Cablegate: Liberals Chart Renewal in 2010


DE RUEHOT #0012/01 0052039
O 052038Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: OTTAWA 0001; 09 OTTAWA 909; 09 OTTAWA 954; 09 OTTAWA 341

1. (SBU) Summary: The Liberal Party of Canada plans an eighteen
month program of policy renewal, rebuilding, and member engagement
to "inspire, engage, activate" the party faithful between now and
its next biennial convention in June 2011. It will also organize a
long-delayed "thinkers' conference" in Montreal in March to cast
around for new campaign themes and policy ideas, apparently
conceding that a 2010 election may not be in the cards. The
Liberals' muted response to PM Harper's late December prorogation
of Parliament (ref b) suggests a lack of energy and hands-on
leadership (Michael Ignatieff reportedly remains on vacation in
France), however. The party's "transformational" process sets
high goals, but a similar 2006 renewal exercise did not meet
expectations. The Liberals face a tough road ahead if they hope
to beat the Conservatives in the next federal election - whether in
2010 or 2011. End summary.


2. (SBU) Despite the new leadership of Michael Ignatieff, a
reported tripling of membership, a 50% increase in fundraising
(almost all of which the Liberals collected in the first half of
2009, however) , and a five-fold rise in the donor base over 2008,
Liberal Party National President Alfred Apps conceded to party
members in an end-of-year message that 2009 had been a "tough
year." From the high of the April-May convention in Vancouver
(ref.d), the party misread public aversion for another election and
slumped in the polls in August after Ignatieff started publicly to
vow to bring down the government of Conservative Prime Minister
Stephen Harper in the fall. By mid-December, the Liberals were ten
points behind the Conservatives, and Ignatieff personally trailed
PM Harper on indices of trust, competence, vision and leadership,
even ranking behind New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton
on overall leadership and trust. Apps' message did not refer to a
possible election in 2010, instead urging members to continue to
work to regain Canadians' confidence and to form a new government
"whenever the next opportunity comes."


3. (SBU) Apps nonetheless expressed confidence that the party had
"now turned a page." He set out a framework of continuing renewal
over the next eighteen months, punctuated by a so-called
non-partisan "thinkers' conference" in March in Montreal and a
biennial party convention in June 2011. He called on grassroots
members to consolidate gains in membership and fundraising, to
reinvigorate local organization, and to help chart "a clear and
positive vision" for the country's future through the policy
renewal process. Apps promised that the March conference would be
"the most open, transparent and inclusive debate about Canada's
future that has ever been conducted by a Canadian political party,"
with ideas from the conference, including party members' comments,
feeding into the policy development process.


4. (SBU) The "thinkers' conference" - formally entitled "Canada at
150: Rising to the Challenge" -- will take place March 26 to 28 in
Montreal, Quebec. In a December press release, Ignatieff had said
that it would look ahead to "the Canada we can be on our country's
150th birthday" in 2017 - "and what we need to do today and
tomorrow to get there." Ignatieff had initially promised the
policy brainstorming exercise in 2008 as part of his first
unsuccessful leadership bid, and next committed to holding one
within his first 100 days of becoming leader. However, the
conference has since been twice postponed, first to September 2009,
then to January 2010. According to one Liberal staffer, the party
is only going forward with it now "because we said we would do it."
However, after the reorganization of Ignatieff's office in late
October 2009, a senior Ignatieff staffer told PolMinCons that the
party would push back the date to March, expand the event, and
promote it as a renewal tool.

5. (SBU) In late December, Ignatieff also announced that he would
kick off a "national conversation" with a cross-Canada tour of
colleges and universities, beginning in Nova Scotia on January 11
and ending on January 18 in Ottawa, with stops in Montreal,
Hamilton, Mississauga (Toronto), Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, and
Victoria. Ignatieff promised that all Canadians would be able to
join the discussion through town hall meetings, roundtables,
online, and through an official "Canada at 150" website that the
party plans to launch "soon." The party has not yet released a
speakers' line-up or discussion topics.


6. (U) The Liberals have also set the date for its next biennial
convention, from June 15 to 19, 2011 in Ottawa. The 2009 Vancouver
convention (which organizers had admitted would focus primarily on
administrative and organizational reform -- "plumbing and engine
stuff" -- set ambitious benchmarks for fundraising, membership
growth, organizational renewal, and policy participation targets to
review in 2011. In January 2009, shortly after he became leader,
Ignatieff had named both a renewal committee and a separate
"change" commission to report on progress and policy development,
building on work begun under St????phane Dion in 2008. Similarly,
after the election defeat in 2006, the Liberals had appointed a
renewal commission of 32 task forces headed by prominent Liberals
and experts - but then effectively shelved the reports. A
forward-looking "2020 conference" in 2006 chaired by former Liberal
Deputy Prime Minister John Manley also produced few policy ripples.
Liberal staffers privately have admitted that translating process
to policy book remains a significant challenge.

7. (SBU) Comment: The Liberals may be starting 2010 with a
roadmap, but the party's muted response to PM Harper's late
December prorogation of Parliament suggests a lack of energy and
hands-on leadership -- Ignatieff has reportedly not yet returned
from vacation in France. The Liberals have also just lost their
second national director in one year and have yet to name a
replacement. National President Apps is also due to set down in
March. Parliament's new return date of March 3, followed by a the
introduction of the federal budget on March 4 (and ensuing
confidence votes), makes the timing of the "thinkers" conference
especially awkward. Moreover, the exercise is unfortunately
familiar to the party faithful, and likely too heavy on process.
The Liberals face a tough road ahead if they hope to beat the
Conservatives in the next federal election - whether in 2010 or

© Scoop Media

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