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Cablegate: Canada: Paralysis in Parliament -- Who's Running

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. (SBU) SUMMARY: Canada's House of Commons came to a
grinding standstill on May 12, when the opposition
Conservative Party and Bloc Quebecois flexed their muscle by
adjourning the daily session of Parliament, to the surprise
of the ruling Liberal Party. In the wake of a controversial
"confidence" vote on May 10, legislative business in the
parliament has become increasingly paralyzed, as all four
parties (to include the NDP) jockey for tactical advantage in
the run-up to an expected confidence vote that the Liberals
have set for May 19. The outcome of that vote may hinge on
the support of two independent MP's, both of whom have
wavered on their support to either the government or the
opposition, as well as the health of at least four MP's (one
Liberal, two Conservatives, and one independent), and whether
any or all of them will be able to be in Ottawa. Although
not yet a full-blown constitutional crisis, the Governor
General nonetheless has reportedly been seeking the advice of
legal experts. Meanwhile, Canada's legislative agenda has
been stalled, and new initiatives are handicapped, although
day-to-day government services are not threatened. END

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The Confidence Vote that Did, or Did Not, Occur
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (SBU) The latest twist in the ongoing political
maneuverings in Parliament came in the wake of a Conservative
motion that passed on May 10 calling on the Liberals to
resign. The motion passed in a dramatic (if not unexpected)
vote along strict party lines, with the Conservatives and
Bloc using their numerical advantage to defeat the Liberals
(supported by the NDP and two independent MP's). The
Conservatives and Bloc insisted that this vote was one of
non-confidence in the Government, while the Liberals contend
that the vote was simply a procedural matter, with Deputy
Prime Minister Anne McLellan noting that the Liberals didn't
even bother to have their full caucus present for the vote.
(Comment: Although the Conservative Party has provided what
it considers historical precedent to bolster their case that
this was in fact a confidence vote, most experts quoted in
the press have supported the Liberal position that it was not
an actual confidence vote. END COMMENT.)

3. (SBU) After the vote, when it was apparent that the
Liberals would not heed the call to resign, the Conservatives
and Bloc departed the Commons chamber en masse, several
stating that Parliament was over, and Harper himself vowing
that "additional steps" would be taken to deal with the
situation. Those steps became apparent the next day (May
11), when the Conservatives tried (and failed) to shut down
Parliament. The Conservatives were more successful
yesterday, shutting down the House at 11:00 AM, and catching
the Liberals, who were meeting in Cabinet, off-guard, forcing
at least one senior member of the party (Justice Minister
Irwin Cotler) to scramble back into the house chamber in
order to introduce legislation before Parliament adjourned
for the day.

4. (U) More significant than the half-day parliamentary
session (with some Conservatives having worn blue jeans in
anticipation of an afternoon off), was the negative impact it
had on the ongoing legislative business of the House: of 20
committees that were to be held yesterday, only one of those,
a meeting over the controversial same-sex marriage issue,
went ahead because enough Conservative and Bloc members were
in attendance to provide a quorum. Nine other committees
were canceled or discussions were held informally, while 10
committees took statements from the public with a bare-bones
roster of Liberal and NDP officials listening.

5. (U) The Conservatives were unapologetic about the boycott
of the committee meetings, saying the move to halt the
government's operations was a necessary step because the
Liberals have lost the confidence of the House of Commons,
but are refusing to resign and call an election.

Paralysis? What Paralysis?

6. (U) Despite yesterday's shutdown, the Liberals insist
that their government is still at work, with Liberal House
Leader Tony Valeri rejecting the notion that there is
paralysis in Parliament, which prompted a round of laughter
from reporters who had just covered the shutdown of the
Commons by the Conservatives. On the opposite side, Bloc
Leader Gilles Duceppe (whose party has voted in lock-step
with the Conservatives on this issue) says that if there is
paralysis in the House, it's the fault of the Liberals.
"We're not paralyzing the government. The government is
paralyzing the Parliament."

The Confidence Vote that Will, or Will Not, Occur
--------------------------------------------- ----

7. (SBU) After the dramatics of May 10, Prime Minister
Martin announced on May 11 that a confidence vote on the
budget would be held on May 19, noting in his statement to
the public that a clear confidence vote was required as a
result of recent developments (the "confidence" vote of the
previous day). As reported reftel, the Liberals would far
prefer to face a defeat over the budget (which they could
then use in the ensuing campaign), rather than have to face a
defeat on a straight-up confidence vote.

