Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he is looking beyond the mandate of his current majority Conservative government and pledged to transform Canada into one of the world’s “next generation of economic powers.”
Mr. Harper told about 900 party supporters in Calgary on Saturday night that this country remains one of the world’s “rare exceptions” with a solid economy and on track to a balanced budget despite a now four-year-old global financial crisis that has crushed other nations.
“I’m determined that Canada will continue to outperform Europe, the United States and Japan,” Mr. Harper said, “That we will not fall into the long-term difficulties that those economies are facing.”
Speaking at his annual barbecue during the Calgary Stampede, Mr. Harper talked about Canada as a “great country rising” and highlighted his government’s work to further that goal including reforming the country’s immigration system, changing employment insurance, rejigging environmental review rules as well as funding for health care and Old Age Security.
“Not every one of these measures is popular with everybody, but they are all good for Canada,” he said.
“Canada will not slip back the way so many other developed countries are slipping back,” he added.
Many members of his cabinet, including Treasury Board President Tony Clement, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews were among those clad in Western duds and packed into a hot tent.
Also in attendance were members of the Alberta Progressive Conservative government, including Premier Alison Redford - the first time a sitting Alberta premier took in the event - and senior members of her caucus including Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who recently found himself the subject of an embarrassing federal government email inadvertently made public. The missive, which written by Mr. Kenney, described Mr. Lukaszuk as a “complete and utter asshole.” Mr. Kenney later apologized, but it further sparked speculation about cool relations between Edmonton and Ottawa.
While federal and provincial Tories have traditionally met during the annual Calgary pilgrimage for the Stampede, this time the caucuses aren’t formally chatting. However, Mr. Harper and Ms. Redford did have a meeting - although the substance of their talk was not released.
Under Ms. Redford, Alberta has been reaching out to Ottawa to build relations.
Ms. Redford announced she would open an Alberta office in Ottawa and recently hired former Conservative MP Lee Richardson as her principal secretary.
Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party, Alberta’s new Official Opposition, also took in the event. Only Mr. Harper received louder and more prolonged applause after being introduced.
Mr. Harper used the sold-out partisan event to tout his government’s accomplishments - many of them hot button issues in Alberta - such as the abolition of the long-gun registry, dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, implementing a tough on crime agenda and promising to move toward Senate reform.
He also used it as opportunity to crow about how the unite-the-right movement successfully crushed the federal Liberal Party, which Canadians were always told “would govern forever,” according to Mr. Harper.
There was no mention of the actual official opposition in Ottawa - the NDP or its popular leader, Thomas Mulcair.
Mr. Mulcair is set to take in the Stampede on Thursday and Friday.
However, federal Liberals who are in town for the Stampede Saturday, including Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae and Quebec Liberal MP Justin Trudeau were quick to attack Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair in a bid to boost their flailing party’s fortunes.
Mr. Trudeau, who is seriously considering a run at his party’s leadership, said nobody should rule the Liberals out. He said with the Conservatives on the right and NDP on the left, the Canadian political scene has become unnaturally polarized.
“What you have right now is a prime minister who has been very successful in anchoring himself in the West and putting a big X over Quebec and the East, and the NDP have decided they want to emulate that, and they elected someone who is strong and top down and aggressive and a very capable politician in Mulcair, who is the flipside of Stephen Harper. He’s gone and put an X over the West and is anchoring himself in the East,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“Canadians are wondering who’s going to speak up for all of Canada,” he continued, “Who’s going to speak up for all Canadians? And that’s what the Liberal Party will always do.”