POLITICS

Joe Oliver, Andrew Thomson In A Clash Of Finance Ministers

08/21/2015 09:29 EDT | Updated 08/21/2016 05:59 EDT

OTTAWA — The arrival of Joe Oliver's new NDP rival in a strategic Toronto riding has added a wrinkle to what was already a compelling local race: it's now a battle between two finance ministers — one past, one present.

That means the fight for Eglinton-Lawrence could become a microcosm of the broader showdown over economic issues between the Conservatives and the New Democrats.

Oliver, who replaced Jim Flaherty as federal finance minister in Stephen Harper's cabinet, is vying for re-election against two rivals whose candidacies have made national headlines.

The NDP's Andrew Thomson served as a provincial finance minister in Saskatchewan, while Marco Mendicino won the Liberal nomination following a high-profile tilt with Conservative defector Eve Adams.

Thomson, who left Saskatchewan in 2008 after retiring from provincial politics, intends to use his candidacy as an opportunity to challenge the Conservative record on jobs and the economy.

"I'm quite anxious to have a debate with Joe Oliver about the direction that the Conservative governments have taken this country in," Thomson said in an interview.

"Whether it happens locally, whether it happens more broadly across the city, there is going to be this discussion happening."

Eglinton-Lawrence, held by the Liberals for 32 of its 36 years, is a vital battleground heading into the Oct. 19 election.

Oliver helped the Tories capture the riding in 2011 for the first time since its creation in 1979 by beating veteran Liberal MP Joe Volpe by about 4,000 votes. The NDP have never finished better than a distant third in the area.

Thomson's candidacy in the high-profile race may help provide the NDP with a soap box to counter repeated Tory attacks that provincial New Democrat governments have "wrecked" their respective economies.

He said NDP governments have often been elected during hard times — and have inherited tough economic situations — because voters were seeking security and more support.

Thomson, an MLA from 1995 to 2007, hopes having his name on the ballot "reinforces" what the NDP has been trying to do on the economy.

Saskatchewan enjoyed good growth as well as sound economic and financial management when he was finance minister, he said.

In that role, Thomson announced the largest suite of tax cuts in the province's history in 2006, a package that included a plan to eventually lower the corporate tax rate to 12 per cent from 17.

But today he's running for a party that has promised to increase corporate taxes.

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has promised to increase the country's 15-per-cent corporate tax rate if his party wins power, but has yet to specify by how much.

"We're in a different situation in the country right now," said Thomson, who believes corporate taxes periodically need to go up.

"There is a need to rebalance taxes in this country, there's no doubt about that. I think it is certainly fair to ask larger businesses to pay their fair share and, at the same time, we need to provide some targeted tax relief to industries that will benefit from that."

When asked about differences between Mulcair's NDP and the Saskatchewan version, Thomson argued that both adhere to the party's tradition of being both "progressive" and "pragmatic" when it comes to the economy.

On the local campaign trail, the Liberals' Mendicino said Thomson has a lot of work ahead of him to learn about Eglinton-Lawrence.

Mendicino, a former federal prosecutor who owns a law firm, noted in an interview that Thomson lives in another Toronto riding and returned to the city in January after living abroad.

He also said he's unfazed by the economic chops of his rivals, in part because he's a business owner.

"I'm not sure whether or not Mr. Oliver or the NDP candidate have paid corporate taxes in Ontario," Mendicino said.

"I feel very well-versed to be able to take on Mr. Oliver on the economy and I would also say that the Liberal party, unlike Mr. Oliver, has a very, very strong track record."

A spokeswoman from Oliver's campaign said he was unavailable for an interview, but she released a statement late Friday on his behalf.

The statement cited changes introduced by the Conservative government, including increasing the guaranteed income supplement for low-income seniors and raising the contribution limit on tax-free savings accounts.

It also pointed to a $42-million investment for a local aging and brain health project, as well as Ottawa's $2.6-billion contribution to Toronto's SmartTrack transit plan, which would benefit commuters in the district.

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