Marshall Neufeld couldn’t have hoped for a better visitor to drop in on his campaign.
The Conservative candidate for South Okanagan-West Kootenay hosted Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a support rally at Brutus Truck Bodies on the evening of Sept. 13.
“For (Neufeld) the economy is his number one priority,” Harper said. “It’s all about creating and protecting jobs, lowering leases and helping families here in the Okanagan.”
A frenzied crowd of 700 chanting Conservative supporters filled the brightly-lit, bannered interior of the Brutus Truck Bodies showroom at the invite-only event to welcome Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Penticton on Sept. 13. Media were not allowed to ask questions at the rally or at an earlier scheduled photo opportunity at Painted Rock Estate wineries.
Leading up to the Prime Minister’s appearance, Neufeld touched on the importance of a solid economy and safe country. The crowd began chanting “Harper” and “Canada” in anticipation, right before the Conservative campaign bus rolled into the building for Harper to step out indoors.
Many of the issues that are forefront on the campaign trail were addressed, though Harper spent the majority of his 25-minute speech focused on the economy.
“The wrong decisions at the national level will cause downsizing, closures, business closures, and jobs losses across the countries, including communities just like here in Penticton.”
The most plausible alternative governments – Liberal and NDP – will spend recklessly, Harper argues, which will cause deficits and force tax hikes.
“Our economy is not some theory in a classroom – it is how you create jobs; how you put food on the table; how we save for our future. We cannot tax or borrow our way to prosperity.”
A small group of protesters stood across the street from the complex, including an aboriginal couple chanting anti-government sentiments to the beat of a drum. There were also two self-proclaimed Anonymous group members wearing Guy Fawkes masks and three other individuals.
Some of those walking to their vehicles yelled back at the protesters, some shouting: “get a job” and “work is a four-letter word,” as well as other more derogatory comments.
RCMP officers watched and spoke briefly to the group who did not leave until after Harper’s bus left the property and headed west on Okanagan Avenue escorted by a number of black secret service vehicles with emergency lights flashing.
“The purpose of the mask is to remain anonymous,” said one of the protesters. “Politics doesn’t work, having a figurehead puppet at the top of a nation is not the proper way to run a society or civilization, science is a lot better than politics I’ll go that far. I can’t say too much more because Harper has muzzled scientists.”
Connie Denesiuk, Liberal candidate for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, defended the party’s promise to run a deficit.
“In order to get the economy moving again, we need to invest in infrastructure,” she said in reference to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s pledge to run a three-year, $30-billion deficit for a new infrastructure program. “That money’s not going to be spent on government advertising.”
Denesiuk said the Harper Government has run seven consecutive deficits since taking office – “We’ll only run three.”
Harper said if a Liberal or NDP government is elected, Canadian’s with an annual income of $60,000 will be subject to at least $1,000 extra in taxes.
“He’s making stuff up,” said NDP candidate Richard Cannings. “We will not touch the income tax rate of any individual Canadian. The only tax rates we are going to change right now is we are going to lower the taxes for small businesses from 11 to 9 per cent.”
Denesiuk also argued Harper’s claim.
“The Liberals have promised to cut income taxes of people in that bracket from 22 to 20.5 per cent,” she said.
Cannings said the NDP has pledged to raise tax rates only on large corporations.
“Only by a small amount to make it slightly more realistic – they have such low taxes, and they’re just banking that money. They’re not investing it back in jobs; the country.”
While most of Harper’s criticisms were aimed at both parties, he also wa
rned the audience specifically against voting NDP, citing “disastrous” records both times they formed government in British Columbia.
“The 1990s were very good years for the province, better in all economic indicators than the (successive) Liberal government. NDP governments across the country, if you look at real data, have had the best record for any party of budgets that are balanced.”
Conservative supporter Lee Pixley who was in attendance agrees with the Prime Minister.
“It seems like all the other parties are gung ho to spend our taxes all willy nilly and where are they going to get the money? They’re just going to keep taxing people to death just like the NDP did here in B.C. – just about ruined this province, and I sure don’t want to see that happen federally.”
Nonetheless, Cannings sees the appetite for change in Canada to be much stronger than support for the status quo. He hosted his party leader, Tom Mulcair, at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre on Aug. 31.
“The Conservatives don’t want a public rally, we do,” he said. “We had 1,000 cheering supporters — it was one of the biggest political events in Okanagan history. Harper has a little closed event by invitation only. I think it shows how people are turning to the NDP as the agents of change in Canada.”
Cannings said he didn’t notice any disruptive visitors to be part of Mulcair’s rally, but among the number of Canadians who are embracing change – “I can guess why the Conservatives didn’t want them to be part of their event.”
Harper believes the Conservative Party offers what’s most important to Canadians – lower taxes and balanced budgets which create more jobs. He said his government has given the Canadian economy a solid foundation to withstand the implications of global instability.
“We have to make sure that those who want reckless spending, tax hikes and deficits do not get their hands on managing our economy.”
He warned the Oct. 19 election will offer Canadians two very different paths, and the consequences of choosing wrong will likely be compounded by global economic uncertainty.
The NDP and Liberal parties often talk about infrastructure investment, he said, but the Conservative Party’s ongoing efforts can be seen in progress at places like Kelowna Rapid Bus Service, the Apple Valley housing development for seniors and upgrades to Highway 97 among other things. Harper said the country’s largest infrastructure plan in history is underway, and no borrowing or tax increases were needed to make it happen.
“All while keeping up the fight against the terrorist group ISIS,” he said to a strong applause, which turned into chants of “strong and free” after the armed forced were saluted.
Harper reminded that some polls are suggesting his government may not be reelected, and had the audience envision his version of a dire picture.
“Imagine waking up on Oct. 20 to find a Liberal government, or an NDP government on borrowing or making decisions on your taxes. Think about that for a minute.”