OTTAWA - The Liberals are taking aim at Stephen Harper's assertion that the Conservatives are the best choice for voters seeking stability in the midst of global economic turmoil.
The Liberal party trotted out some of its economic specialists on Saturday to launch a double-barrelled attack on what they portrayed as the "tired'' economic policies of the governing party and the empty or damaging alternatives proposed by the NDP.
They sought to explode what they called the "absurd myth'' that the Conservatives are prudent economic managers.
"That somehow overlooks the reality that the Harper government has been in office for almost a decade, that during that period they have run eight consecutive budget deficits and that right now ... Canada alone of the G-7 countries is in recession,'' said Toronto MP Chrystia Freeland, a former journalist and author of books on income inequality.
On Friday, as stock markets worldwide plunged and oil prices dipped to new lows, Harper stepped up his contention that now is not the time to take a risk on what he portrayed as the reckless big-spending, high-taxing plans of the NDP and Liberals. He urged Canadians to stick with the "strong and stable Conservative plan.''
Freeland scoffed at Harper's pitch.
"It's sort of like saying, 'We got you into this mess but, trust us, we're the only guys that can get you out of it.' And that is really absurd.''
Freeland was joined at a news conference by Toronto MP John McCallum, a former bank economist, and Montreal Liberal candidate Marwah Rizqy, a tax policy expert.
McCallum asserted the country's books are already back in the red this year, contrary to Harper's insistence that the budget will be balanced.
And McCallum said only one other country - fiscal basket case Greece - has seen its stock market fall further than Canada's.
By contrast, the trio portrayed the Liberals as "the party of balanced budgets.'' Under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, McCallum said Liberal governments navigated through a recession, stimulated economic growth, eliminated a then-record deficit and delivered nine straight surplus budgets.
In a statement issued following the Liberal news conference, the Conservative campaign acknowledged that Canada is "not immune to world market forces.'' But the Tories said the Liberals are ignoring important facts, including that Canada has had the best economic growth rate and best job creation record in the G-7 since 2006 and has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G-7.
The Liberal trio also contrasted their party's economic policies with those of the front-running NDP, which is competing with the Liberals for the support of so-called progressive voters.
McCallum said the NDP's proposals are either empty rhetoric, "dead wrong'' and or "a mirage.''
Among other criticisms, he predicted the NDP's vaunted plan to create one million $15-a-day day care spaces will never happen because it requires the provinces to pick up 40 per cent of the tab.
"Where are the provinces going to come up with $3.3 billion? I come from Ontario. Ontario has a significant deficit. Ontario would have to come up with a billion dollars-plus per year,'' McCallum said.
"If the provinces don't come up with the money, there won't be any child care spaces.''
The NDP countered that British Columbia, Manitoba and New Brunswick have already said they're prepared to negotiate a child care deal.
Campaigning in Montreal, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said even Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who's been campaigning hard for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, "has said that she likes our plan.''
"I understand the frustration of the Liberals because they had 13 years to get it done last time and they didn't create a single space,'' he said.
The Liberal trio further criticized Mulcair for opposing Trudeau's plan to give middle-income earners a tax cut while imposing a tax hike on the wealthiest one per cent.
They also criticized Mulcair's support for the Conservatives' universal child care benefit, which is distributed equally to rich and poor alike. Trudeau is proposing to replace it with a new, more generous, tax-free benefit that would be phased out for high-income earners.
"The NDP talks the talk about income inequality, but when it comes to really acting ... it's the Liberal party which offers the truly progressive economic platform,'' said Freeland.