OTTAWA — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government's economic record through two recessions yesterday, a month before legislative elections and at a time when polls show his Tories neck and neck with center-left parties.
The two main opposition parties – the leftist New Democrats and the centrist Liberals – charged in a televised debate that the Conservatives have made the economy too dependent on raw materials, including oil.
"Mr. Harper put all of his eggs into one basket, then he dropped the basket," said New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair.
The economy contracted in the first half of this year, posting the weakest figures since the 2008 global financial crisis.
But despite tumbling oil prices it was announced this week that Canada – the world's fifth-largest oil producer – posted its first budget surplus since 2008.
Harper hailed the result as evidence his government's low tax and spend policies were delivering jobs and economic growth.
Seeking his fourth mandate in nine years, he urged voters not to support any shocks to a "fragile economy."
The New Democrats have vowed if elected to roll back Conservative tax credits and raise corporate taxes in order to pay for a national daycare program.
Justin Trudeau's Liberals are the only party to propose plunging Canada back into deficit to finance new transit and road infrastructure spending.
"Mr. Harper has not only the worst growth job creation record since World War II, his is the worst record on economic growth since the Great Depression," Trudeau blasted, adding that the economy needs a "kickstart."
There are currently 1.3 million Canadians out of work, wage rates have not kept up with inflation and household debt is at a record high.
Harper blamed external forces, saying: "We're not saying in this fragile global economy everything is great."
"Right now a portion of our economy is hard hit by the fall in oil prices.
That concerns me," he said.
But, he added, "we have done better than all the major developed economies."
"And higher taxes and permanent deficits is a risk that buys nothing for our people."
The nationally televised debate was held in Calgary, the focal point of Canada's oil industry. — AFP