MISSISSAUGA, Ontario (Reuters) - The Conservatives, trying to secure an elusive majority in the May 2 federal election, promised on Friday to eliminate the budget deficit a year earlier than planned if they win.
Polls show the Conservatives, in power since early 2006, are likely to retain office. Prime Minister Stephen Harper insists only his right-of-center government can be trusted to ensure Canada recovers fully from the global financial crisis.
As Harper launched the party’s 67-page election platform on Friday, he said that Canadians can stick with the Conservatives and enjoy a low-tax future or vote for opposition parties, which he said would raise taxes and kill jobs.
“This election is like deciding whether to go forward, or to make a U-turn... Conservatives understand you cannot tax your way to prosperity. You cannot create jobs by raising taxes,” he told a crowd of supporters.
“Let us not go back to the days of higher spending, higher taxes, double-digit unemployment, double-digit mortgages.”
Canada’s economy is one of the best performers among major industrialized nations.
Harper said that by curbing expenditures, the Conservatives would wipe out the deficit by 2014-15. In a budget presented on March 22, the government forecast a budget deficit of $300 million in 2014-15 and a surplus of $4.2 billion in 2015-16.
Harper said he would reintroduce the same budget if he retains power. That could set up a fight with the three opposition parties, which have already made clear they cannot support the document as it stands.
The Conservatives only have a minority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, which means they rely on opposition legislators to pass key legislation.
The opposition united last month to bring down the government in Parliament on the grounds it was tainted with sleaze, too secretive and mismanaging the economy.
The Conservatives say that if they only win a minority again this election, the Liberal Party will immediately move to create a coalition government, a charge the Liberals dismiss.
The Liberals tried to deflect attention from the launch of the Conservative platform by focusing on healthcare spending, which according to polls is one of the most important subjects for voters.
Healthcare spending has been rising about 6 percent a year under a deal that added C$41.3 billion of federal funding over 10 years. The Liberals promised to maintain the spending increase at 6 percent a year once the deal between the federal and provincial governments expires in 2014.
The Conservatives quickly said they too would maintain that increase once the accord ends.
Harper also promised to tighten laws on crime, keep the military strong, protect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and pass measures to support families.
The Liberals responded by issuing a long list of what they said were promises the Conservatives have made and then broken.
Harper was speaking in Mississauga in Ontario, where the Conservatives need to pick up more seats to stand a chance of securing a majority.
Polls show that while the Conservatives are ahead of the Liberals in Ontario, the gap is narrowing. Ontario accounts for 106 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons.
Writing by David Ljunggren; editing by Peter Galloway