Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his first official Saskatchewan campaign stop to speak to a crowd of Conservative supporters at a farm southwest of Regina Thursday morning.
With no new campaign promises to offer, the Prime Minister chose to highlight the Conservative government record on old campaign promises like doubling the limit on tax free savings accounts.
“Whenever we cut taxes Mulcair’s NDP and Trudeau’s Liberals say we’re giving away taxpayers’ money,” he said. “That’s the difference because friends, as Conservatives we understand that the money doesn’t belong to the government, it belongs to you, that’s our philosophy.”
Harper also pushed back on the opposition message that tax-free savings account (TFSA) only benefit the wealthy. He said 11 million Canadians have opened TFSAs and 80 per cent of those people earn less than $80,000 per year. He said half of the people maxing out their annual contribution on TFSAs are low and middle income Canadians over 55.
“You show me someone who considers these kinds of hard-working Canadians rich, and I’ll show you someone who needs to actually get out and start understanding what the middle class really is in this country,” Harper said, to resounding applause.
When the floor was turned over to questions from the media, Harper was asked how he can promise a strong Canadian economy in the midst of various global economic crisis and falling oil prices? The Prime Minister pointed to government investments in trade, training, innovation and immigration as a record of good management on the economic factors it does control.
He says analysts agree that the Canadian economy has good prospects because the country has been an economic leader compared to others.
“That is the choice. Given that we have many challenges in the world: the fall of oil prices, the instability in Chinese markets, the debt crisis in Europe, still slower growth than we like in the United States,” he said. ” Do you want to stay on this plan, or do you want to move to a plan that involves runaway spending, runaway deficits, runaway taxes as other countries have done.”
He was also asked three times to explain whether he knew about Nigel Wright writing a $90,000 check to help Senator Mike Duffy repay his expenses. But Harper repeated his original message, that he originally believed Duffy had repaid his expenses on his own, and when he found out otherwise, he held people accountable.
In response to a question about changes to equalization payments, Harper stated that the formula is complicated and adjustments are made based on regular reviews. He turned the question around to talk about the opposition parties’ stance on resource development projects that benefit the west.
“With the NDP – I quote again their star candidate in Toronto says ‘leave the resources in the ground,'” Harper said.
He said both other parties believe in no resource development. He expressed doubt that people in Saskatchewan would like to see a return to years of no growth under provincial NDP, let alone on a national scale.
The closing comment got a big cheer from the crowd of Conservative supporters. When asked by reporters what they thought about the speech, several people in the crowd replied that they agreed with almost every word.
Ryan Lawrence lives in Pense and says he didn’t like that Harper avoided the question on equalization payments, but that’s politics. He noted that he does appreciate TFSAs and he completely agrees with Harper’s position on resource development.
“Resource development is something Saskatchewan has grown on forever, we built our economy on farming and oil and all the resources, that’s our main economy, so I absolutely agree with what he said,” Lawrence commented.
Lorne Templeton farms in the area and also came out to hear the Prime Minister speak.
“I know that people get enamored with change, but is change right? You always have to have the idea, don’t make change for the sake of change, make change for a reason,” he said.
He agrees that TFSAs benefit the economy as a whole and he thinks the Conservative government is moving in a good direction. As a farmer, he says the issue of international trade is at the top of his list, but he would also like to see some clear direction to improve transportation on Canada’s railways.
He is the second federal leader to visit during this campaign. Justin Trudeau made a stop in Regina on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to northern Saskatchewan and Saskatoon.