October 8, 2008 / 9:15 PM / 9 years ago

Opponents attack Harper on economic woes

<p>Liberal leader Stephane Dion delivers a speech to a joint meeting of the Empire and Canadian Clubs in Toronto, October 8, 2008. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election on October 14. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>

VICTORIA, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the first G7 leader to face an election test amid the global financial crisis, battled charges on Wednesday he did not understand voters’ fears.

The opposition Liberal and New Democratic Party mocked the Conservative leader’s statement on Tuesday that the sharp drop in global markets -- including the Toronto Stock Exchange -- was a buying opportunity for investors.

“He is completely out of touch with the impact the current economic turmoil is having on the lives of everyday Canadians,” said Stephane Dion, the leader of the main opposition Liberal Party.

Harper said Canada was working actively with other countries to address the global credit crisis, citing co-ordinated efforts by the Bank of Canada and other central banks to quell the financial crisis.

He also cited phone calls from his mother to show he was aware that people were worried about their investments and financial safety.

“Believe me, I get quicker updates from her on the stock market than I do from the Department of Finance,” Harper quipped to reporters at a campaign news conference in Victoria.

The Toronto exchange had a see-saw day on Wednesday, finally ending up 2.3 percent, but it is down 14 so far this month, after dropping 15 percent in September.

The economic turmoil has dominated debate in the final days of the Canadian campaign, and the issue’s rise has coincided with a slip in support for the Conservatives who had hoped to expand their minority in the House of Commons into a majority government.

Canadians go to the polls Oct 14, although some have already cast ballots in advance voting.

CONSERVATIVE LEAD NARROWS

A Harris-Decima/Canadian Press survey released on Wednesday put the Conservatives at 31 percent, unchanged from their survey the day before, but had the Liberals up 1 point at 27 percent. The left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP) was at 20 percent.

An Ekos poll showed the Conservatives at 34 percent, the Liberals at 25 percent and the NDP at 20 percent.

The Ekos survey gave the Conservatives 2 percentage point higher lead over the Liberals than a survey released Tuesday, but it said voters seemed neither to want to give Harper a majority nor Liberal leader Dion.

Although Canadian banks have not had the same financial problems as those in the United States and Europe, the Bank of Canada joined other central banks in cutting its key lending rate by half a percentage point to 2.5 percent.

The Liberals and New Democrats accused Harper’s Conservative government of failing to quickly address the impact on Canada’s manufacturing and resource industries caused by the financial problems in the United States, its largest trading partner.

Harper said he would push other countries to adopt the same lending rules he said had prevented Canada from suffering the subprime mortgage problems that have hit the United States and sparked turmoil around the world.

But NDP leader Jack Layton said Canada had to tighten its bank regulations. “We will re-regulate the banks and we’ll make sure no one is gambling with your savings.” Layton told an Alberta rally.

The Green Party is also on the national ballot, but its leader Elizabeth May has focused largely on winning a seat in Parliament in her home province of Nova Scotia, where she is in an uphill battle against Defense Minister Peter MacKay.

May did pick up a personal endorsement on Wednesday from the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

With reporting by David Ljunggren, Scott Haggett, Randall Palmer, and Wojtek Dabrowski; writing by Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson

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