Skip to main content

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement at Framecraft Ltd. in St. Catharines, Ont., on Thursday, January 22, 2015.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper is playing down the impact of energy on the overall Canadian economy, noting that other sectors will help keep growth strong during hard times for the oil patch.

The Prime Minister, who has previously promoted Canada abroad as an emerging energy superpower, stressed the importance of small business, manufacturing and innovation during an event in St. Catharines, one of many Southwestern Ontario communities that have lost manufacturing jobs in recent years.

"It's obviously significant for the Canadian economy, particularly certain sectors and regions, but the oil industry isn't remotely the entire Canadian economy," said Mr. Harper. "There are many benefits to other parts of the economy because of these developments and although the oil industry in those regions are going to face some pretty significant adjustments, the fact of the matter is that this is a resilient industry that knows that prices go up and down."

The Prime Minister's comments, which followed an announcement to expand a program for small-business loans, marked his first public response since Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz shocked markets Wednesday by cutting interest rates in response to lower-than-expected growth and inflation.

Mr. Harper noted that while the bank is independent of the government, he supported the bank's actions.

"I should say the government has complete confidence in the Bank of Canada and the actions that it has taken. They are appropriate," he said.

"But in terms of fiscal policy, the appropriate action is to make sure that as long as the economy continues to grow, we balance our budget," Mr. Harper added.

Opposition parties say the Bank of Canada's rate cut is a clear sign that the Canadian economy is facing serious trouble and they lay the blame on the Conservatives for placing too much importance on Canada's energy sector at the expense of other areas, such as manufacturing.

"The size and the importance of the oil industry varies on whether it's doing well or not according to Conservatives," said NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen.

"When oil is priced very highly, the energy sector is the linchpin for the entire economy. And when oil falls dramatically, suddenly it becomes much less important from the Conservatives' perspective."

Southern Ontario is expected to be a major battleground in the 2015 election campaign, as new seats have been added and many ridings have been redrawn. Manufacturing and technology are important employers in the region.

The Bank of Canada's rate cut led to a decline in the value of the Canadian dollar, a development that is viewed as positive for manufacturers and exporters.

The American economy is a rare bright spot in the global economy and growth there is likely to benefit Ontario and Quebec the most, according to a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada.

Jayson Myers, the president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, was invited this week to speak to the federal Liberal caucus, which met in London, Ont. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused the Prime Minister this week of "putting all his eggs in one basket" in terms of promoting the energy sector.

However, Mr. Myers is not of the view that manufacturers have been ignored by the Conservative government. He notes that Ottawa has supported the auto and aerospace sectors and promoted exporters in free-trade negotiations. Mr. Myers also noted that energy and manufacturing are closely linked.

"I wouldn't say the government has ignored manufacturing at all. They've done some things that have been extremely helpful for the sector," he said.

"It's too easy to talk about oil versus manufacturing. Manufacturing actually depends on the oil sector and manufacturing's gone through a lot of challenges and I think an awful lot of opportunity lies ahead."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe