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U.S. ambassador questioned Ignatieff's leadership, WikiLeaks cables reveal

United States Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson addresses the Canadian American Business Council Wednesday, October 21, 2009 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The United States ambassador to Canada privately called into question the abilities of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff during the 2010 prorogation of Parliament, according to unclassified U.S. State Department documents released Thursday by WikiLeaks.

In a diplomatic cable sent to Washington on Jan. 5, 2010, Ambassador David Jacobson pointedly remarks on a "muted response" by the Liberals to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper's controversial shutdown of Parliament in December, 2009.

"The Liberals may be starting 2010 with a road map, 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," Mr. Jacobson wrote in the note. The cable was released Thursday as part of larger cache of diplomatic notes obtained by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

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At the time the cable was written, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had taken the unusual constitutional measure of shutting down Parliament ahead of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. The move sparked a backlash in the press as well as social media spheres, where Mr. Harper was repeatedly accused of trying to block inquiries into the government's handling of Afghan detainees. But Mr. Ignatieff's European vacation was underscored and attacked by several columnists and commentators - an absence that was not lost on the U.S. embassy.

Indeed, years before pollsters revealed current disaffection with the Liberals, the U.S. embassy's cables resembled a virtual catalogue of the party's missteps: in-fighting in Quebec, lacklustre fundraising as well as repeated slips in the polls.

Following the 2009 Liberal convention, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission, Terry Breese, drafted a memorandum based on his discussions with various attendees. One former Liberal official, who was identified only as a long-time staffer under former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, told Mr. Breese: "We're stony broke, and if people up in Ottawa get carried away [and trigger an election] we're in deep s--t."

Other Liberal members "pointed to poor communications, lack of money, and outdated organization as evidence the party still needed significantly to 'raise its game' in order to win the next election ..." Mr. Breese wrote.

In October, 2009, Mr. Jacobson weighed in on the party's poor chances in four by-elections, two of which were held in Quebec. "Combined with recent disunity in its Quebec wing, a November 9 shut-out will further hurt the Liberal 'brand' and Ignatieff's leadership, and make it even harder for the Liberals credibly to press for an early election," the ambassador wrote.

An official with the U.S. embassy in Ottawa said Thursday there were no immediate plans to comment on the cables.

Kate Purchase, a spokeswoman for the Liberal Party of Canada, said that the party would not address Mr. Jacobson's comments. Ms. Purchase pointed out that during prorogation, Mr. Ignatieff convened 26 roundtables on a variety of topics ranging from health to governance.

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