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Cablegate: Canada: Ruling Conservatives Survive 2009 in Comfort

VZCZCXYZ0013
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHOT #0954/01 3490129
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 142253Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0161
INFO ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS OTTAWA 000954

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON CA
SUBJECT: CANADA: RULING CONSERVATIVES SURVIVE 2009 IN COMFORT

REF: OTTAWA 940; OTTAWA 795; OTTAWA 766; OTTAWA 735; OTTAWA 876

1. (SBU) Summary. Early in the fall, the ruling Conservatives
sidestepped the threat of an election, seized control of the
parliamentary agenda, and moved forward on a twin-track of economic
and justice issues, largely unhampered by their minority status.
By the close of the fall parliamentary session on December 10, they
had added two seats to their ranks, pulled clearly ahead in the
polls, and retained the political initiative. The economy and
justice issues remain key priorities. Climate change and
especially a controversy over Afghan detainees are still
challenges, however. With an election off the table at least until
spring 2010, if not later, the Conservatives again have an
opportunity to add to their record of results in office, while also
needing to keep the Parliamentary debates focused to their
advantage in order to keep their eyes on the next political prize:
a majority in the next election. End summary.

2. (U) Only a few months ago, the momentum toward a fall election
seemed all but inevitable, with Official Opposition Liberal Party
leader Michael Ignatieff vowing to bring down the government:
"Your time is up" (refs b-d). Only the surprise support for the
government by the New Democratic Party - which previously had
boasted of voting against the government on more than 70
consecutive votes and ridiculed the Liberals for failing to act
like a genuine opposition party - in order to secure the passage of
two bills on Employment Insurance (one of which remains in the
Senate, while the other has become law already) staved off the
prospects of the second election in two years. The House of
Commons adjourned for the Christmas recess on December 10, and will
not resume until January 25. The Senate continues to sit, perhaps
until December 18.

CONSERVATIVES IN COMFORTABLE LEAD

3. (SBU) The Conservatives remain by far the best funded of all
the political parties, and ahead in the polls, at approximately 36%
support. They have preserved an almost double-digit lead in voting
intentions since September, when they pulled away after months of
being locked in a dead heat with the Liberals. Polling indicates
the Conservatives continue to make inroads in ethnic communities,
and even to close the gender gap with female voters, previously a
perennial Achilles heel for the party. In a new Angus Reid poll,
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's approval rating - at 32% -- was
more than double Ignatieff's - at 15%. (Even NDP leader Jack
Layton had a 29 % approval rating.) On November 9, the
Conservatives won two of four seats in federal by-election races
(ref e), including an upset win in Quebec. In contrast, the
Liberal Party is hovering at near historic lows of popular support.
Several senior Liberal MPs and officials have acknowledged
privately to PolMinCouns that the government conceivably could last
well into 2010, either with continued support from the NDP or with
ad hoc support from the Liberals, who are not yet ready to bring
the government down -- for the foreseeable future -- "period."

STAYING THE COURSE ON THE ECONOMY

4. (U) Improving the economy remains the government's chief focus.
On December 2, PM Harper presented the final 2009 quarterly
economic report card (required by the Liberals in exchange for
passing the federal budget in March). PM Harper reiterated that
the economy "continues to be our number one priority, and that will
not change until the global recession is truly behind us." He
announced that the government had committed 97% of this year's
economic stimulus spending, with an estimated 8,000 of 12,000
approved projects underway. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty
separately said the government would refrain from any new major
spending programs, would allow the committed stimulus to work
through the economy, and would "stay the course" with its flagship
Economic Action Plan. Opposition parties have criticized the
government for failing to specify how many jobs have been created,
for allegedly channeling a disproportionate number of projects to
government-held ridings, and for allowing Conservative MPs to take
the lion's share of the credit for government spending through
E

presentation of giant prop checks with party logos.

CRACKING DOWN ON CRIME

5. (U) The Conservatives have also moved ahead on their justice
agenda, long a hallmark of the party. The government currently has
15 justice bills in progress before Parliament, including bills to
end conditional sentences for property and serious crime, stiffen
sentences for auto theft and trafficking in property obtained from
crime, eliminate two-for-one credit for time served in pre-trial
custody, and repeal the "faint hope" clause for first and second
degree murder. In December, the Liberal-dominated Senate weakened
the provisions of C-15 -- a bill to impose mandatory minimum
sentences for production, possession, and trafficking of illegal
drugs -- by exempting aboriginal offenders as well as growers of
between 5 and 200 marijuana plants from the mandatory provisions
(although these would still apply if there were aggravating
factors). The amended bill will have to return to the House of
Commons for approval or rejection of the amendments in the winter
2010 session.

