Harper Speaks on Canada Economy, Election Choices: Transcript

  • Incumbent criticizes front-running Liberal rival ahead of vote
  • Canadians go to the polls Monday to elect federal government

The following is a transcript of an interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Sunday in Mississauga, Ontario:

Q: What’s the first thing you’ll do on the economic front if you are re-elected.

A: We’ve said the first, highest priority for legislation is our tax-lock legislation to make sure we don’t move ahead with a bunch of increases to sales taxes, to income taxes, and in particular, the payroll tax.

As you know, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Canadian Chamber of Commerce -- I think it is really starting to hit home to people who, you know, are economic planners in the real economy that this huge payroll tax being proposed by the Liberals in particular, both Liberals and NDP, but the Liberals in particular would have devastating effects on jobs and wage growth, not to mention probably if you listen to what they are talking about a lot more political interference in how those so-called retirement funds are actually managed. So obviously we’re taking a strong stand against that.

We’re prepared to provide a range of voluntary options for savings that reward people, including the voluntary aspect to CPP. We’re going to cut employment insurance premiums by 20 percent over the next two years. So we think this is one of the big choices and I think the business community really understands the importance of that and the damage that would be done to our economy by a reckless payroll tax hike of the magnitude the Liberals are proposing. C$1000 for a typical worker, another C$1000 for the employer, these are huge numbers.

Q: Canada largely escaped the global recession, the financial crisis, but it hasn’t escaped the Great Stagnation as it’s called now -- the prolonged period of economic low growth rates globally. Trudeau seems to have tapped into some of that “we’re fed up with anemic growth.” What do you tell people who are impatient about growth.

A: We’ll see, we’ll see. First of all, as you know, Canada’s growth has been more consistent and steadier than other developed major economies and should continue to be so in the next few years given the strong economic fundamentals we’ve created in banking and housing and government, federal government balance sheets.

I think what it comes down to is, it’s not a referendum between what we have today and some imaginary future of rainbows and unicorns. It’s a vote, it’s a choice between our plan to keep us going forward and the Liberal plan. The Liberal plan is actually to raise taxes to run ongoing permanent deficits and to, frankly, cut some existing benefits that people have, with frankly a lot of fallout down the road in further tax hikes and benefit cuts. We think that’s demonstrably worse for economic growth than the plan we have for Canada’s economy. A low tax plan for growth versus a high tax plan that really would send us on a path of long-term economic downturn and stagnation.”

Q: Chances are there won’t be a majority coming out of this election. What does a Conservative minority economic agenda look like?

A: I’m not going to speculate on the outcome of the election. We’re in this to put our case forward. Our position on fundamental economic issues is entirely different than all of the other parties. All of the other parties are combinations of tax hikes, deficits, reckless spending. That’s not what we’re proposing. We’re proposing targeted investments we can pay for with a balanced budget, keep people’s taxes going down, keep taxes going down for business. That’s the choice and let the voters decide. It’s the voters who will have to live with the consequences and we’ll let the voters decide, and I’m simply here to advocate for the right path for the Canadian economy.

Q: Roll it forward four years. Let’s say it’s a Liberal government, what will the Canadian economy look like?

A: There is no doubt in my mind that were we to go down the other path, first of all the numbers being presented to us by the Liberals -- as bad as they are, C$150 billion in new spending, C$10 billion new deficits, C$6.5 billion in undefined cuts to come later on top of cuts to income splitting, universal child care benefits and tax free saving accounts that they are already talking about -- in spite of all those bad numbers in their platform, we of course think the numbers are actually worse. They are overestimating the revenues, underestimating their costs, underestimating the negative impact their plan will have on growth.

You go down that path, you have deficits that are hell of a lot bigger than C$10 billion a year, with higher tax rates and with growth that’s going backwards.

Q: Roll it back 10 years. Let’s say the Liberals had won the elections in 2006. Let’s say you had never come to power. What would the Canadian economy look like today?

A: It’s hard to speculate on that in a sense because the Liberal Party has had virtually no policy in that entire time frame. One thing we’d know for sure would be different is that Canada would continue to be the most significant trading economy in the world with virtually no trading agreements. One of the big transformations this government has made, has been building our free trade network across the world.

We’re going to have as consequences of the agreements we’ve concluded, obviously the European Union and most recently the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canada is going to-have virtually tariff free access to two thirds of the global economy, making Canada one of the best -- not just good for global supply chains -- but one of the best countries in the world from which to be a platform to do global business in the Asia Pacific, the Americas and in Europe. So that’s extremely positive.

The other thing that would have happened without a doubt -- I often tell people when we look back at the financial crisis the government did some important things, we actually did run a large stimulus program, we did it right, we didn’t build new bureaucracy, we sped up existing infrastructure, got the money out the door, supported the Canadian economy. But often I think what is underestimated is what we did not do. We turned down the request to permanently expand government bureaucracy, to permanently expand entitlement programs, to really take us down the path of a structural deficit, so I think looking back had other people been there we would not have come out of the recession quickly, would not have come out with a balanced budget, would not have the good fundamentals we have, we would be on the same deficit, debt, zero growth track that you see most European countries on.

Q: What message do you have to global financial markets?

A: My message right now is to the Canadian people. I think the Canadian people have shown repeatedly that they are solid sensible population, that by comparative standards are economically literate, that understand the benefits of trade, the risk of protectionism, that understand the benefits of solid financial management and the risks of using crises to do runaway spending and deficits and taxes and I would tell global financial markets that I think Canadians will make a sensible choice on Monday and this country will continue to move forward and remain the safest place in the world to live and from which to do business.

Q: You are predicting a Conservative government?

A: We are predicting Canadians will choose a Conservative government, but look it’s ultimately Canadians who are going to decide. I think the choice is clear. Canadians will think about, they will reflect upon, what is a real choice and make the right choice. Like I said Canadians themselves understand they will live with the consequences.

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