Canada's Conservatives may face unexpected hazard as economy cools

Tue Jul 14, 2015 3:16pm EDT
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By Leah Schnurr

OTTAWA, July 14 (Reuters) - The economy has always worked for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Elected to Canada's top office three times with a platform of fiscal prudence, he has ridden a wave of increased support each election helped by the country's relative economic stability.

But luck may be running out as he seeks a fourth term for his Conservative government just as Canada teeters on the brink of a recession.

"There has been a downturn and the reason for that has been the downturn in the global economy. It's really that simple," Harper, 56, said last week as his one-time strength began to look increasingly like a weakness.

It was the first time Harper, who trained as an economist, acknowledged that the economy was faltering.

The Conservatives currently trail the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) in polls ahead of an October election.

Canada's economic woes, including a struggling manufacturing sector, tepid jobs and wage growth and weak oil prices, have been compounded by slowing growth in key trading partners like the United States and China.

After reveling in Canada's escape from the global financial crisis, Harper suddenly has less to boast about. But the party is not likely to back away from campaigning on the economy nonetheless.

"It's a massive risk but what else is he going to run on?" said pollster Nik Nanos. "The Conservatives have built their successful franchise on Stephen Harper and the economy. If they're not strong on both of those elements, then it's going to be a very difficult election for them."   Continued...