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Cablegate: Canada: Conservatives Survive Another Confidence Vote

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O 012223Z OCT 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9902
RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000766

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CA
SUBJECT: CANADA: CONSERVATIVES SURVIVE ANOTHER CONFIDENCE VOTE

REF: A. OTTAWA 735
- B. OTTAWA 719

1. (SBU) Summary: The Conservative minority government of Prime
Minister Stephen Harper on October 1 again survived a confidence
vote in the House of Commons. The censure motion, introduced by the
Official Opposition Liberal Party, was the first that the
Conservatives had faced since they took office in February 2006,
although they have won all other confidence votes (i.e. those on
budgetary matters or bills that the government had explicitly
designated a confidence measure). The opposition New Democratic
Party (NDP) appears to have shifted its earlier brief strategy of
voting with the Conservatives until passage of a new bill on
unemployment insurance to abstaining on confidence votes, probably
in face of unhappiness within the party in propping up the
Conservatives. Poll numbers increasingly favor the Conservatives,
but also indicate clearly that Canadian voters do not want another
federal election any time soon. There will be at least two more
confidence votes in coming weeks, however, so all parties must
remain in virtual pre-campaign mode -- just in case. End summary

Surviving another day
---------------------

2. (U) The House of Commons on October voted on October 1 to
defeat a motion introduced by the Liberals "That this House has lost
confidence in the government" by a vote of 144 against
(Conservatives) to 117 in favor (Liberals and Bloc Quebecois). The
NDP whip rose subsequently to explain that his party's MPs had
abstained to demonstrate "sympathy with the unemployed, not support
for the government." The NDP had already publicly pledged to work
with the government to ensure passage of a bill to extend Employment
Insurance, now in committee after two readings in the House. All
three opposition parties would have needed to vote together to
defeat the government.

3. (SBU) In the earlier debate that day in the full House, Liberal
leader Michael Ignatieff chiefly focused on the government's
economic record, and in particular growing deficits, as the reason
for losing trust in the Conservatives and confidence in the
government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not attend the
debate, but was present for the daily Question Period and for the
vote itself. The job of defending the government during the debate
fell to Transport and Infrastructure Minister John Baird, who dared
Ignatieff to find one Canadian who wants "an early and inopportune"
election. In Question Period, the PM accused the Liberals of
"flailing around" trying to engineer an election that "no-one wants
on a topic no-one agrees with."

Liberals Disarray in Quebec
---------------------------

4. (U) Ignatieff's attempt to focus the debate on the Conservatives
failed to move the media spotlight away from the federal Liberals'
squabbling in Quebec, which broke into the open on September 28 with
the abrupt resignation of MP Denis Coderre as the Liberals' Quebec
lieutenant and its National Defence Critic (shadow minister).
Coderre claimed in a press conference that he no longer had the
"moral authority" to be his party's top organizer after Ignatieff
overruled his hand-picked candidate in a key nomination battle in
Montreal. Coderre nonetheless insisted that his departure was not a
challenge to Ignatieff and pledged his continued support for the
leader, but instead pointed the finger at Ignatieff's inner circle
from Toronto, who, he suggested, did not understand Quebec. Five
Quebec organizers resigned along with Coderre.

5. (U) Ignatieff quickly said that he would not appoint a new Quebec
lieutenant. He underscored in public comments that the Liberal
Qlieutenant. He underscored in public comments that the Liberal
Party now had 68 of 75 candidates for a future election already
nominated in the province, for which he gave Coderre credit. He
appeared at a Montreal fundraiser on September 29, and will address
a convention of the Quebec wing of the party in Quebec City on
October 3-4. Some Liberal MPs brushed off "l'affaire Coderre" as
overblown; one Liberal MP noted that the publicity was "not
particularly helpful, but not fatal," insisting that "it's not going
to knock us off our game."

NDP Laying Campaign Groundwork?
-------------------------------

6. (SBU) Despite its pledge to work with the government on EI, the
NDP is increasingly positioning itself as the party trying to get
results for Canada's unemployed, while the other parties only fight
each other for partisan advantage and seek another expensive federal
election. New NDP ads feature Layton with rolled-up sleeves, ready
to "get to work." The NDP has also ramped up fundraising, with a
new series of e-mail appeals.

What's next?
-----------


OTTAWA 00000766 002 OF 002

7. (SBU) The Conservatives will remain dependent on the NDP's
support or abstentions again on other upcoming confidence votes,
including a budget implementation bill possibly as early as during
the week of October 5. The Commons will also soon vote on a Ways
and Means motion (by definition, a confidence vote) to impose an
export charge on Canadian lumber companies under the Softwood Lumber
Agreement, a deal that the NDP had adamantly opposed. Either the
Bloc or the Liberals may be able to support this motion, however.

Polls Favor the Conservatives, against an election
--------------------------------------------- -----

8. (U) Almost three-quarters of respondents (72.6 pct) in a new
Nanos poll were against a fall election, although 80.6 pct agreed or
"somewhat" agreed that they "would like to see a party win a
majority government in the next election." PM Harper ranked first
(32.8 pct) as the leader best able to manage a minority government,
followed by 23 pct for Ignatieff. Harper led Ignatieff by
noticeable margins across the country, except in Quebec, where
Quebecers ranked Ignatieff's skills highest at 29.7 pct, followed by
the NDP's Jack Layton at 19.1 pct, and Harper at 18.1 pct. A
separate new EKOS poll indicated that shifts in the polls since the
threat of an election emerged in August had slowed and that the
Conservatives' lead in the polls had begun to "gel" at 36 pct, while
Liberal support had settled at 29.7 pct and NDP support at 13.9 pct.
In the poll, the Liberals now lead only in the Atlantic provinces,
although they remained in second place in Quebec (26. 4 pct to the
Bloc's 39.6 pct). (The poll took place before the Coderre
resignation.)

9. (SBU) Comment: The switch from voting for the government in the
previous confidence vote (reftel) to mass abstentions likely
reflects the dissatisfaction within NDP ranks of supporting the
Conservatives, however much the rank-and-file may want the
additional EI coverage. It also suggests that the NDP cannot afford
to continue even this strategy for much longer, so its MPs will
likely be agitating for the committee to conclude its review of the
EI legislation quickly and bring the legislation for a final vote in
the Commons. (The Liberal-controlled Senate will then have to
vote.) The Conservatives arguably have a good reason to string out
the deliberations: to continue governing without another election
-- unless they have already decided that they really do want one to
capture their stronger showing in the polls. The Liberals, on the
other hand, must be concerned that their internal disunity could
drive their Quebec voters into the arms of another party in the next
election. One way or another, all parties must remain in virtual
pre-campaign mode for the foreseeable future, and be sure that they
are always ready in case the government does fall in any upcoming
confidence vote.
JACOBSON

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