2006-01-18 22:30:00
Embassy Ottawa
Cable title:  


Tags:  PGOV CA 
pdf how-to read a cable
DE RUEHOT #0154/01 0182230
P 182230Z JAN 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000154 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/17/2016

Classified By: POLMINCOUNS Brian Flora, reasons 1.4 (b) (d)

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000154



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/17/2016

Classified By: POLMINCOUNS Brian Flora, reasons 1.4 (b) (d)

1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: On Monday, January 23, Canadians will go
to the polls and elect a new Parliament and, presumably, a
new Prime Minister. The likely Conservative minority
government would bring the Tories to power for the first time
in 13 years and so we can expect some hiccups along the
transition road. We look for the new Prime Minister to be
sworn in by the Governor General within two weeks and the
cabinet to begin to sit immediately thereafter. Parliament
will take somewhat longer to sort out and would likely not
sit until late March, perhaps into April, depending in part
on the strength of the new government's mandate and how much
time it needs to strategize its own survival. The
bureaucracy, meanwhile will continue to advance the business
of government, and will provide a "return address" for us
until the new government is fully in place. The transition
period will not be a time for bold new initiatives but it
will not be moribund either. END SUMMARY

When the Electoral Smoke Clears

2. (SBU) By late evening on January 23 the results of the
election will be announced in the national media. But the
party with the largest share of votes does not immediately
"take over" and assume office. Following the election, the
Governor General appoints the leader with the greatest chance
of holding the confidence of the House as the Prime Minister.
Almost invariably this would be the leader of the party with
the most seats, but the Governor General could theoretically
consider a proposed coalition of two (or more) other parties.
Since none of the national parties in the current election
have expressed any interest in forming a coalition
government, the odds for such a post election scenario, which
has not occurred in modern Canadian history, are extremely
low. So we are confident that the party with the most seats
will be the one asked to form government.

Formation of a Cabinet

3. (SBU) The Constitution neither defines nor regulates the
length of time between Election Day and when a Prime Minister
and his cabinet are sworn in. In the past half-century, the

average time between Election Day and the official swearing
in of the new Ministry has been thirteen days. In this
short, interim period the executive of the existing
Government maintains its Ministry in order to avoid a
governance gap. James Hurley, a retired Privy Council Office
Constitutional Advisor, has said that the "outgoing Prime
Minister and the leader of the incoming government would sit
down and agree on a date for transition." This allows the
outgoing Ministers time to clear their desks and move from
their offices and gives the incoming Prime Minister time to
finalize the details of his new Cabinet. The Clerk of the
Privy Council, the government's senior public servant
traditionally coordinates in advance with a likely new Prime
Minister and his advisors and is a key player in ensuring
that preparations are under
way for the transition.

The New Parliamentary Session

4. (SBU) Once the Cabinet is sworn in, the new Ministers will
begin to take charge of their offices. They will hold
cabinet meetings with the Prime Minister in Ottawa and
possibly even elsewhere in Canada. The Parliament, however,
traditionally does not come into session for some time. The
previous Parliament, following its scheduled winter break,
was set to resume on January 30, a timetable that the new
Qwas set to resume on January 30, a timetable that the new
Parliament, absent a national crisis, will not meet. The
Parliamentary calendar is determined by the Prime Minister's
Office, and especially given the likely scenario of a new
Prime Minister, a large amount of transition work will have
to be done before the new session is called. The newly
elected Prime Minister would be under no obligation to adhere
to the former Parliamentary calendar, and the House could
well stay out until mid to late March. Some estimates even
have Parliament staying out until after the Easter Break in

Public Servants Beaver On

5. (SBU) Much of Ottawa's senior bureaucracy will go into
overdrive in the event of a transition to a Conservative
government. While many Conservative MPs will have experience
in Opposition, and some may have played roles in provincial
or municipal governments, few will have any experience in

OTTAWA 00000154 002 OF 002

Federal Government, so the learning curve will be steep.
Similarly, the Civil Service has grown accustomed to thirteen
years of Liberal rule and will have to adapt to potentially
significant changes. In the weeks following the election we
expect them to be seriously preoccupied and distracted.

Hires and Fires, Ambassadors and Such...

6. (C/NF) An incoming Prime Minister from a new party does
not have unlimited options in dealing with appointees of the
previous administration. A new Prime Ministers cannot, for
example, recall previous appointments to the Senate or
Supreme Court and he also does not have carte blanche to
replace senior civil servants, e.g. Deputy Ministers, or
recall Ambassadors, without cause. Some analysts nonetheless
believe that many of the Deputy Ministers have come to be
closely associated with the Liberal Party and a new
Conservative team would be reluctant to trust them to carry
out the new agenda. So we can expect a number of senior
personnel shuffles, some early retirements, and transfers to
new postings in other areas, albeit no wholesale "purge."

7. (C/NF) Commentators have begun to speculate on when they
expect Ambassador Frank McKenna, who apparently likes his
posting to Washington, to return to Canada so he can contend
for the leadership of the Liberal Party. He may wait for the
presumed post-loss "dust" to settle so he doesn't get caught
up in the blame game for the Liberal defeat, but we expect
him to toss his hat into the Liberal leadership ring soon and
he will not be effective doing so from Washington.

The Clerk of the Privy Council

8. (SBU) One expected early departure is Canada's Senior
Civil Servant, the Clerk of the Privy Council.
Traditionally, the Clerk is replaced by a new Prime Minister,
but the time frame for this is not rushed. The Clerk is a
career civil servant with an important role in the transition
so we expect the incumbent, Alex Himelfarb, to stay on for
between two to five months to keep a steady hand on the
transition. A possible successor would be Peter Harder,
currently Deputy Foreign Minister, a respected public servant
who, in the past, has had ties to the Conservative Party.

9. (C/NF) Comment: Assuming a transition to a Conservative
minority (which we are on record as assuming),we can expect
a slower than usual transition that will have more than its
share of hiccups. The Conservatives will presumably come
into office with a share of humility based on their tenuous
hold on power and would not be expected to lead any bold
moves until they see what they face on the floor of
Parliament, something they would probably not be anxious to
do until they have a firm strategy in place and have done
their homework. The professional bureaucracy in this
transition period will meanwhile continue to provide us with
the interlocutors we need to get the minimum accomplished,
but we shouldn't expect to see any real engagement on new
policies until the May-June timeframe.

Visit Canada's Classified Web Site at