OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper rallied his political troops Monday, marking the start of Parliament’s fall sitting with a campaign-style rally laden with economic high-fives and tough talk about protecting Canadian values around the world.
With Conservative caucus members and several massive Canadian flags as a backdrop, Harper sang the praises of his government’s work in creating jobs, sealing trade deals and cracking down on criminals.
But it was the fires burning far from Canadian shores — terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the crisis in Ukraine and Israel’s ever-present peril — that earned Harper the loudest cheers from the hyper-partisan, invitation-only crowd.
“We live in an uncertain world, indeed, a dangerous world,” he said.
“But the measure of good government, the true test of leadership, lies not in achieving success in times of stability and peace but in doing so during times of risk and danger.”
Canada won’t cut Russian President Vladimir Putin any slack over the crisis in Ukraine, and will stand with its allies in fighting terrorism in the Middle East, Harper promised.
“We will not rest until the people of Ukraine are free to choose their own destiny,” he said. “Free from Russian boots on their soil, free from intimidation.”
He dismissed suggestions that the brutal ideology of the al-Qaida splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is due to social exclusion or any other root cause. “It is evil, vile and must be unambiguously opposed.”
And on Israel, he said the Jewish state must be supported — a position that earned an enthusiastic standing ovation from the partisan crowd.
Hamas is a greater threat to Israel than ISIL is to Canada, he suggested.
“Israel is the front line,” Harper said. “And anyone among the free and democratic nations that turns their back on Israel, or turns a blind eye to the nature of Israel’s enemies does so, in the long run, at their own peril.”
He ran through a list of what he called his Conservative government’s achievements, including lower taxes, the Victims Bill of Rights and consumer measures like a ban on fees for receiving bills in the mail and greater flexibility for TV viewers.
He said the coming budget surplus, to be delivered as promised next year, would be used to lower taxes, not for giveaways to any special interest group.
And he hailed the Conservative effort to make Canada a more significant player on the trade front with the rest of the world.
“When we took office, in this era of global markets, Canada had free trade agreements with only five other countries,” Harper said.
The previous government had taken us virtually out of the game of trade negotiations. Now, with free-trade agreements with 43 countries, Canada will have one of the greatest trading networks in the world.“
Virtually all of that free-trade access is the legacy of Conservative governments both past and present, he added.