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federal election 2015

Finance Minister Joe Oliver has defended the rise in contribution limits, arguing it is good for Ottawa to put more money into the pockets of Canadians.Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

Joe Oliver is standing by his claim that Canada did not slip into recession, even though statistics show the economy met his own definition of a technical recession.

Speaking to the U.S.-based Associated Press wire service, the Conservative candidate and federal finance minister is quoted as rejecting the view that Canada experienced a recession in the first half of 2015.

"We don't believe that the economy was in fact in a recession," said Mr. Oliver. "We're really talking about a contraction in the energy and resource sector of the economy, which is less than 20 per cent of the economy. Granted there is a spillover but the other 80 per cent was growing."

Mr. Oliver, who is campaigning for re-election in Toronto's Eglinton-Lawrence riding, has kept a low profile during the campaign. A request for an interview by The Globe and Mail earlier this week was declined. Most of the Conservative party announcements related to fiscal policy issues during the campaign have been made by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper or by Conservative candidate Jason Kenney, who is also the defence minister.

Statistics Canada reported on Sept. 1 that Canada experienced two consecutive quarters of economic contraction, which Mr. Oliver himself had set as the yardstick earlier this year.

Speaking with reporters in Toronto in July, Mr. Oliver said then that it was too early to know definitively whether Canada experienced a recession.

"First off, we're not in a recession. We don't believe we will be in a recession," he said at the time. "A recession, technically, as you know, is two quarters [of economic contraction], and we don't have results from the second quarter."

Mr. Oliver's most recent budget bill included balanced-budget legislation that adopted that two-quarter definition of a recession.

There is an ongoing debate among economists as to whether recession is the right word to describe the first half of 2015. Economists argue the so-called technical definition is overly simplistic.

The C.D. Howe Institute has a business cycle council that uses a broader definition of recession and ranks them on a scale of one to five in terms of severity. Members of the council have said it will take several more months to determine whether Canada experienced a recession. The council will be watching to see what happened in terms of employment data. Economists also caution that because Statistics Canada normally revises its economic growth data as more information comes in, there is a possibility that revisions could mean Canada did not experience even a technical recession.

Mr. Oliver is campaigning in the riding against Liberal candidate Marco Mendicino and NDP candidate Andrew Thomson. The riding has traditionally been a two-party battle between the Conservatives and the Liberals, but the NDP has heavily promoted the candidacy of Mr. Thomson, who is a former Saskatchewan finance minister.

The three candidates took part in a candidates' debate Monday evening sponsored by B'nai Brith Canada.

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