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Cablegate: Canada: Four by-Elections to Test Election Momentum

VZCZCXRO2282
OO RUEHGA RUEHHA RUEHMT RUEHQU RUEHVC
DE RUEHOT #0777/01 2782036
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 052036Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9920
INFO RUCNCAN/ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000777

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CA
SUBJECT: CANADA: FOUR BY-ELECTIONS TO TEST ELECTION MOMENTUM

REF: OTTAWA 766

1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called four
federal by-elections for November 9 to fill current House of Commons
vacancies. The Conservatives held none of the seats, but have a
crack at two of the four. In contrast, the opposition Liberals have
little realistic prospect of winning any, but are under the greatest
pressure to deliver a solid performance to generate momentum toward
an early election. Meanwhile, additional new legislation on
unemployment insurance may keep the NDP on the government's side --
at least tactically -- throughout the fall. End summary.

THREE OPPOSITION SEATS, ONE INDEPENDENT
---------------------------------------


2. (U) PM Harper on October 4 announced federal by-elections in the
"ridings" of New Westminster-Coquitlam (British Columbia), Hochelaga
(Montreal), Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivihre-du-Loup (Quebec),
and Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley (Nova Scotia) for
November 9. Previously, the New Democratic Party (NDP) held New
Westminster-Coquitlam, the Bloc Qubcois held both two Quebec
seats, and Independent MP Bill Casey held the Nova Scotia riding.

3. (U) Under the Canada Elections Act, the PM may wait up to 180
calendar days after the formal registration of a House of Commons
vacancy before advising the Governor General on the date of a
by-election. Prime Ministers often let opposition seats sit vacant
for the maximum allotted time, and group by-elections together. The
deadline to name a date to fill the longest vacancy would have
expired on October 10, with two more falling due in late October and
November.

UP FOR GRABS IN B.C?
--------------------

4. (U) The New Westminster-Coquitlam (suburban Vancouver) riding has
been in NDP hands since 2006, but the seat has swung between the NDP
and the Conservatives over the past twenty years. The last
incumbent, the NDP's Dawn Black, first won the riding in 1988, but
lost it to Conservative Paul Forseth in 1993. She won it back in
2006, and voters re-elected her in 2008 with 41.8 pct of the vote
over her Conservative rival, at 38.8 pct. The Liberals came in
third place at 11.2 pct. Black resigned in April to enter
provincial politics, running for -- and winning -- the provincial
riding of New Westminster in May.

RETURN TO THE CONSERVATIVE FOLD?
--------------------------------

5. (U) The Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit
Valley is a traditional Conservative seat. The Liberals have held
the seat only once (between 1993 and 1997) since 1957. PM Harper
expelled then third-term MP Bill Casey from the Conservative caucus
in 2007 for voting against the budget in a dispute over federal
assessment of Nova Scotia resource revenues. In the 2008 election,
Casey's moral stand against the budget skewed traditional voting
patterns. He won the riding as an Independent, with 69 pct of the
vote. The NDP came second with 12 pct, and the Conservative and
Liberal candidates were almost even at 8.8 and 8.4 pct. Casey
resigned in April to become Nova Scotia's senior representative in
Ottawa.


BLOC QUEBECOIS STRONGHOLDS
--------------------------

6. (U) Observers regard the two vacant Quebec seats as Bloc
Quebecois strongholds. Previous incumbents Ral Mnard and Paul
Crte had both held their seats uninterrupted since 1993. In
Hochelaga (east Montreal), Mnard had won 49.6 pct of the vote in
2008, versus 20.6 pct for the second-place Liberal candidate and
14.6 pct for the NDP. The Conservative candidate trailed in fourth
place, with 9 pct of the vote. Mnard resigned in September to run
Qplace, with 9 pct of the vote. Mnard resigned in September to run
run
in a mayoralty race in Montreal. In the largely rural
Rivihre-du-Loup riding, Paul Crte had won his seat by 46 pct of the
vote in 2008, versus 30 pct for the Conservatives and 15 pct for the
Liberals. Crte resigned his seat to run for the Parti Quebcois in
a provincial by-election in June in a riding with similar
boundaries. He suffered an upset loss to a provincial Liberal
candidate.

7. (U) The by-election campaigns in Quebec have begun in a climate
of federal Liberal disunity following the abrupt resignation of the
party's Quebec lieutenant, MP Denis Coderre, on September 28
(reftel). Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff appeared at a convention
of the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party in Quebec City on
October 3 and 4 to smooth the waters, and to appeal to the "fidelity

OTTAWA 00000777 002 OF 002


and loyalty" of Liberals in the province: "If you put the party
first, you never lose." Ignatieff also reversed an earlier decision
not to name a new Quebec lieutenant, apparently after realizing that
t
the party's Constitution demanded one.

E.I. MAY KEEP THE NDP DANGLING
------------------------------

8. (U) In the unsuccessful Liberal non-confidence motion in the
House of Commons on October 1 (reftel), the federal NDP allowed the
motion to fail in order to secure eventual passage of a bill
(currently before the Commons' Human Resources Committee) extending
Employment Insurance (E.I.) benefits. On October 4, the
Conservative Chair of the Committee signaled that he had a tentative
all-party deal to limit the Committee study, with hearings only on
October 6 and 8, before the House recesses during the week of
October 12 (Canadian Thanksgiving). The bill could be back for a
final vote in the Commons by the end of October, before going for
approval in the Liberal-dominated Senate. The government is also
reportedly planning to introduce a second E.I. bill this fall to
extend parental and compassionate leave benefits to the
self-employed. The bill would fulfill a Conservative election
pledge, as well as address longstanding NDP calls to extend E.I.
coverage to the self- employed.

9. (SBU) Comment: The government's E.I. initiatives may be enough
to keep the NDP grudgingly on its side through the fall, but the
by-elections will test all parties' election readiness. Although
the NDP and Bloc Qubcois will most likely keep their three riding
seats, the focus will be on momentum for the two major parties. The
Conservatives hold none of the four seats, have nothing to lose, and
something to gain in Nova Scotia (if Casey's departure left no
lingering ill-will) and possibly even in New Westminster- Coquitlam
in a two-way race with the NDP. (The federal Conservatives captured
three suburban Vancouver seats in 2008.) Liberal disarray in Quebec
may well provide cover for the weakness of the Conservatives in the
province. In contrast, the Liberals will have to spend scarce
election resources, despite the low probability of the Liberals

taking either of the Quebec seats. The party is likely also to be
squeezed in British Columbia. Combined with recent disunity in its
Quebec wing, a November 9 shut-out will further hurt the Liberal
"brand" and Ignatieff's leadership, and make it even harder for the
Liberals credibly to press for an early election.
JACOBSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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