October 3, 2008 / 3:26 AM / 11 years ago

Harper raps U.S. "panic", says no crisis at home

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s prime minister accused the United States on Friday of panicking over the financial crisis and tried to assure nervous voters ahead of the Oct 14 general election there that is no need to worry about Canada’s economy.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) takes part in the English leaders' debate with NDP Leader Jack Layton (C) and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in Ottawa, October 2, 2008. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election on October 14. REUTERS/Tom Hanson/Pool

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose opponents regularly accuse him of being too close to President George W. Bush, said his Conservative government had avoided the mistakes made in the United States.

“If we don’t panic here, we stick on course, we keep taking additional actions, make sure everything we do is affordable, we will emerge from this as strong as ever,” he told a televised news conference in Saint John, New Brunswick.

“We’re not going to get into a situation like we have in the United States where we’re panicking and enunciating a different plan every single day.”

Separately, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty slammed “the inadequate fiscal steps economically in the United States in recent years” and said the excessive leveraging in U.S. households was both regrettable and tragic.

Polls show Harper is set to retain power in the election and could turn his parliamentary minority into a majority. He said Ottawa would stick to keeping the budget balanced while cutting taxes and aiming to lower inflation.

Harper’s rivals — citing steady job losses in the manufacturing sector — say he is not doing enough to mitigate the effects of the crisis in the United States, which is by far Canada’s most important trading partner.

“We need a prime minister (who) will do what Stephen Harper refuses to do — a prime minister (who) will admit that we have a problem with our economy,” said Stephane Dion, leader of the official opposition Liberal Party.

“Stephen Harper is an economic risk that Canadians can no longer afford ... he’s going along (to) the same old tune, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’,” he told reporters in Montreal.

Harper said the “United States economy, notwithstanding its problems — and they’re pretty serious problems — has tremendous resilience, as do the American people. So I’m not going to count them out quite yet”.

The Globe and Mail newspaper’s lead editorial on Friday said Harper was “the most in denial about the economic storm brewing ... This is not leadership, it’s lackadaisical.”

The Liberals are trailing well behind the Conservatives, in part because voters seem unenthusiastic about Dion’s uneven campaign so far and his proposal to introduce a carbon tax.

Harper, who says a carbon tax would be a disaster, has the advantage that his four main rivals are on the left or center-left. This means he could win a stronger mandate even if he captures the 36 percent of the vote he won last time.

The Liberals have governed Canada for longer than any other party and when out of power they have always been in second place. Polls now show the left-leaning New Democrats are nipping at their heels.

The five leaders held the second of two televised debates on Thursday night but no one managed to land a telling blow.

“Only an extreme make-over could turn the Liberal campaign around,” Ottawa Sun columnist Greg Weston wrote from Thursday night’s debate. “It didn’t happen.”

An Ekos poll released on Friday showed a slightly increased lead of 36 percent for the Conservatives to 24 percent for the Liberals and 19 percent for the New Democrats, Ekos said this was nearly enough for a Conservative majority in Parliament.

With additional reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway

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