No bailout package needed for Canada's banks: Harper

The federal government is not considering any bailout plans for Canada's banks and other financial institutions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday.

Tory leader again dismisses calls to fire minister over listeriosis jokes

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper speaks to the media on Friday during a campaign appearance in Farnham, Que. ((CBC))
The federal government is not considering any bailout plans for Canada's banks and other financial institutions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday, as a massive and unprecedented package was being prepared in the United States.

Harper made the comments while campaigning Friday in Farnham, Que., a Bloc Québécois stronghold, continuing his party's push for crucial Quebec votes that could potentially win him a majority Conservative government in the Oct. 14 election.

Despite this week's worldwide market turbulence over heightened fears for the U.S. economy, Harper said the Canadian financial system remains "in very good shape.

"All our information would indicate obviously while certain banks have had some significant writedowns, that overall, the balance sheets of the Canadian financial sector remains very healthy," Harper told reporters after announcing a Conservative proposal to provide $85 million in tax breaks for families caring for disabled children or relatives.

"The best information I have, and I do continue to get briefed on these matters, is that the troubles in the financial sector of the United States should not spill over into Canada," Harper said.

"But we’re obviously watching it closely."

Just moments before Harper spoke, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson sketched the outlines of a bold approach to relieve banks of their bad debts and restore the credit markets to health, while also warning the government action would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Harper has insisted his party is best equipped to handle Canada's economy in the face of global economic uncertainty, while opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of mismanagement amid dwindling surpluses and economic growth figures.

Harper pressed over Ritz comments

But the Conservative leader's message again was sidelined at the campaign event, as Harper continued to be pressed for a second day over controversial jokes made by his agriculture minister about the listeriosis crisis, which has been linked to the deaths of 17 people across Canada.

Dennis Schroh, whose mother Elizabeth Schroh died on Aug. 24 in Saskatchewan after contracting the strain of listeria linked to the Maple Leaf Foods meat recall, said he was offended when news broke that Gerry Ritz had cracked jokes about the outbreak while he was on a conference call with scientists and political staffers Aug. 30.

While Harper expressed his sympathies for Schroh and other victims' families, he again refused to fire Ritz over the comments.

"Well, look, we would expect that people in that position would be very upset as we all are, and obviously we sympathize greatly with the situation and the loss of their loved ones," Harper said.

"Minister Ritz clearly did not intend to make any such comments publicly and has thoroughly apologized."

He added Ritz and Health Minister Tony Clement were working hard to identify and fix problems in the federal food inspection system even before the crisis.

"These are terribly unfortunate cases," he said. "It’s obviously why we are making sure going forward not just that we’re investing more in the Canadian food inspection system, but we are going to do a thorough review of all the issues here … to make sure that these kinds of things don’t happen in the future."

Ritz a 'train wreck': Ignatieff

Meanwhile on Friday, Liberal deputy leader Michael Ignatieff called Ritz a "train wreck" who clearly could not handle the agriculture portfolio. 

Ignatieff told CBC News that Ritz's gaffes were the direct result of Harper's "one-man-band" approach to governing, whereas the Liberals had a solid team to offer as an alternative to Canadians.

Ignatieff, who made his first campaign appearance with Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion in Toronto on Thursday, then headed to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's southern Ontario riding of Whitby-Oshawa.

He announced his party's promise to match the Harper government's $80-million commitment to retool the Ford engine plant in Windsor, Ont., as well as provide additional support for hybrid car operations at General Motors.

Ignatieff also said the Liberals "are going after" Flaherty because of his mismanagement of the crisis facing the province, and for him saying Ontario was "the last place" in Canada to start a business.

"This is a terrible call, and every autoworker in Ontario and central Canada manufacturing worker remembers that remark," Ignatieff said.

He said the Conservative government "has spent 2½ years waking up" to the severity of the crisis in the auto sector, only offering assistance right before dropping the writ for an election.

"It's that sense of too little, too late we want to emphasize," he said.

'Tough' Dion 'ready to lead,' says former rival

Ignatieff also defended his former leadership rival Dion, declaring him "ready to lead," despite media reports of Liberals questioning their leader's performance during the campaign so far.

"I'm one of the few people in Canada who is in the room one on one with Stéphane Dion, and I can tell you looking you right in the eye, this guy is up to the job," Ignatieff said. 

"The thing about him that is not getting through and needs to get through, he's very, very tough."