Economy is key issue in Canadas elections

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — With less than a week to go before Canada’s Oct. 14 federal elections, the country’s faltering economy has become an issue.

The Conservative Party is claiming that Canada’s economy is on a sound footing, and is promising further measures such as tax cuts, deregulation and encouraging foreign investment to foster economic growth. “We don’t have a mortgage meltdown in Canada,” claimed party leader Stephen Harper during a recently televised national debate. “We don’t have a banking crisis in Canada. We should recognize the strengths of our economy.”

Opposition parties, especially on the left, have taken Harper to task on this point. They point out that the country’s manufacturing base is collapsing, unemployment is rising and exports are falling. Furthermore, the housing boom has come to an end, housing prices are beginning to fall and the banks, affected by the subprime crisis in the U.S., are curtailing loans to business and consumers. The economy is barely growing, and declined during the first six months of this year. Some analysts fear that Canada may suffer the same housing meltdown as the U.S.

Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion is promising to invest in infrastructure and help the troubled manufacturing sector as well as implement measures to protect consumer mortgages and savings to stem economic decline, if elected.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May and New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton accuse the Conservatives of being out of touch with reality and lacking a platform to deal with Canada’s worsening economy. “Either you don’t care or you’re incompetent — which is it?” Layton asked Harper.

Both the Greens and the NDP are proposing greater social spending and measures to save the country’s manufacturing base, building a green energy sector and increased taxes on profitable corporations to counter the economic slowdown.

“Harper’s claim that the Canadian economy is on ‘a solid footing’ looks utterly foolish,” said Communist Party of Canada leader Miguel Figueroa. “In reality,” he said, “Canada is on the brink of a ‘Dirty Thirties’ depression, thanks largely to the neoconservative policies pushed by Harper, Bush and other advocates of ‘unfettered capitalism.’” The CPC warns that “instead of more self-congratulating Tory speeches, the country needs emergency measures to protect working people from the pending economic disaster spreading from our largest trading partner, the United States.”

Canada’s Communist Party, among other things, is calling for nationalization of the oil industry, legislation to halt the exodus of manufacturing jobs, a $15 per hour minimum wage, extension of social programs, and public investment in affordable housing and infrastructure to stimulate the economy. “Defeating the Harper Tories on Oct. 14 is the first step to ensure that it is the big corporations, and not working people, who will bear the costs of this crisis,” remarked Figueroa.

With the Conservatives are ahead in some polls, Liberal leader Stephane Dion is urging progressive voters to back the Liberals to prevent the Conservatives from winning a majority government.

Layton, who is aiming to make the social-democratic NDP the official opposition in Parliament, is fighting to prevent the Greens and Liberals from luring votes from NDP candidates.

Figueroa, whose party is running 25 candidates, is touring the country, urging voters to elect Communists, NDPers and other progressive candidates.

Meanwhile, EGALE, the main lobby group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, is warning that the election of a conservative majority government would threaten hard-won gay rights. It notes that the Harper government failed to protect and enhance these rights. “With a Stephen Harper majority, what was a subtle, slow slide backwards in the areas of LGBT human rights will accelerate and once again our families will be the target.”

tpelzer @ shaw.ca