Cablegate: Atlantic Canada: Fall Election Won't Change Much

DE RUEHOT #0709/01 2542108
P 112108Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: A fall election "that no one wants" appears
increasingly likely as Parliament reconvenes on September 14. Polls
suggest such a fourth election in five years would produce another
minority government. After falling to a historic low of 77 seats in
the 2008 election, the Liberal opposition hopes to take back seats
in key provinces and to bolster support in traditional areas of
strength, such as Atlantic Canada. However, recent joint
Embassy/ConGen Halifax discussions with Atlantic Canada contacts
indicate that there are few seats up for grabs in that region. As
elsewhere, an election would be a riding-by-riding battle in which
the quality of the parties' ground-game will be a key factor. End


2. (U) On September 1, federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff
triggered a countdown to a fall election, wrapping up a Liberal
planning retreat for the fall session of Parliament with a blunt
warning to PM Stephen Harper that "your time is up." Liberal
Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae reinforced the message, insisting
that the Liberals would table a non-confidence motion "at the first
available opportunity" after the House of Commons resumes on
September 14. The Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party have
signaled that are unwilling to prop up the government. PM Harper
has argued that political instability risks stalling a nascent
economic recovery and warned repeatedly publicly and privately of a
repeat of last December's opposition "coalition" with "socialists
and separatists" should the Liberals win the election.

3. (U) The Liberals' first chance to defeat the government will
likely come on October 1, when they will have a scheduled
"Opposition Day" two days after the Conservatives present an
"accountability report" on the 2009-2010 federal budget. If the
government falls then, the earliest election date would be November
9 (the Governor General sets the election date on the advice of the
PM; campaigns must last a minimum of 35 days). However, the
Conservatives could theoretically seize the initiative and
accelerate the timetable. Some pundits have opined that the
Conservatives might table a ways and means motion (to adjust or
raise taxes) soon after the House of Commons returns. The motion --
an automatic confidence matter -- would force the opposition to vote
against a popular home renovation tax credit announced in the 2009
budget (the Liberals have promised to restore the credit if they win
the election). Under this less than likely scenario, an election
could take place as early as October 19 or 26.


4. (U) In closing the Liberals' September planning session,
Ignatieff declared the Liberal Party united, ready for a campaign,
and armed with the "secret weapon" of Harper's record. However, a
poll released September 10 indicated that 73 pct believe that a fall
election was unnecessary. Three separate polls taken from late
August to early September all indicate that the Conservatives have
opened a four to five point lead -- between 35 and 37 pct to the
Liberals' 30 to 33 pct -- after the two parties had remained
virtually tied for much of the year. Pollsters also noted that
Liberal support seems to have slipped slightly in key battle-ground
provinces of Ontario and British Columbia as well as Atlantic
Canada, which has been a traditional mainstay of Liberal support.


5. (SBU) The Liberals currently hold 17, the Conservatives 10, and
Q5. (SBU) The Liberals currently hold 17, the Conservatives 10, and
the NDP 4 of Atlantic Canada's 32 federal seats. One seat is
vacant. Both the Conservatives and the Liberals have strong
"brands" in the region, while the NDP surprised some by succeeding
in electing members in 2008 in three of the four provinces.
Business and political contacts in Atlantic Canada in September
indicated to Embassy POL LES and ConGenoffs from Halifax that few
seats in the region would appear to be really in play in a possible
fall election. The most competitive likely would be South Shore-St.
Margaret's, Nova Scotia, now held by Conservative Gerald Keddy, the
Parliamentary Secretary for International Trade. Keddy will likely
face a strong challenger in former NDP MP Gordon Earle. Contacts
predicted that popular Nova Scotia NDP premier Darryl Dexter,
elected in June, would have no coattails for the federal NDP.
Separately, a senior aide in the premier's office confirmed that
Dexter would stay out of any federal campaign. Contacts agreed that
Nova Scotia voters clearly distinguish between the centrist
home-grown Dexter and the federal NDP, and that the federal party
has limited appeal outside metro Halifax. They suggested that the
"Dexter effect" might marginally boost Liberal support in Nova
Scotia in a fall election before hard budget choices in spring 2010
dim NDP popularity. However, the unpopularity of the Liberal

OTTAWA 00000709 002 OF 002

provincial government in New Brunswick might counteract this impact.

