OTTAWA – Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau took turns Thursday assailing the Conservative government’s economic record, trying to chip away at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s perceived strength as a sound fiscal manager.
Public opinion polls suggest economic management remains Harper’s strong suit and most likely ticket to re-election in 2015, even as the Senate expenses scandal and other ethical lapses have eroded support for his party.
The government made the most of that in Wednesday’s mid-term throne speech, boasting that as a result of its management “more Canadians have good jobs than ever before, families are paying lower taxes, our financial house is in order.”
“In spite of continuing risks from beyond our shores, our government is leading the world by example … Canada now leads the G7 in job creation, in income growth and in keeping debt levels low.”
But the NDP and Liberal leaders both took issue with that rosy assessment in separate speeches Thursday in the House of Commons.
“Conservatives have done nothing to rein in the high cost of living for families,” said Mulcair.
“They have done nothing to guarantee retirement security for our seniors. They have watched a generation of middle-class jobs disappear but they have done nothing to create the next generation of middle-class jobs.”
He condemned the Conservative economic record for resulting in growing income inequality, offloading billions in costs to other levels of government and leaving more than 1.3 million unemployed while making “drastic cuts” to employment insurance.
Trudeau similarly bashed the government’s record, charging that Harper “has the worst record on (economic) growth of any prime minister since R.B. Bennett in the depths of the Great Depression.”
“Under the Conservatives’ self-proclaimed steady hand, we have seen 10 consecutive federal budget surpluses (under previous Liberal governments) turn into seven consecutive deficits,” he told the Commons.
“The government has ballooned our national debt at an unprecedented rate. By the next election it will have added more than $150 billion in just eight years, according to its own numbers.”
Trudeau mocked the government’s ubiquitous “economic action plan” ads, the logo for which features three upward-pointing arrows. Whenever he sees the arrows, Trudeau said: “I say to myself, ‘Yup, that’s exactly what the economic action plan has delivered: rising debt, rising unemployment and rising disappointment for Canadians.”
As for Canada’s economy out-performing that of other countries, he said the government’s message appears to be: “Well, it could be worse — be happy you don’t live in Spain.”
Mulcair and Trudeau also took aim at the throne speech’s promise of measures to defend consumers, including reducing roaming charges for cell phone service and requiring cable TV providers to allow Canadians to “pick and pay” for the channels they want.
Mulcair said Harper has “run out of ideas” and “has been reduced to stealing our ideas.”
The NDP has long championed measures to protect consumers from exorbitant bank and credit card fees, price gouging at the gas pumps and overbooking of flights by airlines — all of which Mulcair noted the Conservatives have voted against in the past.
“Quite frankly, all this is just a desperate, last-ditch effort to regain the confidence of Canadians,” he asserted.
Trudeau said the Tories’ consumer protection measures are evidence of a government that is so tired “it cannot even be bothered to try.” The pick-and-pay cable TV proposal, for instance, is a policy that might have been useful in the 1990s but which is sorely outdated today, he said.
“In a world of Apple TV, YouTube, Netflix and big data, the Conservative government is still looking under the couch for the remote control,” Trudeau scoffed.
“No wonder it is having such trouble changing the channel (from the Senate scandal).”