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Tories recycling rhetoric and renovation rebate in campaign

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to employees of a tile and stone manufacturing company in Toronto August 4, 2015.


Conservative Leader Stephen Harper appears to be employing a greatest-hits approach to the 2015 election campaign, recycling both rhetoric and policies in his bid for a fourth term as Prime Minister.

A re-elected Conservative government would establish a permanent Home Renovation Tax Credit, Mr. Harper promised at a campaign event in Toronto on Tuesday.

The Conservatives introduced a previous such tax credit in 2009 as a stimulus measure to combat the recession. The popular program had injected an estimated $4.3-billion into the economy by the end of 2010. It was later eliminated as part of the push to return the federal budget to balance.

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The new credit would be permanent, rebating 15 per cent of the cost of renovations between $1,000 and $5,000.

Speaking in Montreal, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair raised questions over the promise, pointing out the Conservatives had also killed a program to make houses more energy efficient.

"Canadians will judge him on what he actually did, not on what he is promising during an election campaign," Mr. Mulcair said.

While it is debatable whether the home-building and renovation industry requires any additional stimulus in a time of overheated markets and bottom-of-the-barrel interest rates, everybody loves a discount on a reno, which is why the earlier tax credit was so popular and doubtless why it was included in the platform.

But at an estimated cost of $1.5-billion a year, the program isn't cheap, which is why Mr. Harper borrowed another blast from the past: The program, he said, won't be implemented until the government can afford it. "We're targeting this for mid-mandate," he told reporters at the event.

This is reminiscent of the 2011 election pledge that the Tories would introduce income splitting for families with children once the federal budget was balanced in 2015. Opposition politicians and other critics derided the promise as meaningless, but it actually served several purposes: It showed the Conservatives were determined to balance the budget; it reinforced the message that they were fiscally responsible, and it reminded voters of the benefits that would flow from a majority Conservative government.

The promise of a mid-mandate tax credit for home renovations sends exactly the same message: At all costs, the budget will stay balanced; a tax break on home renos is coming; but only if the Conservatives get a majority.

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Rhetorically, this election is shaping up as a cut-and-paste job from 2011. One example: In every speech at every event during the past campaign, Mr. Harper would say that Canada was an island of economic stability in a troubled world, but "a sea of troubles is lapping at our shores."

When introducing Mr. Harper on Tuesday, MP Joe Oliver declared that "geopolitical risks are lapping at our shores."

And the Conservatives are employing the same approach used in the past to undermine their Liberal opponents: ridicule. Remember the video of Michael Ignatieff blowing kisses while the narrator declared he was "just visiting" or "didn't come back for you"? In this campaign, Mr. Harper refers to Mr. Mulcair as "Mulcair," but often refers to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as "Justin."

When asked about it by reporters Tuesday, Mr. Harper replied, with a straight face: "That's how in our experience Canadians generally refer to him because that's how the Liberal Party itself has branded him."

The announcement took place in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, and with good reason. Mr. Oliver, the government's Finance Minister, is in a tough fight against Liberal challenger Marco Mendicino, who defeated Tory turncoat Eve Adams for the nomination.

This has made the riding one of the hottest contests in the country, and one the Conservatives badly need and want to win. Even if they have to use every trick in the past election's book.

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With reports from Verity Stevenson

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