09/02/2015 10:07 EDT | Updated 09/02/2016 01:12 EDT

Harper pledges enhanced tax credit for northern mining projects

A re-elected Conservative government would continue to provide tax credits aimed at encouraging mineral exploration, particularly in northern communities, party leader Stephen Harper announced today.

Speaking to a group of supporters in North Bay, Ont., Harper said the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit — created in 2006 — would be extended for at least another three years if he returns as prime minister.

He added that an enhanced credit would be offered to proposed projects facing steep overhead costs due to remote locations and distance from transportation routes. 

It's not a coincidence that Harper made the announcement in North Bay, a community with deep connections to the mining industry in Canada.

A press release that accompanied Harper's speech cited statistics from a study commissioned by the City of North Bay that found 65 local businesses are directly involved in the mining supply and services industry. The sector, according to the same study, employs 3,000 people in the city.

North Bay is also a part of Nipissing-Timiskaming, a riding being watched carefully by all three major parties because it's the kind of battleground that on election night could paint an accurate picture about the staying power of the Conservatives, the life left in the Liberals, the depth of any NDP surge and whether strategic voting is really a thing.

Conservative Jay Aspin beat incumbent Liberal Anthony Rota by only 18 votes in 2011, the smallest margin in the country. Rota is running a rematch.

The NDP, meanwhile, posted some of its strongest numbers ever in the riding in 2011, hitting 21 per cent in an area that has always gone either blue or red. When the New Democrats talk about this election, they throw Nipissing-Temiskaming onto their list of "maybes."

All this means that vote splits and the potential for strategic voting are top of mind for the candidates.

Harper's announcement Wednesday comes one day after Statistics Canada confirmed that Canada fell into a recession in the first half of the year. The economic contraction was spurred in large party by a significant drop in oil prices, though prices for commodities, including metals and minerals, are down across the board.

The Statistics Canada report also found exports of metal ores and non-metallic minerals were down 7.9 per cent in the second quarter of this year. 

The decline in the resource sector has been especially difficult for North Bay and other communities in Nipissing-Temiskaming.

The Conservative leader took the opportunity to slam his chief political rivals for what he said were irresponsible attacks on Canada's mining industry.

Both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair oppose the Mining Exploration Tax Credit — another indication, Harper said, that their plans for stimulating the stalling economy will not work.

Trudeau was campaigning in Quebec City, Que., on Wednesday, where he re-announced his party's plan to invest $6 billion over four years in green energy and jobs.