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Second Reading

Harper’s economic message strikes the right note Add to ...

If any Conservative organizers wondered whether, as stock markets roiled, it was a good idea for the Prime Minister to leave the country for Brazil, they needn’t have been concerned.

The message Mr. Harper delivered from Brasilia was carefully constructed, and would likely resonate well with middle of the spectrum voters. Here’s why.

First, he acknowledged the worry that crashing stock values was causing for a lot of Canadians, and made sure that he came off as anything but cavalier. He sounded a note of optimism, which people like to hear, but his optimism was qualified, which increases its credibility. He noted the criticality of G7 countries working together, underscoring what most people know: that our economy can be a victim of poor decisions elsewhere, no matter how well we manage here.

In terms of his government’s policies, he showed confidence in the approach the Conservatives have been pursuing, but kept all options open, by signalling that this was a situation that his government was monitoring very closely. While saying he didn’t see a need for any course correction, he was careful not to box himself in.

He also worked to intercept the attack that interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae was developing last week. Instead of criticizing Mr. Rae’s argument, he co-opted it, noting that his government was continuing to invest in infrastructure over the longer term, as well as diversifying trade relationships, and expanding exports with emerging market economies, like Brazil. Voters are increasingly enthused by this idea of Canada as leading exporter to the fastest growing parts of the world.

But the most politically adept move that the PM made was in his reaction to the S&P downgrade decision. Naturally if he wants to extract the benefit of Canada’s superior credit rating, it is not in his interests to undermine the credibility of S&P.

But refusing to join those political leaders piling on the downgrade decision also helped him looked like someone who sees this the way most folks do. Between the lines, he seemed to be saying, without being impolite to our friends and allies: the more fundamental problem is not the credit rating agency, or the downgrade decision, it’s the U.S. fiscal situation and how its political system is responding to it.

Given the importance of the economic news yesterday, the PM’s observations were guaranteed extensive coverage, no matter where on the planet he was. That he was in Brazil nicely underscored the message of economic diversification and trade with emerging economies he wanted to deliver. And, for the moment at least, he turned what was a terrible day in Canadian and world stock markets, into a pretty good platform for his economic policy message.

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