OTTAWA — Stephen Harper delivered a two-pronged attack Sunday against his main rivals for their positions on small business while playing up his own credentials as a steward of the economy.
Campaigning in the Ottawa-area community of Stittsville just days before a leaders' debate on economics, the Conservative leader strove to set himself apart from the Liberal and NDP over their stances on small business tax cuts.
"The opposition is worse than wrong, however, on these things. Their views reflect a deep hostility to private business. We have always known this about the NDP. It is their ideology," Harper said.
"But imagine that someone seeking to be prime minister — Justin Trudeau — would casually assert and refuse to retract a statement that a large percentage of small businesses are just tax avoidance schemes for the wealthy."
The remarks were in response to Trudeau saying last week that a "large percentage" of small businesses are set up to help rich Canadians save on their tax bills.
"Look around you — 45 men and women building industrial equipment," Harper said at a rally at Tamco, a manufacturer of air ventilation products.
"Businesses like this are no tax scam. ... They are the backbone of the Canadian economy. This is Canada at work."
He reiterated his promise to lower the small business tax rate from 11 to nine per cent over the next four years. The Conservatives say the measure would provide $2.7 billion in tax relief to nearly 700,000 small business owners.
Questions remain whether a federal government of any stripe would be able to reduce taxes given the state of the country's finances.
Last month, the Finance Department reported a $5-billion surplus for the April-June quarter, though Harper's opponents have said that data is not up to date, and government officials routinely warn not to jump to any conclusions for the year based on a few months of information.
On Monday, the department will provide an update on the 2014-15 fiscal year, which will shed light on the strength of Ottawa's coffers heading in to this fiscal year. In last spring's budget, the government estimated a small deficit of $2-billion for 2014-15, and a surplus of about the same size for this fiscal year.
"Although we predicted a surplus for $2 billion, we're already at $5 billion, so we're always cautious," Harper said, referring to the 2015-16 year.
Harper was scheduled to attend a rally in the interior in B.C. later in the day.
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