OTTAWA — A precipitous drop in North American stock markets sparked fresh debate on the federal campaign trail Monday about which leader would be the best choice to manage Canada’s finances.
The S&P/TSX composite index dropped 768.5 points shortly after markets opened, before rallying to close down 420.93 points, a 3.12 per cent decline over Friday’s close. The dollar, meanwhile, closed down about half a cent.
For Stephen Harper, the plunging economy — fallout from China’s worst market performance in eight years — provided a welcome diversion from the relentless revelations of the Mike Duffy trial that have kept the Conservative campaign off balance for close to two weeks.
The prime minister’s office released a short statement Monday, saying that he had spoken on the phone in the morning with Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada.
“Prime minister Harper and governor Poloz discussed the recent decline in global stock markets and commodity prices, slowing growth in China and emerging markets and the potential impacts on Canada’s economy,” said the statement, which offered no other details.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau blamed Harper for the economic mess and said they could do a better job of running the country’s finances.
Harper repeated that his government is the best bet in uncertain economic times.
That’s a message that the Conservative leader has been struggling to deliver as he fends off questions about how much his current chief of staff, Ray Novak, knew about Nigel Wright’s controversial $90,000 payout to Duffy in February 2013.
Harper said Monday the unstable global economy is the most important issue facing Canadians and urged them to stay with his party.
“Given the challenges around us, we need to stick with a long-term plan that has been working and will work,” Harper said in Drummondville, Que.
He said his political opponents offer proposals that would damage the economy.
“What the other guys are proposing, at a time of enormous market instability, is that they would embark on large-scale, permanent spending increases,” he said. “They would finance that through deficits and through big tax increases, including tax increases on workers and on job-creating businesses.”
The New Democrats and Liberals punched back, blaming Harper for the current downturn.
Campaigning in Toronto with Mulcair, Stephen Lewis, a former Ontario NDP leader and international diplomat, attacked the Harper Conservatives’ stewardship of the country’s finances, calling them “economic poseurs.”
Mulcair said an NDP government would invest in infrastructure, transit and housing. The New Democrat leader touted economic promises aimed at seniors and families with young children in need of daycare, while pledging to be a champion of Canada’s struggling manufacturing sector.
“We have lost 400,000 good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, there are 200,000 more people out of work now than there were in the crisis of 2008,” Mulcair said.
Mulcair said Harper “put all his eggs in one basket” by focusing the Canadian economy on the oil and gas sector, which has been rocked by a downward price spiral.
Mulcair also chided Harper as the only Canadian prime minister to have presided over two recessions.
He was referring to the recession of 2008 and the fact that economists suggest the economy likely contracted in the second quarter of the current fiscal year after also pulling back in the first quarter — a technical recession.
Asked about falling oil prices and the effect on the budget, Trudeau said a full Liberal platform would be released soon.”We have to recognize that Stephen Harper has put us into deficit right now” Trudeau said in Belleville, Ont.
He also slammed Harper for not being able to deliver “the kind of growth” the economy needs.
“Right now, with the instability on global markets, there are an awful lot of Canadians worried about their retirements, looking with anxiety at the coming years,” Trudeau said.
“That’s where Mr. Harper’s plan to give benefits and advantages to the wealthiest Canadians has failed to create the kind of growth that we need.”