Harper says to stay course, slips in poll

Tue Oct 7, 2008 6:36pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented himself as the steady hand to steer Canada through tricky economic waters on Tuesday, a day when a poll indicated Conservative support was slipping with only a week until election day.

Harper unveiled a C$8.67 billion ($7.86 billion) election platform he said kept the Conservative policies that were already protecting Canada's economy, and he dismissed calls for the country to take special steps to deal with the global financial storm.

"If we stay the course we will get through this. I believe we will," Harper told a news conference in Toronto, saying the "worst thing a prime minister can do is respond in a way that shows panic."

The economy has dominated debate on the campaign trail in recent days. Canada goes to the polls October 14, although some voters have already cast ballots in advance polls.

The country's banks have avoided the severe credit woes suffered in the United States and Europe, but shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange have fallen sharply as part of the international market rout.

The Toronto exchange's main index dropped nearly 4 percent on Tuesday to end below the 10,000 level for the first time in three years as fears that the credit crisis could balloon to a global recession prompted broad selling.

The opposition Liberals and the New Democratic Party renewed their attack that Harper has been too slow to protect Canada from the global financial crisis and economic problems in the United States, which is Canada's largest trading partner.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion, a native French speaker from Quebec, even used the issue to poke fun at one of his own weaknesses: difficulty in speaking English.   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto October 7, 2008. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election on October 14. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>