Prime Minister Stephen Harper is promising tax cuts for Canadians in a matter of months, using an election-style rally to fire up Conservative troops as Parliament returns and signalling the campaign to win in 2015 has begun in earnest.
The Conservatives are expected to use the annual fall economic statement, which should be delivered by early November, to announce that they've balanced Ottawa's books after half a decade of deficits and anticipate an even larger budget surplus than forecast.
A Tory government source said they expect the fall update would feature tax breaks. The economic update, however, has not been finalized and it's possible tax cuts would instead be delivered in the 2015 budget five or six months from now.
Mr. Harper, in his ninth year as prime minister and trailing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the polls, devoted much of his annual September address to caucus to lauding his record in government and explaining why Canada needs more of him at the helm. He pointed to a strengthening job market and big trade deals as evidence of his economic stewardship.
The Prime Minister's biggest challenge may be voter fatigue. Just last week Mr. Harper's time in office surpassed Louis St. Laurent's and, within about two months, the Conservative Leader's tenure will also exceed both Robert Borden's and Brian Mulroney's length of service in the post.
The razzle-dazzle Harper event Monday, held at the Ottawa Convention Centre, featured huge Canadian flags as a backdrop, Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Taking Care of Business booming from speakers and hundreds of cheering supporters.
It was apparently an effort to sell voters on the idea, as popularized by a new Conservative Party slogan, that after all these years they are still "better off with Harper."
Normally, Mr. Harper delivers his September address to caucus in Parliament's Centre Block, which is less than one kilometre from the convention centre, a private venue that must be rented by the party.
Mr. Harper assured MPs and supporters Monday that tax breaks are coming, adding that the Tories' governing vision is "not complicated" and can be boiled down to two things: "We're here to create jobs and lower taxes" in Canada, he said.
"A balanced budget will allow us to continue delivering lower taxes for Canadians," he said. "We will keep delivering for Canadians and their families … I look forward to the economic and fiscal update this fall, when we will be taking the first steps in the next part of our Conservative plan for Canadians."
He didn't say whether tax cuts would be announced in the fall update or in the budget that follows.
The next election is expected in October, 2015, but Mr. Harper can head to the polls whenever he wants.
Conservative strategists are determined to ensure voters receive tax breaks far enough before an election that they can feel the benefit of the cuts. The Tories' 2011 election promises will be a priority, meaning tax-cut pledges that were linked to a balanced budget. These include allowing parents of children under 18 to split some income for tax purposes, targeted tax credits to encourage physical activity, and increasing the contribution limit of tax-free savings accounts to $10,000. Other options include reviving the home-renovation tax credit or enriching the Universal Child Care Benefit for parents of young children.
Mr. Harper avoided naming political rivals in his speech, but he couldn't resist a obvious jab at Mr. Trudeau as he played up his foreign policy record, casting a Conservative government as a distinctively more bold player on the world stage.
"In the councils of the world, there is no ambiguity as to where Canada stands," he said, touting his outspoken support for Israel, his vocal opposition to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and Canada's efforts to reassure European allies and help fight the Islamic State in Iraq.
Devoting about 25 per cent of his speech to foreign policy, the Conservative Leader implied Mr. Trudeau was unprepared to take on the job of speaking for Canada abroad.
"Canadians are rightly sickened by [Islamic State's] savage slaughter of anyone who doesn't share their twisted view of the world," the Prime Minister said.
"We know their ideology is not the result of 'social exclusion' or other so-called 'root causes,'" he said, a reference to the Liberal Leader's 2013 comments on whether those behind the Boston Marathon bombing felt marginalized by society.
"It is evil, vile and must be unambiguously opposed," Mr. Harper said of the Islamic State.
"Even as other countries have stagnated, or worse, Canada has created nearly 1.1 million jobs – and they are overwhelmingly private sector, full-time, high-paying jobs."
Mr. Harper's pitch to voters is a variation of the appeal he used in the 2011 and 2008 elections: that only he can be trusted to steer Canada through uncertain times.
He promised Canada more of his populist agenda, from tough-on-crime measures to interventions in the market that benefit consumers such as banning telecom companies from charging customers for paper invoices.
With a report from Bill Curry