POLITICS

Greece Debt Crisis Becomes Fodder For Tories, NDP To Spar

07/06/2015 01:31 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - The situation in Greece became domestic political fodder on Monday as the Conservatives and the NDP used questions about Greece's future in the Eurozone to attack one another on their respective economic platforms.

The political sparring began when the Prime Minister's Office reached back three years ago to highlight comments New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair made about his belief that the Canadian government should have given money to a global fund to prop up faltering European banks.

The PMO statement also questioned Liberal support for the plan, which was put forward by the International Monetary Fund and G20 nations, but which the Conservatives ultimately turned down.

"As Greece defaults on loans from the International Monetary Fund, we are reminded that the Liberals and NDP called for Canada to join the list of countries now owed billions by Greece," the PMO said.

The NDP, in turn, put out a statement Monday afternoon questioning the Conservative record on the economy and highlighting how Canada's GDP has shrunk for four consecutive months.

The situation in Europe has put a renewed focus on the economy at home as the nation's finances become a key election issue.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver is expected to address the situation in Greece during an event in Vancouver Tuesday morning. In a statement released by his office Monday, Oliver said Canada could well be vulnerable to the "fragility of the global economy" and that the government is closely watching the unfolding situation in Europe.

He said the Greek "crisis" is a "reminder that Canada must stay the course" economically and not test the political waters with "risky plans" — a reference to Mulcair — or "untested leadership," a reference to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Liberal trade critic Chrystia Freeland said it was "ridiculous" for the government to play politics with the Greek situation.

"What a serious Canadian government should be focused on doing is absolutely being thoughtful about the possible consequences for Canadians and the Canadian economy — right now those seem very limited — but also we should have strong multilateral relationships and we should be doing what we can to help our European friends and allies come to an effective resolution," she said.

Economists say the threat to Canada from the situation in Greece is minimal, with far greater questions to be asked about the recent slides in GDP and oil prices that have raised the possibility of Canada's economy being in a recession just ahead of October's scheduled election.

Greece makes up less than two per cent of GDP in the European Union, and its annual trade with Canada is about 10 per cent of one day's worth of trading between Canada and the United States, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

"Greece is tragic and it's clearly going to affect Greece more than anybody else and their European creditors, but after that...it's not a profound impact on us," said Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

"It does shape the mood though. It is clearly going to dampen global demand and the global economy this year, but for us, the impact of oil prices, are we heading towards a recession — that's much more real."

Markets were not nearly as panicked as they would have been three years ago, said Peter Hall, the chief economist at Export Development Canada. That's because the European Central Bank has the firepower to suppress economic contagion, and because banks have unloaded their Greek debt.

Hall said the European Union's economy could be in for rough times if things actually go well for Greece because other countries forced to accept austerity measures as part of a bailout may feel slighted that the system "is going to capitulate to the one that cries the loudest."

"It's not necessarily fine and dandy for the world if everything goes smoothly for Greece," he said.

NDP MP Niki Ashton tweeted her reaction the referendum on Sunday.

Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre blasted New Democrats Monday.

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