LONDON, Ontario (Reuters) - Canadian opposition leader Justin Trudeau, who polls indicate could win power in the election set for later this year, accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday of mismanaging the economy as oil prices slide.
Trudeau’s Liberals aim to oust the governing Conservatives, who took power in early 2006 and who have long campaigned on their ability to manage the economy. They are looking for a rare fourth consecutive victory in October’s election.
The Conservatives showed some vulnerability on the economy last week, however, announcing abruptly they will delay presenting the government’s budget until at least April to gauge the impact of the plunge in crude prices. The federal budget is usually introduced in February or March, occasionally as early as January.
Canada is a major crude exporter, and benchmark prices for crude oil have halved over the last six months, hitting government revenue.
“Because Mr Harper put all his eggs in one basket, counting on the oil prices remaining high, he is now ... flailing and indeed making things up as he goes along,” Trudeau told reporters in London, Ontario, where Liberal legislators are holding a two-day strategy session.
“A prime minister of Canada needs to be reassuring and creating confidence in consumers and investors,” said Trudeau, accusing Harper instead of “lurching about”.
Finance Minister Joe Oliver insisted on Tuesday the Conservatives would keep a promise to balance the budget this year despite the fall in oil prices.
Trudeau said if the Liberals were in power they would scrap a Conservative income-splitting tax measure that will cost the government about C$2 billion ($1.7 billion) per year over five years. The measure was introduced late last October as part of a larger C$27 billion six-year package of tax cuts.
The Conservatives, who have long portrayed Trudeau as being weak on the economy, say a Liberal government would raise taxes.
Former Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said the budget delay “sends a message of real confusion in their part, a lack of confidence, a lack of direction. They’ve run out of gas and it doesn’t seem they know quite who’s steering the bus”.
Editing by Peter Galloway