6. (SBU) Provincial Conservative aides in Nova Scotia confirmed that
the provincial party would work actively for the Harper
Conservatives in a federal campaign. A federal Liberal contact
noted that the federal Conservatives have invested significantly in
building a new organization in Atlantic Canada, rather than simply
grafting the merged party since 2003 onto former Progressive
Conservative stock. The federal Conservatives can also afford to
pay staff rather than rely on scarce volunteers. As a result, the
Liberal source suggested, the federal Conservative machine was in
good shape, while provincial Conservatives claimed that the federal
party was "on the cusp" of putting down roots in the region.

7. (SBU) In contrast, the same Liberal source suggested that his
party's organization in Nova Scotia, and across the region, was less
battle-ready. He admitted that, although incumbent Liberal MPs have
maintained their own local organizations, Liberal associations in
ridings held by other parties faced significant funding, volunteer,
outreach, and recruitment challenges. Moreover, he confirmed that
old wounds in the party from the schism between former PMs Jean
Chretien and Paul Martin remained "long and deep." Although the
party had changed leaders and had boosted fundraising, he commented,
it had not yet seen a corresponding increase in organizational

8. (SBU) Separately, a senior provincial NDP aide observed that
Ignatieff's summer tour through the region suffered logistical
snafus that highlighted the federal Liberals' weak coordination on
the ground, as well as the inexperience of young staffers in
Ignatieff's office (most of them loyalists from his 2006 leadership
run, but untested in a national campaign). The same observer argued
that Ignatieff had had "a lot of support" in Atlantic Canada when he
ran for the party leadership in 2006, but that many supporters "have
not been too impressed" by his performance as leader, and Ignatieff
had not yet effectively tapped into the regional pool of experienced
Liberal workers. Overall, he predicted that most Liberal incumbent
MPs were probably "safe," but saw few opportunities to add seats.
He noted that Ignatieff was only marginally more popular than other
federal leaders in regional polls. Although Atlantic Canadians have
not warmed to PM Harper, the contact suggested that voters have
accepted Harper "is what he is," and appear satisfied overall with
the government's direction.


9. (SBU) Contacts confirmed that thus far regional voters had not
been engaged by issues, such as Employment Insurance (E.I.), that
the Liberals have highlighted as key concerns. Although the economy
remained the major issue, contacts underscored that the regional
economy has weathered the recession fairly well. Federal defense
contracts already in the pipeline, and new orders such as C$194
million announced on September 2 for construction of coast guard
vessels at the Halifax shipyard, have helped to insulate the Nova
Scotia economy. Business contacts agreed that the slowdown had had
some impact on industrial Cape Breton (N.S.), Northern New
Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, but the damage is local.
Observers did not expect E.I. to tip the balance against the
Conservatives even in most of these communities, as the majority of
seats in these ridings were already held by opposition members.

10. (SBU) According to contacts, most federal stimulus funds have
not yet begun to flow in Atlantic Canada. An aide to Nova Scotia
Qnot yet begun to flow in Atlantic Canada. An aide to Nova Scotia
premier Dexter estimated Nova Scotia's share of the federal stimulus
package at approximately C$108 million, of which only C$19 million
has been announced to date, with the remainder of commitments
expected only after the House of Commons resumes on September 14.

11. (SBU) Comment: The federal Conservatives have improved their
organization in Atlantic Canada, the party's economic message has
resonance, and the party is competitive. The federal Liberals may
hold on to their 17 seats in the region, but the chance to make
gains appears slim. In Atlantic Canada (as elsewhere), the next
election will likely be a riding-by-riding battle, in which the
quality of the parties' ground-game will be the key factor. End

12. (U) ConGen Halifax contributed to and cleared this message.

© Scoop Media

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