Canada PM pledges rebound as recession rocks reelection bid

Tue Sep 1, 2015 3:20pm EDT
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By Leah Schnurr

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Having staked his reputation on strong economic management, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided that the best way to win re-election when the headlines say recession is to convince the country it is no longer in one.

Tuesday brought the worst kind of news for a prime minister campaigning for a rare fourth term in office: government data that confirmed Canada's economy contracted for the second quarter in a row, the technical definition of recession.

But Harper shrugged off the data from the first half of the year, saying Canada had a "couple of weak months," and pointed to June growth numbers that suggest the future is brighter than the past.

"The Canadian economy posted very strong growth in June. Strong growth is expected for the balance of the year ... (and) we will have good growth prospects for the years to come," he told reporters during a campaign stop in Burlington, Ontario.

To be sure, the June rebound also spurred some economists to predict growth would return in the third quarter.

While Harper has been quick to argue that the slump in Canada's energy sector is due to global forces beyond his control, the risk is voters will blame the incumbent as they head to the polls Oct. 19.

"Governments do poorly historically when going to the polls in or soon after a recession, regardless of whose fault it is," said Robert David, an economist and professor of social sciences at the University of Ottawa.

In a tight three-way race between Harper's right-leaning Conservatives and two center-left opposition parties, the economy has emerged as a defining issue. Harper has presented himself as the steady hand on the tiller; his opponents argue he's the one who sank the ship.   Continued...

Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign event in Ottawa, Canada August 31, 2015. Canadians go to the polls in a national election on October 19, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie