POLITICS

Harper Frames Re-Election Pitch On Economy, Security, And Leadership

08/02/2015 05:13 EDT | Updated 08/02/2015 05:59 EDT

Stephen Harper's Conservatives set out on the campaign trail Sunday with a goal to frame their re-election pitch to voters on three pillars — leadership, national security and the economy.

In his first public comments of the campaign, Harper hit all three notes, then hit the road in a campaign bus emblazoned with a slogan that drives home the message: "Proven leadership for a safer Canada/stronger economy."

For the next 11 weeks, that's what Harper will seek to persuade Canadians they need and want — and that he's the person for the job.

"This is an election about leadership on the big issues that affect us all: our economy and our nation's security," Harper said in front of Rideau Hall after asking Gov. Gen. David Johnston to dissolve Parliament.

"I will be asking Canadians for their support to continue to deliver sound economic management and to take the difficult decisions necessary to protect our country's security."

The itinerary from Day 1 of the Tory campaign also suggests the party plans to spend some energy on Quebec, where it has struggled in the past and only won five seats in 2011.

The party makes no secret of its hopes to capture additional ridings in the Quebec City area.

The first half of Harper's statement was entirely in French and the party's kickoff campaign rally was planned for Sunday evening in Montreal, where the Tories haven't held a seat in over two decades.

The location of the Montreal event — the city's diverse Liberal stronghold of Mount Royal — is also significant in the context of this year's campaign.

The district was once held by former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's father.

Harper's message was designed to differentiate the Conservatives from rivals like Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair — particularly on the economy, a front both challengers attacked Harper on Sunday.

The Conservative leader framed his opponents as big spenders who would raise taxes and bloat government, while arguing that his party has managed the economy effectively during its nine-and-a-half years in power.

"We have given Canadians a low-tax plan with disciplined financial management," he said in response to a question about the country's sagging economy.

"What the other guys are proposing is a high-tax plan, big hikes in spending to lead to permanent deficits as a way with dealing with temporary economic challenges. That is a formula that has been disastrous in other countries. It's why they don't perform over the long haul as well as Canada."

The Canadian economy shrank during the first five months of 2015, leading some experts to say the country slipped into recession during the first half of the year.

The decline was largely due to the steep drop in world oil prices combined with the failure of other industries to pick up the slack, especially the manufacturing sector.

Harper insisted the root of the economic trouble was tied to external, global issues such as the slow rebound in the United States, the downturn in China and the debt crisis in Europe.

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