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Cablegate: Canada: Conservatives Gain Control of Senate

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DE RUEHOT #0126/01 0322052
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 012051Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY OTTAWA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0325
INFO ALL CANADIAN POSTS COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS OTTAWA 000126

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CA
SUBJECT: CANADA: CONSERVATIVES GAIN CONTROL OF SENATE

REF: 08 OTTAWA 1577; 09 OTTAWA 909; OTTAWA 84

1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Harper has gained effective
control of the Senate in the next session of Parliament following
the appointment of five new Conservative Senators, which gives his
party a working plurality in the upper house for the first time.
The shift should strengthen the Conservatives' ability to expedite
passage of their policy agenda -- particularly on key crime and
justice issues -- and increase chances for limited Senate reform.
The Conservatives will take over as Senate committee chairs when
Parliament resumes on March 3. The new balance of power allows the
Prime Minister to put a Conservative stamp on the institution now,
while also ensuring a strong Conservative influence for years to
come. End summary.

CONSERVATIVES IN CHARGE IN THE RED CHAMBER

2. (U) Upon the recommendation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper
on January 29, Governor General Michaelle Jean appointed five new
Conservative Senators (see para six for details). After long
opposing appointment of senators absent some sort of provincial
elections, PM Harper began naming Conservative Senators in December
2008 (ref a); he has now named a total of 33. When Parliament
returns on March 3, Conservative Senators will have a plurality of
51 seats over 49 Liberals in the 105-seat upper chamber. There are
also five Independents, most of who tend to vote with the
government. If he remains in office until year's end, PM Harper
will have the opportunity to replace one Conservative and two
Liberal Senators facing mandatory retirement at age 75. The
Conservatives will also gain control of Senate committee chairs
after March 3, once the committees reconstitute following the
December prorogation (ref b).

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FULL AHEAD ON ANTI-CRIME AGENDA

3. (U) In a statement introducing the new Senators, PM Harper
explicitly linked the new appointments with his government's
tough-on-crime agenda, which he identified as "one of its highest
priorities." He argued that the opposition had "abused their
Senate majority by obstructing and eviscerating law and order
measures that are urgently needed and strongly supported by
Canadians." He underscored that the appointees were "committed to
community safety and justice for the victims of crime," adding that
"I look forward to working with each towards making our communities
safer and protecting families from crime."

4. (U) Justice Minister Rob Nicholson separately on January 29
held a news conference to attack the Liberals as "soft on crime."
He announced that the government would reintroduce key justice
bills that had lapsed when Parliament prorogued in December,
including a bill (C-15) to impose mandatory minimum sentences for
serious drug crimes. He noted that the government would -
unusually -- introduce C-15 first in the Senate. In the previous
session, the Liberal majority in the Senate had weakened the
mandatory minimums in the bill to preserve judicial discretion.
Liberal Senators had also tried (and failed) to amend a bill to
eliminate enhanced credit for pre-trial detention. However, of the
17 crime bills introduced by the Conservatives in the previous
session, only two spent more than six months in the Senate, and
most died on the order paper when the Conservatives prorogued
Parliament (ref c).

STILL COMMITTED TO REFORM

5. (U) The Prime Minister pledged that his government would
continue to push for "a more democratic, accountable and effective"
Senate. Although legally eligible to serve until 75 years of age,
all of the new appointees (as in the 2008 appointments) have
reportedly promised to support Conservative legislation limiting
their terms to eight years. The appointments attracted no apparent
pushback from the Conservative base, which reportedly has accepted
the tactics of Senate appointments in order to achieve the greater

goal of Senate reform.

6. (U) The five new Senators represent Quebec, Ontario, New
Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Three have political
experience as provincial politicians, and two have provincial
cabinet experience, including one in Public Safety, Security,
Justice and Correctional Services portfolios. The list of
appointees follows:

-- Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu (Quebec), victims' rights advocate

-- Bob Runciman (Ontario), member of the Ontario Legislature

--Vim Kochhar (Ontario), businessman and philanthropist

-- Elizabeth Marshall (NL), member of the Newfoundland Legislature

-- Rose-May Poirier (NB), member of the New Brunswick Legislature

LIBERAL RESPONSE: HYPOCRISY!

7. (U) Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff accused PM
Harper of hypocrisy over the latest appointments, arguing that the
PM had failed to respect his political base by breaking his pledge
not to appoint senators. He defended the Senate as doing good work
"fundamental to Canadian democracy" in double-checking the Commons'
bills, and claimed that PM Harper had used the previously
Liberal-dominated Senate as a constitutional scapegoat for stalling
his agenda. He insisted that the Liberals also support Senate
reform in principle. On January 31, he laid out some "do-able"
Senate reform ideas of his own, including twelve-year term limits
(versus the Conservatives' proposal of eight-year terms) and an
independent commission to approve Senate candidates proposed by a
Prime Minister. Ignatieff promised to push for these reforms in
consultation with the provinces, which have a constitutional role
in approving any significant changes to the Senate. However, he
added that "I don't think that Senate reform is the highest
priority of the hard-pressed middle class of this country." Other
Liberal MPs criticized Harper for diminishing the historical
independent role of the Senate by making it an extension of his
partisan caucus.

8. (SBU) Comment: The Conservatives have used Senate reform and
law-and-order as political "wedge" issues to bolster their base and
to label the Liberals as soft-on-crime. In doing so, the
Conservatives have often overstated the Senate's ability to
obstruct legislation. The Conservatives' new Senate role marks an
important shift, enhancing the current government's ability to
advance its own agenda and putting a more conservative - and
Conservative -- ideological stamp on the Senate that will last for
years, regardless of which party forms the next government.
JACOBSON

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