Cablegate: Canada's Minority Government Falls -- How Things

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

291852Z Nov 05




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: After losing a straight up confidence vote
the evening of November 28 Prime Minister Martin went to the
Governor General the morning of November 29 and asked her to
dissolve Parliament. He then announced that the election
would be January 23, and by the afternoon all party leaders
were on the campaign trail. During the almost eight-week
campaign, the longest in 25 years, the PM and Cabinet retain
their positions and authority to govern, and the Cabinet can
hold meetings if needed, although without the ability to
allocate new funding. Parliament is dissolved, and MPs
retain administrative status for the purposes of pay only.
There was a flurry of legislative action in the final throes
of the 38th Parliament, including passage of bills on
trafficking in persons and proceeds of crime, and the Cabinet
granted approval for the purchase of 16 C-130J aircraft. End


2. (U) The House of Commons voted on a non-confidence motion
last night which ended the 38th parliament and forced the
Prime Minister to call for an election. The final vote was
171 to 133 over the simple Conservative motion tabled
November 24 that declared "The House condemns the government
for its arrogance in refusing to compromise with the
opposition parties over the timing of the next general
election and for its 'culture of entitlement,' corruption,
scandal, and gross abuse of public funds for political
purposes and, consequently the government no longer has the
confidence of the House."


3. (U) PM Martin went to the Governor General's residence at
9:30 AM November 29 to inform her of the non-confidence vote
and ask her to dissolve Parliament. Upon leaving the
residence, he announced that the next election would be held
on January 23. At 56 days, this will be one of the longest
campaigns in recent Canadian history. The minimum period of
time for a campaign is 35 days but the PM wanted to account
for the possibility of an informal break for Christmas week
and some additional flexibility, presumably to take some of
the time pressure off for difficult winter travel.


4. (U) Until the next election, the PM will remain as head of
government. His cabinet will also continue in office, but
the majority of its members will also have campaigns to run,
so they will be distracted. The Cabinet will be doubly
inactive since the campaign will be occurring over the
holidays when Parliament would not be sitting in any event.
Any ministers who lose the election would continue in office
until the new cabinet is seated. Sitting Liberal Defense
Minister David Pratt, for example, was defeated in the June
2004 election by Conservative Pierre Poilievre but continued
to sit as Defense Minister until July 19.

5. (U) Members of Parliament will continue to hold their
positions for administrative purposes only (primarily to
receive their pay), until the date of the general election.
The Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and Members of the Board of
Internal Economy will continue in office as a kind of
caretaker administration until they are replaced in a new
Parliament, presumably in late February or early March.


6. (U) The dissolution of Parliament has caused all pending
bills before the House and Senate to die on the Order Paper.
This is true of all bills that have not received Royal
Assent. It caused a flurry of activity Friday and Monday to
push through as many bills as possible. In one historic case
a bill that cuts taxes on jewelry produced in Canada was
introduced on Friday and received Royal Assent on Monday, the
first time a private member's bill successfully cut taxes.
In total eleven bills made received Royal Assent on Monday,
among them:

-- C-11: Whistleblower Protection Act
-- C-37: Restrictions on telemarketers (don't call at all
during dinner)
-- C-49: Amendment to Criminal Code making trafficking in
persons a criminal offense by prohibiting: global trafficking
in persons, reaping the economic benefits of trafficking, and
withholding or destroying documents to facilitate trafficking
in persons.
-- C-53: Reverse onus of proof in proceeds of crime
applications (making it easier to seize property from
criminals and drug traffickers)
-- C-54: Act to provide First Nations with the option of
managing and regulating oil and gas exploration and
exploitation and receiving money otherwise held for them by
the federal government.
-- C-55: Protection of worker's wages and pensions in the
event of corporate bankruptcy.
-- C-66: Home heating cost rebate of C$250 for low-income
-- C-71: Establishment of regulatory regimes for
commercial and industrial activities undertaken on reserve
lands pursuant to agreements with First Nations.
-- C-331 Expresses "deep sorrow" for the internment of
Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War.

7. (U) If a party wins successive elections it can
reintroduce bills with new numbers, and although the process
technically starts over, familiarity with the bills could
tend to fast-track them. At the end of the fall semester in
2004, for example, the Liberal Government highlighted the
fact that it was promoting a busy and diverse legislative
agenda. Opposition parties and other critics dismissed such
claims by pointing out that many of the bills were leftovers
from the Chretien government.


8. (U) With the dissolution of Parliament, spending is also
put on hold -- the government's regular programs continue to
function, but no new money can be authorized. This caused a
last minute push to secure funding for key projects. Cabinet
approved late last week funding for 16 C-130J aircraft for
delivery in 2008. This C$4.6 billion purchase was part of
the C$12.8 billion defense plus-up as part of the budget
surplus and came under fire when European contractors
believed they were being shut out of the competition. There
wasn't time to conclude plans for 15 heavy-lift helicopters
and 15 search-and-rescue planes. Conservative Defense Critic
Gordon O'Conner called the C-130 decision politically
motivated and said it could be revisited by the new
government, but it appears to have broad support, especially
in the wake of basic transportation challenges in recent

9. (U) Another money issue of interest to the U.S. is the
C$1.5 billion in softwood loan insurance and other assistance
to the forestry industry that the government announced last
week. Since the funding is largely covered under existing
programs and does not require a new government appropriation,
it could conceivably go forward despite the dissolution of
Parliament, although given the timelines for such funding, a
new government would presumably be in place prior to its
implementation. (Details will be sent septel)

10. (SBU) Comment: After the NDP pulled out its support for
the Liberal government last month it was only a matter of
time before the 38th Parliament ended. It appears that
Canadians are now resigned to a winter election, and with the
built-in Christmas break and long campaign, there is no
longer talk of punishing the party that brought it on.
Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna, in a November 29 phone
call to Ambassador Wilkins, predicted that the campaign will
be "nasty." He also expected anti-American themes to surface
in the campaign rhetoric. During the interim period the
bureaucracy continues to function so much SPP related
business will move forward. But there will be no new
initiatives and no one to engage at the senior levels on
anything but emergencies. It is also clear that the new
government will again be a minority, so we can expect some of
the same caution and drift that we have experienced over the
past 18 months.

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