POLITICS

Harper Pays Tribute To Military On Canada Day

07/01/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 07/01/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Canada's federal leaders were waving the flag and priming their political messages Wednesday, on a Canada Day that landed smack in the buildup to this year's election campaign.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the traditional midday remarks from Parliament Hill's main stage, but also borrowed a line from his 2011 stump speech.

The Conservative mantra for this fall's election continues to centre around Harper as a trusted, seasoned politician with a steady hand at the helm.

"In times of never-ending economic and political turmoil in the world, our Canada is an island of stability," Harper told the crowd that police estimated at about 34,000 — thinner than usual because of rainy weather.

This time around, the message might be tougher to sell: Statistics Canada reported dismal GDP numbers this week — the fourth straight month of decline. Economists began discussing the threat of another recession.

Harper also referred to the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament Hill, which claimed the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, and to the deployment of Canadian troops in Iraq and Kuwait.

The Conservative approach to national security is another area where the party would like to emphasize the contrast with the opposition. The NDP and the Liberals did not support the military mission against the Islamic State.

"As we saw right here in our Parliament, this threat is everywhere today," said Harper, who took in the festivities with his wife Laureen and two children.

"But we have faced great threats many times before, and we have overcome them. And we shall overcome them once more. So, let's hear it for the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces."

Security around Parliament Hill was much heavier than usual. Some police officers were seen walking around with semi-automatic weapons. Many visitors were unable to make their way to the Parliament Hill lawns once the prime minister and Governor General had arrived, and the perimeter was made bigger than in past years.

The wet weather meant there was no air show this year featuring the Snowbirds. The onstage entertainment included pop artists including Kiesza and Magic, as well as a tribute to Sir John A. Macdonald, 2015 marking the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Raquel De Queiroz a Brazilian-born Canadian who became a citizen two years ago, said she felt coming to Parliament Hill was a rite of passage. She wore a pair of mini-flags in her ponytail.

"I'm definitely going to vote," said De Queiroz, who was visiting Ottawa from Whitehorse, Yukon.

"I voted in the provincial election when I was living B.C., I'm going to volunteer as well to help out with the elections."

Janine Caron of Gatineau, Que. said she'd like to see federal politicians commit to more government openness.

"I would like to see transparency. That's what I'd like to see," Caron said.

"According to the statistics, Canada is not number one and I object to the fact that Mr. Harper has said that we were number one. I have to admit, that part of his speech disappointed me."

Twitter was buzzing with politicians posting pictures of themselves at Canada Day parades and citizenship ceremonies.

If Harper didn't have to be in Ottawa on Canada Day, he might have done exactly what Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair did — hopscotch around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and southwestern Ontario.

The region helped hand the Conservatives their majority in the last election, with the help of vote splitting between the Liberals and the New Democrats.

Mulcair issued a Canada Day statement that explicitly pointed to the election on the horizon. His schedule included five different stops, featuring NDP candidates, in Toronto.

"We have many reasons to be proud to be Canadian, but much work remains to be done," Mulcair said.

"The NDP has a clear vision to build a more sustainable society. Canadians can count on the NDP to bring concrete proposals to Ottawa to make life more affordable for families and make Canada a fairer country."

Trudeau issued a holiday statement that lauded Canada as "a place of fairness and of opportunity; a place where people from every imaginable country and culture, who speak every language, live and work, and build and thrive together."

Trudeau also had five scheduled events, including two in Mississauga, Ont.

Trudeau added: "We are stronger not in spite of our differences, but precisely because of them. For much of the world, Canada represents the most hopeful vision of what the future can look like."

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