Finance Minister Joe Oliver says the Conservative party's 2015 election campaign will include a heavy focus on national security issues, suggesting it will compete with the party's traditional messaging on tax cuts and economic management.
The senior minister's comments confirm what has become increasingly obvious as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's public appearances and speeches have switched from talk of tax cuts to the need for tighter national security laws and support for international anti-terror campaigns.
"The reality is there's a war being conducted by international terrorists, by jihadist terrorists, and we have to be strong. We have to recognize who they are and we have to participate in an international effort to eradicate the threat that they represent," Mr. Oliver said during an appearance at a Manning Centre policy conference in Ottawa.
"So that's an issue which you normally don't think about in the context of an election, but it's emerged as something that Canadians are concerned about. So while the economy is always front and centre, it's the pocket book issues that concern people the most, and I think it will be in this election, the issue of national security is also emerging as a concern for everybody."
The shift in messaging from the Conservatives comes in the wake of the Oct. 22 shooting attack on Parliament Hill by armed gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Canada's decision to join the international military coalition against the Islamic State, a move opposed by the opposition NDP and Liberals.
On Friday, the RCMP released a short video shot by Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau in which he states that his attack was motivated by Canada's military involvement overseas.
However the change in Conservative messaging also coincides with a dramatic change in the economic landscape. The rosy economic picture of a few months ago has been replaced by uncertainty and concerns over job losses, largely because the price of oil has declined by more than half since last summer.
The changing landscape was of enough concern that the Bank of Canada cut interest rates in January, though it has since decided this week not to cut rates further. Mr. Oliver responded to the drop in oil prices by delaying the release of the federal budget, which is normally introduced in February or March.
Mr. Oliver has said he won't release a budget before April. He said Friday that a decision on the date is approaching.
The finance minister told reporters that his decision to delay the budget has had the desired effect in that the government now has more information to work with. The price of North American crude has stabilized around $50 (U.S.) per barrel in recent weeks.
"We know more now than we did a few months ago and I think that's clearly a positive," he said.
A greater focus on national security could also have implications for Mr. Oliver's budget. A continuation of Canada's military mission in Iraq would need resources. Also, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told a House of Commons committee that the RCMP is currently cutting back in areas like organized crime in order to fund the growing national security demands.
"I just don't think it's sustainable," said the Commissioner.
Mr. Oliver's speech to the Manning Centre crowd – a forum for discussion of policy and political tactics founded by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning – promoted the government's focus on tax cuts and low spending.
"The federal tax burden is now at its lowest level in 50 years. Not since 'Dief The Chief' [John Diefenbaker] was prime minister have Canadians paid so little tax to Ottawa, and that took a lot of cutting," he said. "Sometimes we used a scalpel. Other times we used a meat cleaver. And [Treasury Board President] Tony Clement I think is here and he wielded both, although with an emphasis on the latter."