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Cablegate: Liberal Party Convention Will Be Difficult For

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

REF: (A) OTTAWA 640 (B) OTTAWA 696 (C) OTTAWA 713

1. (SBU) Summary: The Liberal Party Convention finished on an
upbeat note March 6, trumpeting the theme of "Promises Made -
Promises Delivered" for three days. The Liberals followed
the model of successful American convention organizers by
scripting an overwhelming endorsement of PM Martin,s
leadership, keeping controversy outside the tent, and using
big names to draw a crowd. Of note, convention delegates
voted 88% in favour of not holding a leadership convention,
thereby ensuring that Martin will lead the party into the
next election. There was little of substance decided on the
policy side of the convention, although there was animated
discussion of a number of controversial issues such as
marijuana, legalization of prostitution and gender/minority
rights within the party. The Liberal Party Convention will
be a hard act to follow for the Conservatives, whose
convention later in the month in Montreal will deal with more
fundamental issues of party identity and values against a
backdrop of consistently flat popularity. End Summary

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2. (SBU) As late as last week, media commentators speculated
that the Liberal Party Convention would be poorly attended
and tense as candidates-in-waiting lobbied for support and
Martin and Chrtien supporters squared off. But for three
days, the Liberals put on an excellent show, amidst a festive
atmosphere flush with youthful enthusiasm. Reports indicate
that 2500 delegates attended when early predictions were for
a maximum of 2000. The Liberal message was clear -- &we are
the party of mainstream Canada and we are capable of leading
the country effectively.8 This message was conveyed through
a skillful combination of keynote speakers, policy workshops,
an accountability session with the cabinet, and a leadership
review, all tightly scripted to show unity and avoid public


3. (SBU) A key piece of the convention was a leadership
validation, in which 88% of delegates voted against holding a
separate leadership convention, thus leaving PM Martin to
lead the party into the next election. The Prime Minister,s
approval rating was better than predicted, but according to
some observers it reflects a desire for party unity more than
complete acceptance of Martin,s leadership, and they point
out that his numbers are down from the 95% he had when he
first won the party leadership.

4. (SBU) There was, despite this show of support, a fair
amount of speculation about who will one day succeed Martin,
and while no candidates have announced their intention to try
to displace the party leader in the near future, the media
was still willing to speculate. The following names were
mentioned as potential candidates for a future leadership
challenge -- MP Maurizio Bevilacqua, MP and former Minister
Denis Coderre, Minister of Public Works Scott Brison, Foreign
Minister Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Immigration Joe Volpe,
Ambassador Frank McKenna, former MP and leadership candidate
John Manley, former MP Martin Cauchon, author Michael
Ignatieff, and Liberal Party organizer Christy Clark.
Conspicuous by their absence from the convention were
high-profile Liberals such as John Manley, Sheila Copps, and
Jean Chrtien, presumably to avert any controversy and keep
the attention on Martin.


5. (SBU) The policy element of the convention was organized
around thematic workshops in which resolutions were debated
and selected to advance to the main convention floor, with
some Priority Resolutions going directly to the general
debate. Most of the resolutions that made it to the floor
were not bold statements about new or controversial policy,
and this lends some credence to media complaints that the
substance of the convention was simply boring. Among the
policy positions adopted were:

-- expanding the definition of marriage to include same
sex couples;
-- a commitment to ensure clean, publicly managed drinking
water in the developing world;
-- meeting Canada,s Kyoto target;
-- increased support for Canada,s peacekeeping
-- changes to employment insurance; and
-- the development of a national child care program.

Civil marriage caused a brief and heated debate but the
debate over a resolution to mandate 50% participation of
women in executive levels of the party and government was
even more contentious.

6. (SBU) Also of note, the Priority Resolution against
Canadian participation in Ballistic Missile Defence was
dropped. Wendy Wright, an executive member of the Young
Liberals of Canada, which sponsored the resolution, told
POLFSN that this was because the Liberal government had
already made this resolution a real policy so it was moot.
Media commentators speculate, however, that they did it to
avoid embarrassing debate with anti-American overtones on the
convention floor. Several delegates were visibly annoyed by
the withdrawal of the resolution because they wanted the
policy on the Liberal books for the record regardless of what
the government decided earlier. They suspect that the issue
will return and they want their opposition firmly entrenched
as official Liberal policy.


7. (SBU) Of the various convention groupings, the Young
Liberals of Canada stood out. The Young Liberals
demonstrated high levels of technical organization and
enthusiasm while actively advancing their left of center
agenda. They functioned as the largest single organized
group at the convention, which was most clear in the Justice
and Constitutional workshop where they successfully sponsored
resolutions on legalizing marijuana and sex worker rights.
Using cell-phones and text-messaging technology the YLC let
their members know when their resolutions were up for debate
and vote, and vehemently defended their legalization of
marijuana resolution, only to abandon it at the priority
stage in favour of a resolution on sex workers rights.

8. (SBU) Comment: The efforts by party organizers and leaders
to convey the appearance of unity and enthusiasm, regardless
of the problems that lie under the surface, have prompted
some observers to call the gathering a pre-election
convention, following on the heels of a pre-election budget
(reftel A). While Martin has reiterated that he is not
seeking an election, the endorsement of his leadership now
gives him a mandate to lead the party into a second election,
whenever it occurs. Meanwhile the Conservatives did not
receive the bounce they were hoping for from a Liberal
meltdown, and are faced with the difficult job of outshining
the Liberals when they hold their first ever policy
convention in Montreal March 17-19. The PM expressed more
reality than spin when he said of his Conservative foes: &I
don't envy them, first they,ve got to figure out who they
are and what they stand for, and once they figure out what
they stand for, they,ve got to figure out how to conceal it
from the Canadian people.8 There was also some value in
going first, and the Liberals simply had an easier product to
sell, which they did effectively. End Comment

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