NDP, Tories deal pre-emptive strikes against Liberals before economy debate

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OTTAWA — The New Democrats and Conservatives didn’t wait for their leaders to take to the debate stage — both parties launched pre-emptive strikes against the Liberals in the run-up to Thursday’s leaders’ showdown on the economy.

The pre-debate salvos came as the federal leaders largely kept a low profile in Calgary, preparing for a debate to be hosted by the Globe and Mail in Calgary on Thursday evening.

The main pre-debate target, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, appeared to send a message he was rising above it all, staging a solo, sunrise canoe ride in Calgary, evoking memories of his father, Pierre.   

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Trudeau has said he would run deficits until 2019 to pay for an ambitious infrastructure program to stimulate growth, while Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair are promising to balance the country’s books immediately.

In an harbinger of what may come Thursday evening, the NDP was out of the gate early in the day, accusing the Liberals of a faulty fiscal framework, and overestimating personal income tax revenues by about $1 billion.

“What’s even more troubling is that he’s run up the bill without committing a single dime to health care or education,” Andrew Thomson, an NDP candidate in Toronto and former Saskatchewan finance minister, said in Ottawa.

“How much more debt will he force on Canadians? How much bigger will the deficits get? Which of the programs Canadians rely on is he going to cut?”

Thomson said his party went to the trouble of doing its own costing of Liberal promises because the Grits have yet to do so.

Echoing the Conservative attack line on Trudeau, Thomson said it shows the Liberal leader is inexperienced.

The NDP released their fiscal plan Wednesday promising four surpluses by increasing corporate tax rates, going after subsidies to oil companies and eliminating tax breaks on stock options.

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But they too have faced criticism over the ambiguity of their spending commitments, including $2.9 billion to “help where it’s needed most,” according to their fiscal plan.

Conservative Jason Kenney, the defence minister, also held a news conference Thursday in Toronto to discuss what he characterized as Trudeau’s “fiscal irresponsibility.”

Kenney asserted Trudeau would leave the country with a $24.7 billion gap in the first year, growing to $34.5 billion when the Liberal promises are fully implemented.

But for the second consecutive day, Kenney was asked why it was he — and not Finance Minister Joe Oliver — who was speaking about finances and the economy on behalf of the Tory party.

Kenney said he is a national spokesman for the Conservatives and that Oliver is working hard to be re-elected in his Toronto constituency of Eglinton-Lawrence, the same riding where Thomson is running for the NDP.

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Trudeau, meanwhile, was up with the dawn Thursday morning for a solo paddle on Calgary’s Bow River. His aides insisted he was unfazed by all the fuss being made about him.

“Perfect day,” Trudeau quipped during the photo-op, staged to capture him gliding towards the sunrise.

The Canadian Press

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