KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Stephen Harper seemed to have some extra spring in his step Monday after struggling on a variety of fronts in what has been a tough campaign so far.
The Conservative leader started the week firing away at his main rivals on small business taxes and now appears to be riding an unexpected wave heading into this Thursday's economic debate in Calgary.
Harper, whose party has been in a three-way tie with the NDP and Liberals, appeared rejuvenated. His speeches are more upbeat, his crowds larger and their reaction more enthusiastic.
The reason? News that the government posted a surprise $1.9-billion surplus in 2014-15 — bringing the country's books back into balance a year earlier than expected.
The Finance Department released the year-end fiscal figures Monday for a period the government had predicted to instead generate a $2.0-billion shortfall.
The number ended a streak of six-straight deficits under the Harper government.
"That's a consequence of sticking to our long-term, low tax plan for jobs and growth," Harper crowed to loud applause.
"But in fairness it doesn't change the broader context. We are living in a global economy that remains very unstable. It needs careful management and careful protection and on Oct. 19 Canadians will choose a government to manage and protect our fragile economy.
"It's a choice with real consequences."
Harper's choice of venue seemed to fly in the face of his boasts about economic recovery. Horizon North, which manufactures trailers for camps up north, laid off 48 people from its work force due to the slumping oil industry.
About 30 protesters, which included postal workers, three First Nations women and union members waited outside, and they didn't share Harper's good mood.
Steelworker Marty Gibbons blamed the government for not doing more to support business.
"This is the first time Stephen Harper is in Kamloops as prime minister. The reason he's here is the candidate here's in big trouble. People are sick of their lies, people are sick of the B.S. and they know they're in trouble," said Gibbons.
Three of the protesters attempted to push their way into the event but found their way blocked by security personnel.
One of the women, who identified herself only as Quqmetqwe, said she wanted to tell Harper that she doesn't recognize the federal government and wants it to leave First Nations people alone.
Harper is warning Conservative voters that there is a real possibility they will wake up to an NDP or Liberal government on October 20 and exhorted them to spread the word. He said either would create a "nightmare scenario" for businesses and taxpayers.
He was expected to push his economic message at an afternoon event in Burnaby. He will be preparing for this week's economic debate at home in Calgary on Wednesday.
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