8. (SBU) Despite that announcement, the Conservatives
continue to accuse the Liberals of playing games on the
timing of the vote itself. Among other charges, the
Conservatives allege that the Liberals are seeking to time
the vote so that it coincides with medical treatment required
by a Conservative MP late next week, a charge the Liberals
flatly reject. The Conservatives want the Liberals to move
the vote up earlier next week, to allow Conservative MP
Darrel Stinson the opportunity to vote, since he's scheduled
for cancer treatment on the 19th. The Liberals point out
that provincial elections are occurring in British Columbia
on May 17, and that the Queen is visiting Canada on May 18,
and it would not be appropriate to force a federal election
during either of those two events. For his part, Harper has
said that he doesn't believe the Liberals will carry through
with their promise to allow a confidence vote on May 19.

Crunching the Numbers

9. (SBU) Whenever a confidence vote does occur, its outcome
will largely hinge on two factors: the attendance of four
MP's (two Conservatives, one Liberal and one independent) who
have been undergoing medical treatments; and the votes of two
independent MP's whose sentiments on this issue have been
fluid from week-to-week (if not day-to-day). (To complicate
matters, one of the sick MP's, Chuck Cadman, is also one of
two undecided independents.) On the medical front, the
attendance of MP's is crucial, since proxy votes are not
allowed; although NDP Leader Jack Layton has suggested that
all sides consider "pairing" votes (in which members from
opposite parties agree not to vote, in order to cancel one
another out), the Conservatives have rejected this idea,
noting that it has been abused in the past. The
Conservative's unwillingness to consider the "pairing" option
(at least at this point) may suggest that both of the
Conservative MP's will be present in Ottawa week. McLellan
has already declared that the Liberals will have their full
caucus in Ottawa when a confidence vote is held (Natural
Resources Minister John Efford missed the May 10 vote, and
has been undergoing treatment for diabetes in St. John's,

10. (SBU) Whether or not Cadman is able to appear, his vote
is still considered undecided, since he has flipped-flopped
numerous times. More intriguing is the position of
independent MP David Kilgour, who recently left the Liberal
Party. Although it appeared that he might support the
Government, he has publicly criticized the government
yesterday over its Sudan aid package. In a not-so-subtle
message on the need for Prime Minister Martin to
substantially improve the military assistance proposal,
Kilgour said that Prime Minister Martin "has a week to do
The Role of the Governor General?

11. (SBU) With the deteriorating situation in Parliament,
Governor General Adrienne Clarkson is reportedly closely
following and monitoring the situation, and has been
consulting with leading constitutional advisors. Both Harper
and Duceppe have both called upon the Governor General to
intervene, since the government no longer has the confidence
of the House of Commons. Harper said that the period of
paralysis "could go on until the government of the Governor
General is forced to admit that the government has lost its
mandate to govern the country. I don't know how long that
will be."


12. (SBU) The battleground continues to shift in Parliament,
as all sides struggle to gain tactical advantage. The focus
now is on when and how a confidence vote will be held. The
Conservatives and Bloc won a small victory with their
confidence vote win on May 10, which the Liberals promptly
rejected as "procedural." The Liberals then took advantage
of Harper's insistence on bringing down the Government at
"the earliest possible opportunity" by scheduling a
confidence vote on their terms (on the budget) on May 19.
The Conservatives (in particular) and Bloc would rather not
have to vote down the budget in order to cause the Government
to fall, given the negative ramifications that might have on
the campaign trail, particularly in voter-rich Ontario

13. (SBU) Instead, the Conservatives and Bloc would much
prefer to call a non-confidence vote on an opposition day
with a motion that refers directly to allegations of Liberal
Party corruption and the "Adscam" scandal. That might also
make it possible for the NDP to vote with them in bringing
down the Government, since Layton has declared that the NDP
is supporting the Liberal budget, and not the government
itself. All of this puts the Conservatives in the somewhat
awkward position of perhaps having to fight their own desire
to have a confidence vote at the earliest possible
opportunity, in order to have the vote done on their terms
(which the Conservatives have noted in the press that the
could do (given the Conservative-Bloc numerical advantage in
the House)).

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