LIMITED PROGRESS ON NATIONAL SECURITY

6. (U) The government made no progress on C-19, amendments to the
Anti-terrorism Bill (to restore lapsed powers to hold investigative
hearings, and impose recognizance with conditions.) The
Conservatives had re-introduced the bill in March (it had passed
the Senate in the previous Parliament but had not made it through
the House before dissolution of the previous Parliament in 2008),
briefly debated it in June, but has not yet brought it to a vote.
On a separate issue, the government on November 27 introduced Bill
C-60, a bill to implement a Canada-U.S. framework agreement for
integrated cross-border maritime law enforcement operations
(Shiprider).

7. (U) On December 13, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan
confirmed that the government had launched a review of the
decades-old immigration security certificate law, under which
foreign nationals deemed a threat to national security may be
detained or deported. Minister Van Loan stated that the government
was "working on it actively, very actively," adding that he will
review whether the certificates remain "an appropriate instrument"
as the government tries to "work our way through what the
implications of the court decisions are and how we can balance that
with our ability to assure the national security of Canadians." On
October 14, the Federal Court quashed a certificate against Adil
Charkaoui, and, on December 14, separately announced its decision
imminently to quash a certificate against Hassan Almrei. Three
security certificate cases remain before the courts.

PARLIAMENT VERSUS THE GOVERNMENT

8. (U) Since mid-November, the government has sought to contain a
controversy over the transfer by Canadian Forces of detainees in
Afghanistan to situations where they may face abuse from Afghan
authorities (ref.a). On December 10, the opposition parties
narrowly passed a motion (145:143) ordering the government to
disclose unredacted confidential documents on detainees captured in
Afghanistan. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and International
Trade Minister Stockwell Day (Chair of the cabinet's Committee on
Afghanistan) underscored on December 11 that the government would
not comply. The motion now pits Parliament's constitutional --
but rarely used and largely untested -- privilege to compel the
production of documents against the government's legal
responsibility to shield information under national security
legislation. Minister Day stated that members of the Special
Committee on Canada's Mission in Afghanistan (AFGH) would receive
"legally available" documents. However, he added that MPs were
"naive to the extreme" to expect the release of uncensored
documents.

9. (U) The AFGH (in which the three opposition parties have a

majority) may continue to hold hearings through the Christmas
recess, and Liberal MPs have insisted that they will continue to
press their case when the House of Commons resumes in January. If
the government continues to ignore the parliamentary order for
documents, the opposition could vote to find the government "in
contempt" of Parliament, or even theoretically press the case in
the courts. However, Parliament has rarely proceeded to a contempt
finding, and has never applied a penalty. According to
constitutional experts, Canadian courts would likely be loath to
rule on the limits of parliamentary privilege.

10. (SBU) Comment: The Conservatives have remained in the
political driver's seat through the fall, largely unhampered by
their minority status, and moving methodically to implement a
focused economic and justice agenda. The opposition parties,
especially the Liberals, struggled to gain traction - further
hampered by a series of high profile personnel departures,
including a chief of staff and their second national director in
one year. Climate change and a revitalized Afghan detainee
controversy still present some opportunities for the Liberals to
rebound in 2010, although the lack of public interest in the latter
issue is a major constraint. The opposition parties have
nonetheless fastened on the detainee controversy as a wedge issue
to undermine the Conservatives' credibility, largely in the absence
of broader policy ideas of their own. Although the opposition is
unlikely to escalate the fight to a political stand-off, the
long-running controversy has previously demonstrated its potential
to distract, overshadow, and knock the Conservatives' agenda off
course. The parliamentary break affords the Conservatives a chance
to refocus and change the channel. For the Liberals, the greater
challenge will be less to sustain the detainee controversy than to
rebuild morale, organization, and competitiveness in Ignatieff's
second year as party leader. With the polls still heavily in their
favor, the Conservatives will be vigorously looking for an
opportunity - probably in 2010 - to win their long-awaited
political prize: an actual majority in the House of Commons from a
new federal election.
JACOBSON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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