SAULT STE MARIE, Ont. — What's a few bad months ahead of an election?
That summed up Stephen Harper's approach Tuesday to new Statistics Canada data showing the country fell into a technical recession in the first half of the year.
Rather than focus on those numbers, Harper instead saw a silver lining, which was that GDP actually rose 0.5 per cent in June — proof, he said, of the renewed growth upon which a Conservative government is basing most of its own economic projections.
"It is good news," Harper said, after a speech at a steel plant in Burlington, Ont.
"Thank God we didn't use a couple of months of weak data to go out and commit this country to three years of deficit spending and huge tax increases like the other guys did."
As if to illustrate the point, Harper literally put some icing on a cake at an appearance later Tuesday morning at one of the last independent grocery stores in the Halton region, of which Burlington is a part.
The area's economy used to be nearly entirely driven by manufacturing, but it has seen employment in services and retail replace factory jobs over time, something happening throughout Ontario.
Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that the manufacturing industry contracted in the first six months of the year and in June alone it was a mixed bag of results, with some specific goods-makers up and others down.
At Ontario factories, the ebb and flow can in part be linked to the oilpatch — many supply oil companies with parts and equipment and when oil prices drop, the factories produce less.
In Sault Ste Marie, Ont., where Harper visited later Tuesday, there have been hundreds of temporary layoffs in steel mills as a result.
Harper made two new promises in a bid to show support. If he's elected, he said Burlington will be the centre for a new, not-for-profit organization that will help develop new products and technologies for the manufacturing industry beginning in 2016-2017 at a cost of $30 million annually for five years.
A Conservative government would also set up a new trade promotion office within the prime minister's own bureaucracy to help attract new business for Canada and Canadian exporters, paid for by reallocating other government resources.
Both were measures called for by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association in its pitch to the federal leaders for fresh approaches to stimulate manufacturing.
"In all cases, our goal will be to set up this country as a world leader in advanced manufacturing for the decades to come," Harper said.
While the riding Harper toured Tuesday morning has elected a Conservative MP since 2006, the next stop, Sault Ste. Marie, was a seat the Conservatives took from the NDP in 2011 by only 1,800 votes.
Area MP Bryan Hayes announced millions in funding for various projects in the riding in the weeks leading up to the election call and International Trade Minister Ed Fast was in the riding just last week, hyping how the Conservatives' trade deals have benefited the area's economy.
After Tuesday's rally, Harper headed for North Bay, where he'll attend an event Wednesday morning at a mining products company, with an announcement expected to relate to resource development.
Premier Mining Products received nearly half-a-million dollars from the federal government in 2013 to start up a new facility in the city.
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