party. Atlantic
Canadians are quick to point out that they are having a hard
time believing that the new Conservative agenda is drastically
different from Harper's old Alliance party platform,
particularly after comments that Harper and his election team
have made on economic development policy, health care and other
social programs. In New Brunswick, Canada's only officially
bilingual province where francophones make up one-third of the
population, Liberal candidates are also cashing in on the
perception that the election of a Conservative government could
spell the erosion if not the demise of federal bilingualism

4. One of our Liberal contacts, who in March had seemed
reasonably confident that a late-June election would bring Paul
Martin back to power at the head of a majority government, told
CG recently: "All I am sure of is that there will be a minority
government; but I don't know who will be heading it."

5. Another interesting aspect of the campaign is the fate of
the New Democratic Party in Atlantic Canada. With the polls
confirming the third place finish for the NDP, it seems certain
that the party will not be breaking any new ground in this
campaign. Despite the party's success on the provincial side in
Nova Scotia, NDP strategists admit that they are still not well
organized elsewhere in the region. Also, commentators remark
that new national leader Jack Layton still sees the four
Atlantic provinces as unfamiliar territory, and has been largely
unsuccessful in moving support over to the NDP. One party MLA
told CG that this election should have been spectacularly
successful for the NDP: the Liberals were tainted by scandal and
the Conservatives were "scary" -- ideal conditions for a protest
vote for the NDP. He bemoaned the party's inability to gain any
traction in the region, and said he thought they would hold
their existing seats but probably not gain any despite what
should have been optimal conditions.

6. Issues playing out in the campaign are still the perennial
favorites such as such problems relating to the region's
relatively weak economy, federal funding for health care, and
money for roads and municipal infrastructure. However, there
have been two significant regional issues which have emerged
onto the national stage: calls for an extension of Canada's
200-mile limit as a means to curb illegal foreign fishing off
Newfoundland-Labrador and new deals for Newfoundland-Labrador
and Nova Scotia on revenue sharing from offshore oil and gas
resources. Unfortunately for the Liberals neither issue has
played out particularly well for them. On the fishing issue,
Nova Scotia cabinet minister Geoff Regan and his Newfoundland
counterpart John Efford have been vague in their explanations of
just how a re-elected Martin government would handle fishery
protection, leading to the perception that perhaps it will fall
by the wayside after June 28. On offshore revenues, Prime
Minster Martin came under heavy criticism from Conservative
candidates by being the last of the three national party leaders
to propose ending the current fiscal regime which sees the
federal government "claw back" the majority of the offshore
revenue by reducing federal equalization payments. Conservative
leader Harper and NDP chief Layton both promised to revamp the
revenue structure weeks before Mr. Martin finally announced his
intention to do the same.

7. Interesting races continue to be the Kings-Hants riding in
Nova Scotia where former Progressive Conservative MP Scott
Brison made his much publicized jump to the Liberal camp. In
New Brunswick, Minister of State for Infrastructure Andy Scott
is garnering much attention in his Fredericton riding as he is
fighting to hold onto his seat in the face of tough Conservative
opponent. On Prince Edward Island, the main attraction there is
the race in the Cardigan riding where Liberal incumbent Laurence
MacAulay is starting to look like he might lose to his
Conservative challenger, the former chief of staff to
Conservative Premier Pat Binns.

8. But outside of these ridings and a handful of others where
there is some tough trench warfare going on, there appears to be
little excitement generated here as the campaign moves into the
homestretch. Several politicians with whom we have spoken note
that voter apathy seems much higher this year than in the past;
they fret that turnout will be low. In any case, Atlantic
Canadians appear to have made up their minds in favor of the
status quo. As one more cynical commentator remarked: if that's
the case, then that also means that "the Liberals will still be
sleazy, the Reform (Conservatives) will still sound like the
lunatic fringe and the NDP will still be clueless." If the
region does vote for little or no change, it will be interesting
to see if Atlantic Canadians might be voting against an
anti-Liberal tide that could be flowing across other parts of
the country. END COMMENT


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