Economy primary focus of candidates at election forum

The economy and who can be trusted to manage it when faced with financial difficulties was the dominant theme at the federal election forum last Tuesday evening.

The four party candidates managed to link Canada’s economy to whatever topic was under discussion — whether  it was health care, the environment, aboriginal education, crime or food  safety — during the forum sponsored by the WinnipegREALTORS® Association and Manitoba Real Estate Association and held in the Berney Theatre at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.

Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who is seeking re-election in Charleswood-St.James-Assiniboia, said the Harper government had anticipated tough times and introduced billions of dollars in spending increases and tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

“The economy needs to be well managed. It’s all about what Canada can afford,” Fletcher added, promising that the Conservatives would not create deficits when implementing the party’s platform of tax cuts and spending initiatives.

Liberal candidate Bob Friesen, who is  hoping to unseat Fletcher in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, said the economy is “at the top of everybody’s mind in Canada, and people have little time to think about the election when they’re worried about their jobs and their homes.”

He said the Liberals promise to stimulate the economy to create a “richer, greener, fairer Canada,” and that “the environment and the economy are inseparable.” 

Time and time again, Fletcher referred to the carbon tax proposed by the Liberals as inflationary and a tax grab. Friesen countered by calling it a tax shift which only punishes the “worst environmental offenders,” which will create a pool of funds that can be drawn upon by ordinary Canadians to offset the effects of the carbon tax.

“The trickle down theory of Conservative (economics) is not working,” said Judy Wasylycia-Leis, the NDP incumbent candidate for Winnipeg North. “Talking to Manitobans has made the issue clear ... the Conservatives have decided the economy is fine despite serious setbacks in the United States and now in Europe.

She said the NDP are not talking about raising taxes like the Liberals with their carbon tax nor giving “big corporations a tax break of $50 billion” like the Conservatives, but holding the line on all  taxes, including the present corporate tax rate. 

She said her party would leave the $50-billion corporate tax break “where it is and create jobs instead ... Canadians are finding it increasingly harder and harder to provide for themselves and their families. We have no choice but to put people first.

“Canadians want to know how to pay for their mortgages, prescription medicines and how to find a doctor — five million Canadians are without a doctor,” she added.

Green Party candidate for St. Boniface, Marc Payette, said what is needed is to bring the Canadian economy into the 21st century by focusing on environmentally-friendly energy sources such as wind power, retrofitting homes and businesses to become energy-efficient, championing hybrid cars and buses and local food production, which will all contribute toward a sustainable economy.

He said Canada should be following 

European and Asian green innovations rather then the U.S. — “we all know  how that turned out.”

Friesen and Wasylycia-Leis took turns attacking Fletcher and the Conservatives, accusing them of mismanaging the economy.

Friesen said the strength of Liberal Leader Stephen Dion is that he listens to people, builds partnerships and then 

develops sound policies. 

He said the Conservative spending increase of 15 per cent has “squandered” the surplus generated by the former Liberal governments.

“To me, surpluses indicate over-

taxation,” countered Fletcher.

“The Liberal party is too risky,” he said, adding that the Chrétien and Martin governments had broken every promise they made, so the Liberals are “completely untrustworthy.”

Wasylycia-Leis accused both the Liberals and the Conservatives of not using successive budget surpluses “to shore up the economy.”

“All of us are here (at the forum) because the Tories realized they had mismanaged the economy,” and had to call an election before the situation worsened, said Payette.