Harper plans to battle 'culture of defeatism' in Atlantic Canada

Alliance leader raises ire of people in Atlantic provinces with 'defeatist' comments

Members of the Nova Scotia legislature voted unanimously Thursday in favor of a resolution condemning Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian Alliance.

The resolution was in response to Harper's comments that there is a "defeatist attitude" in Atlantic Canada.

"There is a dependence in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism," the Opposition leader said Wednesday following question period in the House.

Nova Scotia's motion called on Harper to look at problems in his own party, and distinguish between the Alliance's unbroken string of defeats in most provinces and the reality of achievement and optimism in the Atlantic region.

Harper tried to clarify his remarks Wednesday by saying that the defeatist culture isn't restricted to Atlantic Canada. But he added that his party has to break through that attitude if the Canadian Alliance is to have a breakthrough of its own in region.

"We have a program that says that Atlantic Canada can be as wealthy as any other region, but that needs to be pursued aggressively and we don't sit around waiting for favours," he said.

People on the streets in the region couldn't believe Harper's comments. "What part of Canada is he from?" one asked.

Atlantic economy booming, says political scientist

NDP leader Alexa McDonough, an Atlantic Canadian, says the comments don't sit well with her.

"This is the real Stephen Harper who wanted to put up firewalls around Alberta to keep us nasty Eastern Canadians out because we're ne'er-do-wells and lazy bums," said McDonough.

Joe Clark says the Alliance leader is treading dangerous waters. "All of us should be very careful to not apply false caricatures to a region."

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord says Harper is wrong about the economic prospects of the region.

"I think he's sadly mistaken and I would invite him to take the time to come and visit," he said. "In fact, the people here have a very positive attitude."

A political scientist from Dalhousie University in Halifax says Atlantic Canada is actually booming. "The region is moving forward economically," said Jennifer Smith. "It's growing faster than other regions of the country.

"I'm sure that comes as a surprise to some people, but it won't come to a surprise to people who are living here in the region."

Harper allowed there are positive signs in the region, pointing New Brunswick out in particular. But he insisted there is still a long way to go.

"It's not going to be a secret to people in Atlantic Canada that they don't feel very optimistic about their prospects and that's why children and grandchildren have been leaving that region for years," he said. "We're going to change that."

Harper will get closer look at the culture of Atlantic Canada this summer when he plans a tour of the region.