A second straight month of positive economic growth was enough to bring Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver back into the public eye, as he trumpeted his government's record and attacked opposition plans to hike payroll taxes.
Speaking from his Toronto campaign office in front of a backdrop of election signs, Mr. Oliver highlighted Wednesday's report from Statistics Canada showing the economy grew by 0.3 per cent month-over-month in July. That marks two consecutive months of growth after the year began with five straight months of economic contraction.
"What it signals is clearly we are on the move. Our economy is growing," Mr. Oliver said. "Canada is going to have solid, strong growth in the second half of the year and experience positive growth for the full year."
The minister disputed suggestions that he has kept a low profile during the campaign. He said his focus has been on getting re-elected in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.
Economists said Wednesday that growth for the third quarter of 2015 is now expected to be well above the 1.5 per cent that had been forecasted in July by the Bank of Canada.
In addition to highlighting the positive economic news, Mr. Oliver also criticized the Liberals and NDP for supporting higher Employment Insurance premiums than what the Conservatives are planning and for supporting higher pension contributions to pay for more generous retirement benefits.
The minister criticized Ontario's plan to launch its own pension plan in 2017 that would be called the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. It is not clear how Ontario's plans would be affected should either the Liberals or New Democrats form government after the October 19 election given that both parties are promising to negotiate an expansion of the existing Canada Pension Plan with the provinces.
Mr. Oliver pointed to a new report released Wednesday by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters that warned Ontario's plan could lead some employers to reduce wages or cut staff.
"This would be devastating for Ontario," said Mr. Oliver. "Manufacturing remains the largest business sector in the province."
Mitzie Hunter, the Ontario government's minister responsible for implementing the provincial pension plan, said industry concerns about job losses may be based on misunderstandings as to how the plan would be phased in over time and how it would apply.
Ms. Hunter said Mr. Oliver's ongoing opposition to improving pensions is "shameful" and ignores the long term social and economic benefits of having seniors who will have enough to support themselves in retirement.
"While Joe Oliver and [Conservative Leader] Stephen Harper continue to bury their heads in the sand on generational issues such as pensions and climate change and infrastructure investments, we know that we have to take action," she said.
Ontario is a key battleground in the federal election campaign. The Conservatives won 73 seats in Ontario in 2011 with 44 per cent of the popular vote. The most recent polling by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail and CTV has the Conservatives trailing the Liberals in Ontario. The three-day rolling sample of 1,200 voters across the country had Liberal support in Ontario at 39.7 per cent, followed by 33.9 per cent for the Conservatives and 21.2 per cent for the NDP. Nationally, support for the Liberals stood at 32.2 per cent, followed by 32.1 per cent for the Conservatives and 26.3 per cent for the NDP.
Speaking in Surrey, B.C., Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau dismissed questions from reporters asking whether his fiscal plan is based on faulty economic assumptions in light of Wednesday's data.
Mr. Trudeau said his plan to run short-term deficits in order to fund infrastructure is not based on the past few months but rather a pattern of low economic growth under the Conservatives.
"We have an economy that is stalled," he said, before pointing to current low interest rates and the fact that Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio is on the decline.
"If now isn't the time to invest in our future, what would be?"