Harper challenges Dion to act on election threats

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion should "fish or cut bait" on a fall election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during a speech delivered to Conservative party members in Quebec on Wednesday evening.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion should "fish or cut bait" on a fall election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during a speech delivered to Conservative party members in Quebec on Wednesday evening.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses supporters in rural Quebec following the first day of the Conservative caucus meeting in Lévis, Que. ((CBC))

Harper said his opponent should stop delaying the current work of government with futile election threats unless he is prepared to force a vote, which Dion has recently hinted at.

"Either let the current Parliament work and let us get on with our mandate, or the voters themselves will decide," Harper said to about 1,500 people at the Saint-Agapit arena, southwest of Quebec City.

Some observers have suggested that following this spring's whirl of election rhetoric and with the release of the Liberals' Green Shift environmental plan in June, Dion is preparing to go to the polls this autumn.

Last week, the Liberal leader said Canadians seemed readier than ever for a vote.

But Harper, speaking in the midst of a Tory summer caucus meeting in Lévis, Que., said he and the Conservative party are ready for anything Dion wants to throw their way.

"Friends, I see Mr. Dion is challenging me to debate his carbon tax," Harper said in French, referring to the Liberal plan to impose a tax on emissions in order to reduce the use of fossil fuels by Canadian industries and homeowners.

"If Mr. Dion wants a real debate — not just among politicians but a debate open to everybody — all he has to do is follow through on his latest threat to force an election."

The prime minister pledged that as long as he is in power, Canadians will not be subjected to any new taxes.

True nationalists 'want to build': PM

Harper also took the opportunity to woo Québécois voters in their native language, praising their culture and distinction as a "nation within a united Canada."

"Real nationalists are proud of their region and love Quebec without wanting to break up the Canadian federation," the prime minister said in French to giant applause.

"True nationalists don't want to tear down, they want to build."

Harper appeared to be trying to build on gains the Conservatives made in Quebec in the 2006 election, promoting his party as the third way or an alternative to "hard-line sovereignists and hard-line centralizers," according to prepared notes for his speech. 

Harper also addressed the economy, saying Canada's economic fundamentals remain strong despite global uncertainty and Quebec's unemployment rate is at its lowest in more than three decades.

Nonetheless, he warned that no country is immune to what is happening in the United States and the coming years will require difficult decisions and aggressive actions.