Skip to main content

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, in his first campaign swing through Atlantic Canada, resurrected his controversial view of the region, saying it will "never succeed" without a change in federal government.

Two years ago, Mr. Harper caused outrage when he said the region has a "culture of defeat" bred by Liberal policies.

Asked yesterday whether he senses the area still has such a culture, Mr. Harper did not back away, saying Liberal Leader Paul Martin himself has used the words dependency to describe the region.

"My view is, as I say repeatedly, federal policy is working in a way that this region will never succeed," Mr. Harper said. "And we have to change those policies."

Mr. Harper's comments became symbolic of Canadian Alliance insensitivity to the region.

Yesterday, he said Liberals have deliberately misinterpreted him.

"I think when you look at the comments of Liberals in the past, I think the attempt to distort my comments has kind of run its course," he said. "I think Atlantic Canadians still recognize that I'm the only leader with any kind of roots in this part of the country. I'm also the only leader with any support from their provincial administrations."

Mr. Harper's father, Joseph, was born in New Brunswick. All four Atlantic premiers are Progressive Conservative, including two who showed up at his rallies, New Brunswick's Bernard Lord and PEI's Pat Binns.

Atlantic Canada promises to be a difficult region for the party to crack. The Conservatives have eight members in the region, two from New Brunswick.

All of them, however, were elected to the Progressive Conservative party before it merged with the Alliance. Mr. Harper is a former leader of the Alliance. In a speech to party faithful in Fredericton, he said tax cuts, economic development and a rejigged equalization formula are what the area needs.

"Some day, when this province gets its fair share from Confederation, when it's able to control its own resources and exploit its own opportunities, New Brunswick will be less a place where you visit your grandparents, and more a place where you visit your grandchildren."

Mr. Harper said he has great sympathy for Mr. Lord as he struggles to keep taxes down while growing the economy.

"I can't help but think everyday of the shock and spectacle of a Liberal government in Ottawa that thinks nothing of wasting billions of dollars."

The party has attracted NDP-turned-Conservative MP Angela Vautour as a candidate, who has been a staunch advocate for the unemployed and was elected against long odds in 1997 after the Liberals made substantial cuts to unemployment insurance.

Ms. Vautour said Mr. Harper must be doing a good job if he has attracted someone like her to the party.

Mr. Harper said yesterday he is open to looking to changes in benefits for seasonal workers.

"[But]my priority remains, and our government's priority, will remain to create jobs. That's the best solution," he said.

New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, who introduced Mr. Harper, said voters can see past Mr. Harper's old remarks.

"I believe Canadians and New Brunswickers are really smart and they can go beyond that," he said. "They will look at the policies of what's being offered by each party and Mr. Harper believes in this region."

Mr. Harper touched down in the New Brunswick capital in an effort to boost the campaign of candidate Kent Fox, who is challenging MP Andy Scott.

The party also has high hopes in the riding of Tobique-Mactaquac, represented by MP Andy Savoy, and in the Charlottetown riding of Cardigan, currently represented by former solicitor-general Lawrence MacAulay.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct