Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday managed to dodge the stormy protests that have rocked Montreal for months, delivering a speech under heavy security that promoted his government’s vision for economic recovery.
Addressing a major economic conference, Mr. Harper applauded the bailout of Spain’s banks over the weekend as an example of a Europe-only solution to its nations’ economic turmoil.
On a rare visit to Quebec, Mr. Harper used the bailout inked by euro zone finance ministers to underscore his government’s position that Canada should not pump money into rescuing Europe’s troubled economies.
“I’m genuinely encouraged by the agreement that was concluded this past weekend among members of the euro zone to stabilize the Spanish banking situation,” Mr. Harper told delegates at the International Economic Forum of the Americas.
“It’s the type of action taken by the Europeans themselves that Canada favours.”
Mr. Harper made the speech under tight security in downtown Montreal, which has been the scene of sometimes violent protests by students and supporters. Anarchists and anti-capitalist groups have joined into the mix.
Police closely monitored the entrances to the conference, and media covering the prime minister’s speech were screened by metal detectors and had camera equipment sniffed by a police dog.
But the protest outside the downtown hotel where the conference unfolded was anemic compared to the boisterous crowds that descended on Montreal over the Grand Prix weekend. Monday’s gathering attracted no more than a few dozen people at its peak and officers cordoning off the hotel at times outnumbered demonstrators.
The Prime Minister’s office gave little advance warning of the speech, sending out an advisory only on Monday morning.
Quebec Premier Jean Charest, whose tuition-fee hikes sparked the wave of unrest that has unsettled the city, also gave a speech at the conference but appeared to have slipped in under the radar.
Mr. Harper made no mention of the disturbances in Montreal, saying only that the city was recognized worldwide for its “creativity and dynamism.”
The prime minister did tout his government’s handling of the economy, though he acknowledged Canada remains “at the mercy” of global shocks including the euro-zone crisis.
“As Canadians neither are we able, nor do we desire to, impose our views on the world,” he said.
He said some economically troubled nations struggling with rising debt have created a ‘false choice” between economic growth and fiscal discipline. He said Canada will take a message to the G20 meeting in Los Cabos next week that austerity and prosperity aren’t mutually exclusive.
“The Canadian approach is what the world needs, a practical approach and an approach that works,” he said.
Canada has withstood calls for contributing to a bailout to tackle Europe’s financial woes, insisting that Canadian taxpayers should not “bail out” Europe despite growing calls from the G20 to show solidarity through contributions to an International Monetary Fund.