Harper Says Opposition Threatens Canada Recovery in Setting Campaign Theme

Prime Minister Stephen Harper began the campaign for Canada’s fourth election in seven years urging voters to preserve the “closest thing” to a global haven, while Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the Conservatives have abused democracy and will waste billions of dollars.

Harper told supporters in Quebec City, Toronto and Vancouver that the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois will move with “lightning speed” to form a coalition after the May 2 vote if the Conservatives don’t win a majority government. Harper has governed since 2006 with a minority of seats and relied on opposition support to pass laws.

Opposition parties joined together March 25 to topple Harper’s government by passing a non-confidence motion. They rejected Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget last week and said Harper’s government was in “contempt” of Parliament by withholding the cost of some of its legislation, including plans to buy new fighter jets and build prisons. Harper said the election was unnecessary.

“Why aren’t we working at our desks to deepen our economic recovery?” Harper, 51, said at a rally yesterday in the Toronto suburb of Brampton. “They don’t think they need to win this election. Just hold us to another minority and they will move with lightning speed to recreate and impose their reckless coalition on Canadians.”

Ignatieff released a statement March 26 saying he wouldn’t form a coalition government after the vote. He told reporters yesterday that he put his commitment “in writing” to prove his intentions.

Jets, Jails and Taxes

“The reason Mr. Harper keeps waving this coalition thing around is so he doesn’t have to defend his choices,” Ignatieff, 63, said in Montreal. He called those choices “jets, jails and corporate tax breaks.”

Harper said the Liberals shouldn’t be trusted not to form a coalition since they made the same promise in the 2008 campaign and then sought to form an alliance following that vote.

“A sea of trouble is lapping at our shores,” Harper said in Brampton. “Canada is the closest thing the world has to an island of security and stability.” He cited turmoil in the Middle East, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the European debt crisis and problems in the U.S. economy.

Harper oversees the fastest growing economy with the lowest deficits among Group of Seven nations. The currency has been the strongest in the G-7 over the past two years. Government bonds have returned 5.1 percent over the past year, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data, compared with a 2.8 percent average for the G-7. Canada’s benchmark S&P/TSX Composite Index has risen 17 percent over the past 12 months, compared with a 12 percent gain for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Re-introduce Budget

Flaherty told reporters on the weekend he would re- introduce the budget that was rejected last week if the Conservatives win the election.

Polls show the Conservatives will likely win the most seats. The Conservatives have the support of 39 percent of voters, compared with 25 percent for the Liberals, 19 percent for the NDP and 10 percent for the Bloc Quebecois, according to an Angus Reid poll for the Toronto Star and La Presse newspapers. The online poll of 2,365 people was taken March 23-24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Harper, who has been prime minister since 2006, won 38 percent of the vote in 2008 elections, which gave the Conservatives 143 seats in the 308-member House of Commons.

Placed for Majority

“The Conservatives are well placed towards a majority,” in this election, said Andrea Perella, director of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy in Waterloo, Ontario. The school aggregates polls to predict election results and last week estimated the Conservatives could win a majority government of 157 seats versus 151 for three opposition parties.

Both Harper and Ignatieff visited Ontario and Quebec over the weekend, the provinces with the most seats in the House of Commons. To win a majority, the Conservatives may need to maintain the seats it holds in the French-speaking province of Quebec, and gain ground in Toronto, the country’s largest city.

Harper’s first campaign stop was a rally Saturday in the Quebec City constituency held by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josee Verner. Seven of the Conservatives’ 11 Quebec seats are around the provincial capital, Quebec City.

Harper traveled to Brampton yesterday for a rally in a constituency held by the Liberals. “We want to win everywhere,” Harper said. “Winning more seats in the Greater Toronto Area is part of that.”

Ignatieff spent much of yesterday in Montreal before flying to Toronto last night. In a speech, he said that the Liberals are the only party that can supplant Harper as prime minister, aiming his remarks at supporters of the Bloc Quebecois. The Bloc only fields candidates in Quebec and won the most seats in the province in the last election.

“It’s not the time to send a message to Mr. Harper,” Ignatieff said. “It’s time to replace him.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Theophilos Argitis in Toronto at targitis@bloomberg.net; Greg Quinn in Montreal at gquinn1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net; David Scanlan at dscanlan@bloomberg.net.

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