Amid swooning markets, leaders battle over who’s best suited to manage economy

The three main federal leaders battled Tuesday over which of them is best equipped to manage Canada’s economy as investors licked their wounds and North American stock markets bounced back from the previous day’s dizzying dive.

OTTAWA — The three main federal leaders battled Tuesday over which of them is best equipped to manage Canada’s economy as investors licked their wounds and North American stock markets bounced back from the previous day’s dizzying dive.

Stephen Harper was asked about the previous day’s phone conversation with the governor of the Bank of Canada, which was publicized by the Prime Minister’s Office on a day of widespread market anxiety.

It’s the prime minister’s job to watch the economy, Harper told supporters in Quebec City, and if his opponents have a problem with that, they shouldn’t be running to replace him as prime minister, he said.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has characterized Harper’s discussion with Stephen Poloz as a sign that the Conservative economic plan isn’t working.

Harper wouldn’t reveal details of the conversation, but seized on the question as a chance to promote his government’s strategy — a balanced budget, low taxes and affordable investments — as the right choice.

“You do not — as any financial planner will tell you, whether it’s from the prime minister on down — you do not run around and change your plans based on daily market news,” he said.

“You have a long-term plan and you stick to it.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau unveiled members of his economic team in Toronto and was joined by former prime minister Paul Martin, who helped slay the federal deficit during his time as finance minister in the 1990s.

Martin touted his track record: eight budget surpluses, cutting government debt, and reducing Canada’s debt ratio to one of the lowest in the G7.

“While the challenges today are different, very different than a generation ago, they are no less severe,” Martin said.

“But the Liberal party, again, has the right team, made up of the right people to take on the vacuum that has been left by the Conservative government for the last nine years.”

Trudeau said Harper’s economic plan has failed the middle class by seeking to make wealthy people wealthier and “to give the most to those who need the least.”

Mulcair, who began a day of campaigning in southwestern Ontario with a stop in Hamilton, insisted that an NDP government wouldn’t need to run a deficit to finance its promises and would bring in a balanced budget next year.

Mulcair has not yet released the full costing of his platform, but he took swipes at the past records of the Conservatives and Liberals.

“Mr. Harper has taken an approach — he’s following in the footsteps of the Paul Martin Liberals and it’s the same mistake,” Mulcair said. “Giving tens of billions of dollars in tax reductions to Canada’s richest corporations didn’t create jobs.”

Harper took his own shot at Martin, noting that the Liberals “lost control of the deficit” during the relative economic stability of the 1990s, and balanced the budget by raising income taxes.

Martin’s appearance marked the second day in a row that an elder party statesman accompanied of the leaders in a campaign appearance.

On Monday, Stephen Lewis, the former Ontario NDP leader and international diplomat, said Mulcair’s 35 years in politics has made him the strongest prospect yet to become Canada’s first New Democrat prime minister.