Harper says Canadians feel 'vulnerable' on economy, but he'll stick to his path

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper acknowledges there could be a bumpy road ahead in a time of global economic stresses, but says his government has got the fundamentals right and "we need to keep on that track."

Conservative leader warns of challenges still to come in an interview on The House

'The economy's the No. 1 issue," Stephen Harper says. 'We all know we're vulnerable. We think the plan we're moving forward is not only a proven plan, but it's one that presents Canadians with the least risk.' (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper acknowledges there could be a bumpy road ahead in a time of global economic stresses, but says his government has got the fundamentals right and "we need to keep on that track."

"Do Canadians feel vulnerable? Of course they feel vulnerable," Harper said in an interview with host Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"How do we deal with that vulnerability? We deal with that vulnerability by establishing a long-term plan with strong fundamentals."

"Are there other things I would like to do? Yeah, I think there are probably even bigger changes we need in the education sector, but they are beyond our control. In a lot of cases the things under our control, I think we're doing the things we need to be doing."

"We still have a lot of challenges," he added, pointing to global debt crises, slowing growth in Asia, trade negotiations and falling commodity prices.

"I think the vulnerabilities that are there [in the economy] are best addressed by a long-term plan, a low-tax plan, a balanced budget plan."

Progress with First Nations 'happening slowly'

Harper said changes to aboriginal education are particularly critical.

"We are making progress," he said, although he added that progress is "happening, but it's happening slowly."

One reason Harper hinted at for the slow advance could be a change of leadership in the Assembly of First Nations.

"This government worked with former chief Shawn Atleo and the AFN to create a massive overhaul to reform our aboriginal education system," he said. "Unfortunately, the AFN changed position, but we need to do this and we're going to have willing partners among aboriginal communities."

When asked if current AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde is prepared to work with him, Harper said it wasn't clear.

"I'm not sure whether he is or not," he said. "Unfortunately, some in the AFN reversed their position [on the First Nations Education Act]. I think Mr. Bellegarde was one of those."

But, he added, there is still broad support among Canada's First Nations for the Conservatives' $1.9-billion education plan.

"There are many communities and groups of communities in this country who want to move forward with that reform, because they understand it's the best thing for their children," Harper said.

Tories best pick for pipeline progress, says PM

Harper also snapped back at his NDP and Liberal opponents who criticized the Conservatives' track record on pipelines during Thursday's economic debate.

"Nobody in Calgary is fooled by the Liberal and NDP parties, who have decried growth in the oil industry, who have condemned growth in the oil industry for years," he said, adding that the Conservatives have "established a clear environmental regulatory process" for pipelines that is "very rigorous ... and made on the basis of scientific evaluation."

"The proponents [of pipelines] know, because they've heard what the other parties say, they'll never even get evaluated. The other guys will shut them down," he said.

'We all know we're vulnerable'

With the election now four weeks away and two debates under his belt, Harper said he remains confident going into the final stages of the campaign.

"The economy's the No. 1 issue," he said. "We all know we're vulnerable. We think the plan we're moving forward is not only a proven plan, but it's one that presents Canadians with the least risk.

"We'll see on election night, but I'm confident that the party will do well and we'll form a strong government once again. But we'll allow voters to make that decision."

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