Metro spoke with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper as he was campaigning near Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Why should Metro readers vote Conservative?
“We’re the party with the plan for the economy. Canada is coming out of the global recession faster and stronger than others. I think it’s due in large part for the economic policies we’ve put forward and I think they’re working. We have a low tax plan that is creating jobs, that is creating growth and everybody’s looking at Canada, frankly, as the envy of the world right now and that’s the path we want to keep this country on.
"The alternative, at this point, has become an NDP government with a very different path, which would be massive, unaffordable spending promises to be financed by tax hikes that would stall our recovery and kill jobs and set Canadian families back. So, we think the country is on the right track economically and needs to stay the course.
"That’s the biggest single argument we’re making, and the other, of course, argument we’re making along
the way here is that we need a Conservative majority government and if you don’t get a Conservative majority government you’re not sure what you’re going to be getting. So I don’t think Metro readers should take the risk of an NDP government with an economic plan that is not thought-out.”
Can you expand on your platform and the sort of things you plan to do with a majority government?
“First of all, the core of our platform is our budget and it’s very well received. It has a range of measures to support job growth, all the way from investments in higher education to incentives for manufacturers to
incentives for small businesses to hire new workers.
"In this campaign, we’ve said if we get reelected we hit the ground running the day after with four major national priorities. We are going to continue to implement our low-tax plan for jobs and growth, we’re going to continue to deliver benefits to families and to senior citizens. We’re proposing, in our budget, the biggest
increase in the guaranteed income supplement in a quarter-century. We’re bringing in a tax credit for the artistic activities of children to supplement our fitness tax credit. Those are the first two priorities.
"The third priority, of course, we are committed to sustaining our health care system, to sustaining the continued six per cent annual increases to the health care system and working collaboratively with the
provinces on a new health accord. And finally, the fourth priority that we talk about throughout the country is the necessity of passing some of our crime legislation, making sure that we deal with the issue of safe streets
and communities and making sure that law-abiding citizens have more rights than the rights of criminals. So, those really are the priorities.
"Now, looking farther down the road we want to keep our economy growing, coming out of recession, the deficit continuing to fall and we’ve been very clear that the next priority when we get to that stage is significant tax relief for Canadian families.”
Those sound like priorities that people could find appealing, but you talk about getting the deficit under control and new initiatives, how do you balance the budget and at the same time balance the wants and needs of Canadians?
“We make -- and this is the big difference between ourselves and the NDP -- we make promises that are affordable. All of our promises are costed, some of the things I talked about are actually in the budget plan we presented to Parliament. They’re consistent with our deficit-reduction track, and remember, of course, it’s much more modest and realistic.
"The NDP is promising, literally, ten times what we are promising. And that is their own estimate, which is, quite frankly, a lowball. So this is always the pitch we made to Canadians, that what we promise, we deliver and we do it without raising your taxes. That has been our record and that is the basis of our platform.
"The NDP proposal is very different – we will promise you the moon, but we will raise taxes to pay for it and you’ll find out about a lot of those tax increases after we’re elected. So, you know, I think the choice here is pretty clear. Do you want a plan that’s going deliver real benefits, that’s going to keep your taxes down, keep our economy growing, or do you want an NDP government with pie-in-the-sky promises, big tax hikes and the stalling of our recovery?”
The other parties have focused their criticism of you by saying that you don’t respect democracy. How do you convince Canadians that democracy hasn’t eroded in Canada over the last five years?
“Well, I think the people who are out office always say it’s undemocratic. We’ve received two mandates from the Canadian population. We hope to receive a third and we’ll accept whatever the democratic judgment of Canadians is.
"I think we’re in this election, to a significant extent, because the other parties have simply refused to accept the democratic judgment of Canadians and are forcing election after election after election. And we’ve had four elections in seven years. If we don’t have a Conservative majority government, whatever the other scenarios are, they all lead to a fifth election in the not very distant future. So, this is, I think, why Canada
needs a stable majority Conservative government. So we deal with the real issues, not those kinds of issues, which, all these parliamentary manoeuvres -- which frankly, I think, turn the public off -- and instead the Parliament focuses on the economy and the real concerns of Canadians.”
You said all of those scenarios would lead to another election. Does that mean that if one of the other parties win a minority government, would you then work with other opposition parties to immediately defeat that minority government?
“Well, as you know, I’m in this election to win this election. We’re confident in victory. The mandate we’re looking for from the Canadian people is a majority mandate, so we don’t get into all of those other scenarios.
All of those other scenarios – the NDP desire to form a minority coalition, get the backing of the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois -- that is unstable. That simply leads us to another election.”
That’s not an option that you would consider then if you were in that position?
“Well, you know, you’re not going to get me to speculate on that particular outcome. We’re working hard for victory, we’re confident in victory, and I’m not going to speculate on losing because I think if we work hard we can win this election. We obviously urge people in every riding to come out and vote, don’t take anything for granted.
"As you know, there’s been unusual developments in this campaign, is the best way to say it, nothing is predictable so everybody needs to vote. The choice is very stark. It will either be a Conservative government -- Conservative majority government preferably -- keeping the economy on track, or it will be an NDP government with reckless experiments with our economy.”
Canada has struggled with low productivity for decades. What can the government do to change that and ensure that our standard of living is secure as our population ages?
“Well, we’re looking at various ways to try to deal with that. Of course, as you know, some of this ultimately comes down to decisions of individual businesses. But some of the things that the government can do, we have a science and technology strategy where we’re investing in research and development and trying, increasingly, to focus on the commercialization of that so that we coordinate our investments with the marketplace to try and help productivity.
"We have some practical immediate measures as well. Through the downturn, we have had investment incentives for manufacturers and others for machinery and equipment to help them bring in modern technology to help with productivity. One of the things we actually have in the budget, that we’re waiting for Parliament to pass, is an extension of those very incentives and we see some evidence that business is now making significant use of those.”
How do you feel when your supporters drown out questions from reporters at your rallies?
“I’ve taken every question every reporter has asked me in this campaign and, you know, I obviously don’t control the opinions of every single member of my party. I think that’s about all I can say on that.”
What will you do to advance the cause of women’s rights if you are elected?
“We’ve done a lot things along these lines. We’ve revamped the federal women’s program so that much more of the money goes directly to programming for women, instead of going to bureaucracy as it was before. We have done things like supported the rights of women internationally. As you know, we’ve been outspoken on this as part of our foreign policy from places as diverse as Afghanistan, Iran.
"We have made significant investments and given benefits to families to make family life easier. As you know, women carry a large part of the responsibilities of family life. We’ve done things to make child care more flexible, more affordable. We’ve given tax credits to families. And, of course, the other thing we’re trying to do is deal with the whole issue of violence in the society and criminal activity, so much of
which is directed towards women, and that’s why women respond so positively, frankly, to our measures, that Parliament has been holding up, to crack down on violent crime in this country.”
You feel you’re connecting with them?
“Absolutely, yeah. I think we’re making gains in all segments of the population and I’m very optimistic about the votes of women, men and people in all regions of the country.”