Saturday, January 26, 2008

Prepare for hard economic times: Harper

Last Updated: Friday, January 25, 2008 | 7:48 PM ET
CBC News
Canadians cannot afford to be complacent about the economy because recent problems in the financial markets won't be disappearing any time soon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told members of his caucus on Friday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves to supporters, workers and members of the federal Conservative caucus following his speech in Ottawa Friday.
(Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)
Harper, speaking in Ottawa on the second anniversary of his election, said that even though the Canadian economy is still strong, jobs are threatened in traditional industries and Canadian families are coping with budget strains.

"Recent volatility in financial markets, emanating mostly from the U.S., may be with us for some time to come," Harper said.

"We are aware of these challenges. We have acted and we will continue to act for regions and sectors that are in difficulty, like manufacturing, forestry, fishing and tourism. We will also continue to take measures to strengthen agriculture."

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Harper, delivering what sounded at times like a campaign speech, hinted that a federal election may be coming, but that he and his party will continue to focus on their jobs as leaders.

As his party members cheered and waved banners bearing his name, Harper listed off the accomplishments he said his party has achieved since the Conservatives ousted the Liberals from power in the Jan. 23, 2006, federal election.

Harper noted that his government has stiffened Canada's crime laws and introduced a child care benefit payment to help families with children under age six.

He said the economy has been strong under his watch — unemployment is at its lowest level over three decades, income tax and the GST have been reduced, billions of dollars of Canada's debt have been paid off and inflation and interest rates remain low, while the average income of households is rising.

Harper suggested that he and his fellow Conservatives are the right people to guide Canada through turbulent economic times.

"In times of economic uncertainty, what Canadians need most is strong, steady, certain leadership that's on their side," he said. "It's what Canada deserves, it's what Canadians demand."

No mention of Afghan detainees
Harper did not address the issue of Afghan detainees, which has been a controversial topic this past week.

At a Federal Court hearing on Thursday, Brig.-Gen. André Deschamps confirmed that Canadian troops stopped handing over detainees to Afghan authorities in November after a prison visit found evidence of torture.

The disclosure prompted accusations of a coverup from opposition parties, but the government has denied the allegations, saying it was up to the Canadian army to disclose matters related to military operations.

Manley report is 'strong, balanced and realistic'
Harper did touch on the Manley report on the mission in Afghanistan in his speech, calling it a "good one, strong, balanced and realistic."

The report, prepared by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, recommended that Canada's military remain in Afghanistan beyond the current February 2009 timeline, provided Canadian forces are backed by an additional contingent of 1,000 NATO soldiers and provided with new, medium-lift helicopters and high-performance unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Harper, who commissioned the report, did not say whether he will adopt its recommendations. He did say he doesn't take any decisions about the Afghan mission and the current troop withdrawal date of February 2009 lightly.

"On a matter of national and global security like this, we will never make a decision based on polls," he said. "We will make a decision based on what is right for this country."

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