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Cablegate: Getting in Shape for Fall

VZCZCXRO3830
OO RUEHGA RUEHHA RUEHMT RUEHQU RUEHVC
DE RUEHOT #0658/01 2401937
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 281937Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9788
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000658

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.0. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR CA
SUBJECT: GETTING IN SHAPE FOR FALL

REF: 08 Ottawa 1586

1. (SBU) Summary: PM Stephen Harper announced new Senate
appointments and key changes to his inner team on August 27 as the
Conservatives prepare for the return of Parliament -- and a possible
election -- in the fall. The Liberal caucus will gather for a
planning retreat at month's end. Senior Liberals appear to be
tempering public expectations as the party weighs when and whether
to force an election. End summary.

MOVING IN ON THE SENATE
-----------------------

2. (U) Prime Minister Stephen Harper filled nine vacancies in the
Senate on August 27, cutting into a longstanding Liberal majority in
the 105-seat upper chamber, and boosting Conservative representation
to 46 versus the Liberals' 53 seats and six Independents. The
appointments mark the second time in eight months that Harper has
reneged on a personal and party commitment not to appoint senators
unless they have first been elected. Harper appointed 18 new
senators in December 2008 (reftel), the largest number of senate
appointments at one-time in Canadian history. Harper has now
appointed the most senators in any twelve-month period in Canadian
history. The new senators will be sworn-in when the Senate returns
on September 15.

3. (U) By the end of the year, three more Liberal senators and one
Independent will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 years. If
PM Harper remains in office until year's end, and if he appoints
Conservatives to all four vacancies, the Conservatives and Liberals
will have 50 seats apiece by January 2009, and be poised to form a
majority in the upper house.

4. (U) Harper reiterated his government's determination to continue
to push for a "more democratic, accountable and effective" Senate in
his public statement on the appointments. However, he insisted that
in the interim, his government must fill vacancies to carry out the
business of government, including key anti-crime and democratic
reform bills that he alleged some [Liberal] senators had blocked.
He underscored that the appointees had pledged to support government
efforts to reform the Senate and promised to serve only eight-year
terms (although no mechanism exists to enforce this.) Media and
political contacts suggest the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had
reportedly wanted to announce the appointments earlier this week,
but had held off out of concern that they would be accused of
"burying" them in media coverage of the passing of U.S. Senator Ted
Kennedy.

LARGELY PARTISAN APPOINTMENTS
-----------------------------

5. (U) The new senators fill three vacancies in Quebec, two in
Ontario, and one each in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and
Nunavut. Six of the appointees are Conservative political figures:


-- Doug Finley, a veteran Conservative strategist, national
Conservative campaign director for the 2004, 2006 and 2008 federal
elections, former Director of Political Operations for the
Conservative Party, and husband of current Minister of Human
Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley;

--Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, a Harper loyalist, press secretary to PM
Harper since 2000, and director of strategic communications in the
Prime Minister's Office (PMO) until she stepped down in July;

-- Don Plett, President of the federal Conservative Party since
2003;

-- Claude Carignan, Mayor of Saint-Eustache, Quebec since 2000, and
a former member of the provincial Action Democratique du Quebec, who
ran unsuccessfully for the federal Conservative Party in the 2008
election;

-- Judith Seidman, a member of the Conservative Party National
Council, chaired Harper's leadership campaign in Quebec in 2003, and
QCouncil, chaired Harper's leadership campaign in Quebec in 2003, and
is an expert in health and social services;

-- Dennis Patterson, former leader of the Northwest Territories;

--Jacques Demers, former coach of the Montreal Canadiens hockey
team, and a former TV sports broadcaster;

--Linda Frum Sokolowski, author, journalist, and former National
Post columnist;

-- Kelvin Ogilvie, former president of Acadia University (Nova
Scotia), and an award-winning international expert in biotechnology,
bio-organic chemistry, and genetic engineering.

SHUFFLING THE TEAM

OTTAWA 00000658 002 OF 002


------------------

6. (U) The Senate appointments coincided on August 27 with a shuffle
in the senior ranks of political staff in the PMO, after the
departure of many advisors who had been with the PM since 2001.
Harper appointed John Williamson, a former newspaper lobbyist and
former head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as his new director
of communications. Williamson will replace the outgoing Kory
Teneycke in mid-September. Media observers suggest that the
low-profile Williamson will work closely with Dimitri Soudas, the
PM's current press secretary, who will become the PM's chief
spokesperson. Jenni Byrne, a long-term Harper loyalist, will move
to Conservative Party headquarters to replace Doug Finley as
Director of Political Operations. Finley will continue to direct
the next Conservative election campaign from his new perch in the
Senate. Jasmine Igneski, who had been Director of Priorities at
PMO, will succeed Byrne as Director of Issues Management. Mark
Cameron, an architect of Harper's political strategy since 2006,
will be replaced by Andrew Wallace, who is currently Harper's
advisor on finance, industry, and infrastructure. The new team is
charged with ensuring the government and the party are ready for an
election that may come as early as the fall, according to several
media and parliamentary contacts.

A NARROW WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
------------------------------

7. (SBU) In the next two weeks, political parties will hold retreats
to plan strategy for the return of the House of Commons on September
14. The Liberals will meet August 30 to September 2 in Sudbury,
Ontario, to assess whether to use their first opportunity in late
September or early October to table a no-confidence motion that
could trigger an election. In comments on August 27, the Liberals'
national campaign co-chair David Smith appeared to temper
expectations for an early election in the wake of summer polls that
have shown the party has failed to gain traction on key issues.
Smith argued that Employment Insurance (E.I.) -- the issue on which
the Liberals had been expected to defeat the government -- was not a
"defining issue," underscoring that "we don't have to be in a
constant shootout at the O.K. Corral for an election every time
Parliament meets and there's a vote of substance in the House."
However, the Liberals did not rule out a confidence motion on
another issue, or at a later date, although the fall window for the
Liberals to topple the government and complete an election campaign
before Christmas is narrow. Liberal staffers who will work the
campaign concede that any confidence vote would have to occur by
late October to avoid an election spilling into the holiday season.
Thereafter their next likely chance would not come until after the
Winter Olympics in Vancouver in late February 2009.

COMMENT

8. The Senate appointments, although perhaps troubling to the
Conservative base and fodder for the media, advance the government's
incremental reform agenda and will not harm the government's
standings in the polls. PMO and party personnel changes (including
Finley's move to the Senate), reposition the PMO for a fractious
fall session of parliament, and a potential election. Still, tepid
poll results for the Liberals suggest they are likely to remain
cautious as they weigh election timing.
BREESE

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