Cablegate: Election Kick-Off Highlights Tory Preparations

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E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. OTTAWA 1171 (Canada Calls Election)
B. OTTAWA 632 (Election Preparations)

1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Harper called a federal election
on September 7 for voting on October 14 (Ref A). Harper emphasized
continuity and stability in his first message to voters. Dion
branded Harper an extremist. Although Harper signaled the date at
least a week in advance -- and most observers have been expecting a
fall election for months -- not all the parties appeared equally
ready. The Liberals, particularly, experienced opening logistical
snafus. The Conservatives have the advantage of incumbency and a
well-oiled campaign machine that has been in a high state of
readiness for at least a year. End summary

2. (SBU) PM Harper kicked-off the Conservative national campaign
directly after receiving the Governor General's consent to national
elections. Harper delivered a message that underscored continuity
and stability, and warned that Liberal leader Stephane Dion was "not
worth the risk." After the launch, Harper made his first campaign
stop in Quebec City, confirming media reports that the Conservatives
will make a big push in Quebec, hoping to build on the ten seats
they won in the Quebec City region in 2006. Harper moved on to
British Columbia and Saskatchewan today to campaign in Liberal-held
ridings in suburban Vancouver and Regina, Conservative officials
told media, to reinforce the message that the party is on the

Liberals Offer Stark Choice

3. (U) In contrast to Harper's message of stability, Liberal leader
Stephane Dion framed the election as a "stark choice" between his
"richer, fairer, greener" Canada and what he called "the most
conservative government in our history." He made a direct appeal to
Quebecers, underlining his identity as one of them. He vowed to
wage an aggressive campaign and railed against "distorted"
Conservative attack ads. He admitted to reporters--for the first
time--to a hearing disability that he said hampered his English
speaking and contributed to his communication difficulties. Dion's
campaign start was low-key. His official plane will not be ready
until September 10, limiting him to events in Ottawa and Montreal
that can be reached by campaign bus. Moreover, he was on the
defensive from media inquiries over his "green" campaign's use of a
gas-guzzling Boeing 737. (The Conservatives have had their more
fuel efficient Airbus on retainer since 2004 and the NDP beat the
Liberals to Air Canada's only other spare.)

4. (U) NDP leader Jack Layton ignored his other opponents and
focused exclusively on the Conservatives, saying he is running to be
PM. The tactic is a change for the NDP which traditionally seeks to
exert influence, rather than wield power. Layton's first campaign
stops will take him to western and northern Canada. Bloc Quebecois
leader Gilles Duceppe appealed to Quebecers to vote Bloc to stave
off a Conservative majority government. Duceppe said the
Conservatives were extreme and out of step with Quebec values.
After his campaign launch in Montreal, he moved to rural Quebec and
Trois Rivieres, where party leaders say they need to shore up
support. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May portrayed herself as a
populist non-politician, and as agent of change, "hope and

Tory War Room's Disciplined Operation

5. (U) Operating from their high-tech "war room" in Ottawa (Ref B),
Conservative officials said they will follow the same formula for
every day of the campaign: a 06:00 EST daily policy announcement or
Qevery day of the campaign: a 06:00 EST daily policy announcement or
briefing by Conservatives MPs, events by PM Harper to reinforce the
message, followed by an evening rally. The pattern repeats the
Conservatives' successful policy-a-day tactic in the 2006 campaign.
However, some media outlets are reportedly balking at taking live
video feed from the Conservative war room due to conflict of
interest concerns. The Conservatives were the only party to begin
running televised ads at least a week before the campaign. The ads
focus on PM Harper as a family man, which media analysts saw as an
effort to soften his image and stress his middle-class credentials.
Liberal ads will start running on September 8, according to press

Battle of the Campaign Signs

6. (U) Mission Canada posts reported that the Conservatives and Bloc
Quebecois were the first off the mark with campaign signs. On Day
Two, Ottawa and Toronto officers reported largely only Conservative
campaign signs on city streets with few from other parties. In
Quebec, Montreal and Quebec City officers found that the Bloc
Quebecois was the first to erect its signs, although the

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Conservatives had also begun to post signs in Quebec City.
Vancouver, Winnipeg and Halifax reported few or no signs. However,
Vancouver said that recent Conservative election-related
announcements had raised the party's visibility in the city.
Halifax reported that municipal election signs were up, but no
federal placards.

7. (SBU) Comment: Campaign signs are a visible expression of
momentum and a test of organizational muscle, activist participation
and resources. The Conservatives' deep pockets have enabled them to
get off to a strong start. Party officials told us in May that
their signs, brochures and campaign materials were already ready to
go. They clearly intend to mount an aggressive campaign, making
logistics especially important for the Liberals and other opposition

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