Politics

Finance minister emerges to tout GDP growth numbers

All talk of a "technical recession" aside, the 0.3 per cent growth rate for GDP in July will certainly be placed in the Conservative win column, squeezed in amid a series of recent favourable economic reports.

'We are on the move,' finance minister says as Canada's GDP increased by 0.3% in July

Federal finance minister and Conservative candidate Joe Oliver faced the cameras this morning in Toronto to talk about Canada's GDP growth for July. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

All talk of a "technical recession" aside, the 0.3 per cent growth rate for GDP in July will certainly be placed in the Conservative win column, squeezed in amid a series of recent favourable economic reports.

The Statistics Canada figures released Wednesday show that Canada's economy expanded by 0.3 per cent, but that is better than the 0.2 per cent economists had been predicting.

While growth had been negative in five of the preceding six months, the Conservatives were quick to point out that July's rate on an annualized basis would mean growth of 3.6 per cent — a robust pace.

It's the type of news the Conservatives have wanted to feed into their narrative, that leader Stephen Harper is the only one who can continue to be the responsible steward of the economy.

Earlier this month, Harper welcomed the "incredibly good news" that Canada had posted a surplus of $1.9 billion for the 2014-15 fiscal year. That came on the heels of an earlier finance department report that said Canada was in a $5-billion surplus for the April-to-June period this year.

The other party leaders on the campaign trail had little to say about the figures. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau rejected the idea that his plan to invest in infrastructure in order to kick-start the economy is in any way negated by the data. And he suggested Harper's economic record should not be judged on recent economic indicators.

"Our plan to create growth, to invest in our communities, to create jobs and opportunities for the middle class isn't based on the past few months," Trudeau said. "It's based on the 10 years of low growth by Mr. Harper. We have an economy that is stalled, and have thousands upon thousands of Canadians looking for work."

Joe Oliver emerges

But the Conservatives obviously felt the July figures were good enough to highlight. So much so that they prompted an appearance by Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who shot down suggestions he has been in some sort of summer hibernation during the election campaign.

"I've been here and I've given interviews to everyone who has come to my riding," Oliver told reporters, responding to a question about his absences. "The signs are out there. I'm not hard to find. The important thing is, I've been focusing on talking to my constituents about a whole range of issues, of course primarily about economic issues."

Over the past weeks, little has been seen of the Conservative candidate and finance minister. It was Defence Minister Jason Kenney, not Oliver, who was trotted out last month to challenge the notion that Canada was in a technical recession when two consecutive quarters had recorded negative GDP.

Conservative MP Jason Kenney delivered his final speech in the House of Commons, Thursday. (Mark Taylor/Canadian Press)

Oliver did emerge, sort of, this month, via an interview with The Associated Press. He denied that Canada was in a recession, blaming the contraction on the downturn in the energy and resource sectors.

But Wednesday, with Harper having no scheduled public events in the morning, it was Oliver who faced the cameras in Toronto to talk about Canada's GDP growth for July.

"What it signals is clearly we are on the move. Our economy is growing. This is consistent with what every economist that I have spoken to, the Bank of Canada, is of that view. The IMF. The OECD. Canada is going to have solid, strong growth in the second half of the year and experience positive growth for the full year."

But Oliver shot down suggestions that the 0.3 per cent growth for a month was modest, saying "it's a good solid number" that followed another month of growth.

On the rebound

"The back-to-back gains in GDP [in June and July] suggest that the economy rebounded firmly from the very weak first half of 2015," BMO senior economist Benjamin Reitzes said in a report.

In fact, Reitzes said that GDP growth for the third quarter is tracking on a range of 2.5 to 3.0 per cent.

Oliver rejected that the growth may be short term and attributable only to a temporary rebound of oil-related sectors, and a one-time boost to the economy from the Pan Am Games and FIFA World cup. 

"The economy is growing," Oliver insisted: "There are current factors because this is current growth. But they are enduring factors," he said.

"I prefer to see the glass 80 per cent full rather than 20 per cent empty."

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated from a previous version that referred to the 0.3 per cent growth rate for July as "relatively meagre," to instead provide more context to the number, and to revise the headline, which previously referred to "modest" growth.
    Oct 01, 2015 11:34 AM ET

With files from The Canadian Press

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