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05OTTAWA1713 2005-06-06 21:05:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ottawa
Cable title:  

LIBERAL MP QUITS CAUCUS OVER HANDLING OF SAME-SEX

Tags:   PGOV CA 
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1. Summary: MP Pat O'Brien quit the Liberal caucus today
to sit as an independent while MP Todd Russell, who was
elected in the Labrador byelection, was seated as a Liberal.
This brings the Liberal/NDP and Conservative/Bloc totals to
152 each, with four independents. O'Brien left the caucus
because of the Liberal's management of the same-sex marriage
legislation, which he believes is being fast-tracked through
Parliament without proper debate and consideration. O'Brien
said that he was voting against the legislation, not the
government, but indicated that he would not be averse to
bringing the government down if necessary to stop the
same-sex bill. His one vote did not appear to embolden the
Opposition to try again to press a no-confidence motion, but
it will certainly cause the Liberals to continue to try to
please all parties as the session winds down. End Summary



2. (SBU) Liberal MP Pat O'Brien (London-Fanshawe, Southern
Ontario) held a press conference this morning to announce
that he would be leaving the Liberal Party to sit as an
independent. O'Brien explained that he was ready to quit the
caucus over a month ago but reconsidered at the insistence of
the Prime Minister, who promised him that the government
would hold full hearings on bill C-38 (same-sex unions) and
would allow all views to be fully aired. The truth, O'Brien
said, is not what you say but what you do, and the hearings
were not held to his satisfaction. He went on to say that he
has sat on enough different committees to know when hearings
are fairly and impartially conducted. In the hearings on
same-sex marriage the committee would often call witnesses at
the last minute, then limit the time they were allowed to
testify, and then go on to berate them during their testimony
for their views. He believes this is all part of an attempt
to fast-track the legislation without proper consideration.




3. (U) O'Brien said he first became energized about the issue
when the Ontario judicial system pre-empted the ongoing work
of the Parliamentary committee in 2003 and simply redefined
marriage for the province. This truncated the work of the
committee, which did not even go on to make its report.
"From that day forward," O'Brien said, "I became a lot less
proud to be a Liberal." He said he simply cannot accept the
direction the Liberal Party is going on this and other key
social issues.



4. (SBU) O'Brien said he will do everything he can to stall
and ultimately defeat the same-sex legislation. The first
question asked of him by a reporter was whether he would vote
against the government in a no-confidence vote, to which he
answered that he has not yet decided. He reiterated,
however, that he would take every action possible to defeat
this legislation, emphasizing that he was against the
legislation and not the government. When asked whether he
would be joining the Conservatives, O'Brien said that he has
listened to the Conservatives broadly and does find their
positions on many social issues to be closer to his, but that
he doesn't anticipate joining them. He may have given a
further clue to his intentions later on, however, when he
said that he really believes that the same-sex issue should
be decided at the polls, and not in Parliamentary committees.
He again said that he would take any democratic option to
ensure that the legislation does not pass.



5. (SBU) Liberal MP Todd Russell, who won the Labrador
byelection, was seated today, bringing the numbers to the
following:

Liberals -- 133
NDP 19
Subtotal 152

Conservatives 98
Bloc Quebecois 54
Subtotal 152

Independents 4 (Chuck Cadman, David Kilgour,
Carolyn Parrish, Pat O'Brien)

If one takes out Speaker Milliken but adds in declared
Liberal supporter Parrish, the two sides are equal, and any
confidence vote would be in the hands of the three remaining
independents. If Kilgour stays in the no-confidence category
and Cadman says in the confidence column, a confidence vote
with all members present would then come down to O'Brien.
Media have been speculating throughout the day that there may
be other Liberal members who could leave the caucus over the
issue -- Tom Wappell has been mentioned and there are as many
as 35 Liberals who are opposed to the legislation.



6. (C) Comment: All this is not to imply that the government
is closer to falling or that the Conservatives will try again
to bring the government down. At a reception for the Aga
Khan, the wife of Conservative leader Stephen Harper told
PolMinCouns that there is little likelihood of a summer
election. But O'Brien's leaving the Liberals is a definite
boost for the Conservatives, and certainly will keep the puck
in play for the rest of the match. If anything this will be
a wake-up call for the Liberals, who find themselves in a
still tenuous minority position. How they treat their NDP
colleagues and the NDP budget, how they manage the same-sex
legislation, and how carefully they tread on ethical issues,
will all be important to maintaining their razor thin margin
in this minority Parliament.

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