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.
“He may speak English better than me, but I speak the truth in both English and French about the economy,” Dion told a rally in Vancouver where both he and NDP leader Jack Layton were campaigning on Tuesday.
A Harris-Decima/Canadian Press opinion poll released on Tuesday had the Conservatives down to 31 percent support, 10 points below the high they had touched early in the campaign last month and 5 points less than they got in the January 2006 election, when they won a minority of seats in Parliament.
The Liberals are at 26 percent and the NDP at 21 percent.
An Ekos survey released Monday night put the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals 33 percent to 26 percent, with the NDP at 19. A Nanos survey issued on Monday had the Conservatives at 34 percent, the Liberals at 29 and the NDP at 20.
The Green Party, which is also running nationally, trailed the other parties. The separatist Bloc Quebecois runs candidates only in Quebec.
Harper called the election saying the current minority Conservative government was not working. He downplayed early polls hinting he could be on the way to win a majority, and on Tuesday said that winning consecutive minority governments would be a “pretty strong mandate.”
NDP leader Jack Layton also found himself on the defensive on Tuesday when reporters asked if he was fear-mongering by comparing Harper’s economic statements to those used by former Prime Minister R.B. Bennett in the early 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression.
“I never used the word,” Layton said when asked if was implying Canada was on the edge of another depression.
With reporting by David Ljunggren, Randall Palmer, Cameron French and Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Rob Wilson