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Election questions test Carney's poker skills

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney

Sean Kilpatrick

Central bankers always choose their words carefully, but if you want to see poker skills really tested, put one in a room with a bunch of controversy-hungry journalists in the middle of an election campaign.

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, like his predecessors, has tried to avoid politically charged booby traps by keeping a low profile since the federal election was called.

In late March he cancelled a press conference after a speech in Calgary, and he has scheduled no media activity at this weekend's confab of finance ministers and central bankers hosted by the International Monetary Fund in Washington.

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On Wednesday, though, Mr. Carney released his quarterly monetary policy report and went ahead with the traditional press conference in Ottawa later in the morning. And when he faced questions on two of the biggest issues of the campaign - corporate tax cuts and the future of public health-care - Mr. Carney demonstrated his impressive ability to stay on message.

Asked whether he sees a link between the level of taxation on companies and the amount that they invest in the machinery and equipment that the central bank says is crucial to their survival, the Governor said:

"Successive governments, federal and provincial, in this country have taken a variety of measures to improve the environment for investment in this country."

That's something he and other policy makers have said for years.

Instead of elaborating, though, he returned to a familiar refrain about the need for businesses to take advantage of those measures and "step up'' their investment to prepare themselves for "a challenging, competitive environment out there.''

And lest anyone in the room think he might be including the next phase of corporate tax cuts in that "variety of measures,'' Mr. Carney said: "Let me be absolutely clear: Don't take anything from anything we say today as a specific comment about any policy initiative, or not, of any particular political party. We're not in that business at all, for obvious reasons.''

A few minutes earlier, he was asked what he thought about the high-profile report on health-care spending that was co-authored by the man he replaced, former governor David Dodge, and which effectively forced Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff to declare they wouldn't cut provincial health transfers when the federal-provincial deal expires at the end of 2013.

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Just like the corporate tax question, the governor gave just enough for reporters' ears to perk up, only to dash any hope of providing a shred of political news.

"With respect to fundamental policy issues around health care, I respect Governor Dodge's views,'' Mr. Carney said, "but they're best addressed in a different venue in Ottawa than a monetary policy discussion.''

Game. Set. Match.

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About the Author
Economics/business writer

Jeremy has covered Canadian and international economics at The Globe and Mail since late 2009. More

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