Federal opposition leaders resumed their attacks on Stephen Harper over the economy while on the campaign trail Friday, a day after the Conservative leader faced a barrage on the issue during a feisty English-language leaders' debate.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, in a midday Friday address to the Chamber of Commerce in Montreal, said Harper has been living "in his own bubble" while Canada suffered massive job losses in the manufacturing sector and has seen its economic performance worsen to among the lowest of the G8 nations.
"Today we need a prime minister that will do what Stephen Harper refuses to do, a prime minister that will admit that we have a problem with our economy," Dion said,
He then repeated his pledge that a Liberal government would meet with Canada's financial leaders and provide an economic update within the first 30 days of its mandate.
"We need a plan of action that is made in Canada, not in Australia," he said, referring to Harper's 2003 address to Parliament calling for Canada's participation in the Iraq war. Earlier this week, a Conservative staffer admitted to plagiarizing passages from a speech by then Australian Prime Minister John Howard for Harper's address.
Harper, speaking shortly before Dion on Friday in New Brunswick, defended the Tories' record on handling Canada's economy in the wake of the economic turmoil in the United States, saying his opponents merely filled this week's debates with "four hours of attacks on the government."
Harper said Canadians' concerns over troubles in the U.S. were "understandable" because of the two countries' connected economies, but insisted the fundamentals in Canada are different from the U.S. because his government has made "different choices."
"While the United States has increased its deficit and added to its debt, we chose to keep the budget balanced and pay down debt," Harper told an audience in Saint John.
He said Canada has a "fairly stable" mortgage sector and the country's banks are "obviously" in a stable situation.
"The Canadian economy has continued to create jobs — it's slower than it was, but it continues to grow," he said. "We don't panic here. We will emerge from this as strong as ever."
After being ridiculed by his opponents for failing to release a published platform for the Oct. 14 election, the Conservative leader said his party would do so next Tuesday.
During a campaign appearance in Montreal earlier in the day, NDP Leader Jack Layton said Harper has tried to deny Canada is being affected by the global economic crisis and does not have a clear policy to protect Canadians.
"We are in tough times," Layton told supporters. "He tried to say last night that everything is fine with the economy. Well, Mr. Harper, the economy is not fine, and you either don't get it, don't understand it or you're too cold-hearted to understand what people are facing day in and day out."
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, in a rare address to a business audience in Toronto on Friday, said Harper was "insulting" the hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario and Quebec who have lost their manufacturing jobs. "I dare him to say to the person who lost their jobs in Trois-Rivières or Windsor [Ont.] that everything's all right," Duceppe said.
Also Friday, Harper pledged a re-elected Conservative government would give $2,000 bonus cheques to apprentices who finish accredited training programs in order to bolster the numbers of Canada's critically needed skilled trade workers.
He said the measure, which would cost as much as $60 million a year, is the latest in his party's series of "practical, affordable investments" to buttress Canada's economy against global economic uncertainty.
The Conservative leader again appealed to voters to give his party a "strong mandate" on Oct. 14, saying his opponents showed during the debates they have "no realistic plan and only policies that will take our economy in the wrong direction."
"We are Conservatives; we don't get elected very often," he said. "Whatever mandate we get, I'll be thankful."
Do you have a question for Stéphane Dion? Send it to email@example.com for The National's Your Turn with the Liberal party leader on Oct. 8.