Cablegate: Liberals Begin the Healing Process

Published: Tue 9 Dec 2008 09:09 PM
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Classified By: PolMinCouns Scott Bellard, reason 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary. Michael Ignatieff is the only remaining
candidate to replace Stephane Dion as the interim leader of
the Official Opposition Liberal Party. A new party mechanism
should confirm him in this role o/a December 17. Liberals
hope that the members will now be able to concentrate on the
future, and will look first for signs that the Conservative
budget presentation on January 27 includes conciliatory
elements, such as a meaningful stimulus package. If not,
they may re-visit the coalition option with the New
Democratic Party. Over the longer term, however, Ignatieff's
personality may prove to be a liability in creating or
maintaining Liberal cohesion. End Summary.
2. (U) Liberal MP Bob Rae announced on December 9 that he
would no longer be a candidate as either the interim or the
next leader (which a May 2009 Liberal national convention
will crown) of the Official Opposition Liberal Party,
replacing Stephane Dion, who had signaled his intention to
resign on December 8 (ref a). (The other expected candidate,
Dominic LeBlanc, announced on December 8 that he was also
dropping out of the race.) Rae emphasized that Michael
Ignatieff would have his ""full and unqualified support,"" and
predicted that Ignatieff ""will make a great Prime Minister.""
He insisted, however, that he would continue to lobby for a
shift to a ""one-member-one-vote"" system of selecting the
national party leader in the future.
3. (C) Rae's 180-degree reversal of position came only
after the Liberal National Executive announced that, while it
did not favor Rae's proposed one-person-one-vote selection
process for the party leader, it would create a special
800-person grouping to ratify the choice of an interim leader
o/a December 17. Members will include the 308 riding
presidents as well as representatives of aboriginal, women's
and student groups. (Details about the remaining
representatives remain vague.) The Liberal parliamentary
caucus is still expected to meet on December 10 to make clear
its own preference for Ignatieff, but the Executive's
decision made clear that many in the party recognize that the
time had come for a more inclusive body to rally behind the
new interim leader, with the expectation that he will also
receive the blessing of the national convention on May 2.
4. (C) In a meeting with PolMinCouns on December 9, Liberal
Whip in the House of Commons Rodger Cuzner expressed the hope
that Rae's decision would now allow the Liberals to begin to
heal the self-inflicted party wounds that have existed since
the 2006 national leadership race, and further intensified in
recent months due to Dion's perceived ineptness, widespread
disgruntlement over the ""Green Shift"" carbon tax proposal,
dire showing in the October 14 election, controversial
coalition with the NDP, and the now-infamously bad Dion video
in response to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's December 3
address to the nation. He indicated that Rae had ""done the
right thing"" for the party, and he predicted that the
December 10 Liberal caucus would set the right tone of unity
just before the MPs head home to their ridings for the
holidays. Separately, Liberal National President Doug
Ferguson admitted that about 900,000 Liberal members had
simply abstained from the October 14 election, and confirmed
that the party's chief task in the months to come would be to
win back their support, participation, and enthusiasm -- as
well as financial contributions.
5. (C) Curzon emphasized that Liberal MPs understand from
their constituents that the economy is the top issue, and
that there is little inclination for ""petty partisanship""
now. If the Conservatives put forward a budget on January 27
that appears at all conciliatory to opposition demands --
notably, for a healthy stimulus package and specific aid for
the auto and forestry sectors -- the Liberal inclination will
be to support it. If, in contrast, the Conservatives again
include confrontational proposals -- as the fall Economic and
Fiscal Statement's call to end federal funding for political
parties (ref b) -- ""all gloves are off,"" according to Curzon.
In such a scenario, Curzon suggested that Ignatieff would
even be willing to consider reviving the Liberal/NDP
coalition, about which he has so far appeared mostly
agnostic, at best.
6. (C) Comment: Selection of a new interim leader will
help put the unsuccessful Dion era behind the Liberals and
position them for new political competition in 2009. The
choice of Ignatieff is not without risk, however. He has
long lived with open criticism about his patrician and
sometimes condescending manner -- many call him ""the Count""
behind his back, in part in reference to his aristocratic
Russian lineage and in part to his personal style -- and his
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bitter rivalry since 2006 with college roommate and one-time
friend Bob Rae is the already the stuff of Liberal legend.
He has only now begun to live down the ""johnny-come-lately""
image that was inevitable when he entered Canadian politics
after decades in the U.S., as well as unease that not only
had he initially supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq but
subsequently jettisoned his own view for political
convenience. Ignatieff will face a factionalized,
demoralized, and poor party without much of a clear-cut
alternate vision to the Conservatives' policy and
organizational juggernaut. Ignatieff -- and Liberals around
the country -- clearly have much heavy lifting in the weeks
and months ahead.
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