Politics

Conservatives try to dent Trudeau government's armour on economy

Conservatives meeting in Halifax this week have made it clear they want to focus on criticizing the Trudeau government's management of the economy. That job got harder when the head of the IMF praised the Liberals' economic policies yesterday.

'She came in and she curried favour,' Tory finance critic says of IMF's Lagarde praising Trudeau

Conservative leadership candidate Tony Clement calls out Prime Minister Trudeau and the IMF's Christine Lagarde for having a tax and spend agenda. 1:12

Conservatives meeting in Halifax this week have made it clear they want to focus on criticizing the Trudeau government's management of the economy when Parliament resumes Sept. 19.

But landing scoring blows on that issue didn't get any easier Tuesday, when International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde appeared alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa and heaped praise on the direction the Liberals were taking.

On their way into their second day of strategy sessions Wednesday, reaction from Conservatives ranged from downplaying Lagarde's praise as the typical compliments of a diplomat to suggesting one of the world's top economic leaders was out of touch.

"There's this new theory called 'secular stagnation' the left wing economists are on. Trudeau bought into that. Mrs. Lagarde said the same thing," Tony Clement said. "She's entitled to her opinion."

"I think anybody who's advancing the theory that going massively into deficit is going to create jobs, is going to create innovation … is 180 degrees in the wrong direction. It's been proven time and time again," the leadership candidate said. 

"I don't care if it's the Queen of Sheba. If you're advancing theories based on left-wing ideology that means more tax and more spend, it will not create jobs, and I will stand by that forever." 

The party's finance critic, Lisa Raitt, was quick to point out that Lagarde had a close relationship with Harper-era finance minister Jim Flaherty and praised the former Conservative government's policies after the Great Recession of 2008-09, when economic stimulus spending was followed by a return to balanced budgets.

"One thing that she missed yesterday was, how do we pay for all of this?" Raitt said. "And that's what we're here talking about today, because at the end of the day the taxpayer pays."

'Trying to be diplomatic'

The IMF is concerned about Canada's debt, Raitt — who may also be a leadership candidate — said. 

"She seems to think that spending is the way to get out of the situation of low growth in the world, which may be fine and certainly this government is taking that approach, but spending means you have to pay it back, and this government has shown us nothing on how they're going to pay it back."

Raitt distanced herself from Clement's labelling of Lagarde as "left-wing."

"She came in, and she curried favour with the government of the day. She said nice things about our government, she's saying nice things about this government," Raitt said. "She's probably trying to be diplomatic."

Christine Lagarde, the IMF's managing director, said Tuesday after a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that she hoped Canada's current economic policies would go 'viral.' (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Leadership candidate Maxime Bernier's campaign is focused on ideas for promoting economic growth through less government intervention and more private investment. The right policies can get the Canadian economy back to four per cent growth, he suggested.

"The reality is that after nearly a year [of Liberal government] you don't have any growth in Canada," he said. "The plan will be judged by the data, by the people in Canada."

Later Wednesday afternoon, Ambrose reminded reporters that the last time the head of the IMF came to Canada, when Stephen Harper was prime minister, she said the same thing.

"It's great to have people from international economic institutions talk about Canada, but at the end of the day the only people that will have to pay for this spending is Canadians," she said.

"The government doesn't seem to have a plan," Ambrose said. "We're focused on ordinary working people that are worried about the fact that jobs are not being created in this country. And their taxes are going up. And they see the government spending more. And that creates a lot of unease."

Interim leader Rona Ambrose fields questions from reporters with MP Gerard Deltell, left, at the closing news conference of the national Conservative summer caucus retreat in Halifax Wednesday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

'Let the people decide'

While Conservatives are focused on job creation and economic policies in Halifax, they're also holding sessions on other issues expected to dominate the fall sitting of Parliament.

MPs Scott Reid and Gerard Deltell are updating their colleagues Wednesday morning on the summer meetings of the special committee on electoral reform, another issue on which they think it might be possible to tarnish the Liberal lustre.

Several MPs have told reporters this week that turnout at town hall sessions organized at the government's request to discuss changing the way Canadians vote have been poorly attended and attracted only the kind of citizens who are diehards on the electoral reform issue.

Some say that in response to their op-eds, flyers and social media outreach efforts, they have strong indications from their constituents that most agree with the Conservative position that a referendum should be held before changing the way the 2019 election is decided.

The Liberal election platform vowed that the 2015 election would be the last held under the current first-past-the-post system.

"We are not closed to debate … but at the end of the day, the people shall decide, not the politicians," Deltell told reporters Wednesday. The government's timetable is far too short, and it should not proceed without broad support, he said.

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