British PM issues grim warning of second recession

OTTAWA — British Prime Minister David Cameron joined Stephen Harper on Thursday in issuing a grim warning of a second recession if world leaders do not take bold corrective action.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron addresses the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron addresses the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

OTTAWA — British Prime Minister David Cameron joined Stephen Harper on Thursday in issuing a grim warning of a second recession if world leaders do not take bold corrective action.

“We’re not quite staring down the barrel, but the pattern is clear,” Cameron told a joint session of Parliament.

Cameron, fresh from a speech at the United Nations, lauded Canada’s economic record saying this country “in the last few years, has got every major decision right,” as a smiling Harper looked on in satisfaction.

But the Conservative leader of Britain’s coalition government said the rest of the world is awash in debt: “This is not a traditional, cyclical recession, it’s a debt crisis.”

And the solution, Cameron continued, “is not simply a question of using conventional fiscal and monetary levers to stimulate growth until confidence and normal economic activity returns.”

Cameron made an impassioned plea for countries to work together on freer global trade as one solution to the impasse.

“Because the truth is that trade is the biggest wealth creator we’ve ever known. And it’s the biggest stimulus we can give our economies right now.”

Harper, speaking just before Cameron, told the House that “neither of us will be accused of exaggeration if we acknowledge that the most immediate test confronting us all is to avoid the devastating consequences of a return to global recession.”

He cited global co-ordination, ending protectionism, flexible exchange rates and deficit reduction as key tools.

“Without things such as these, we will not avoid such a recession,” Harper said.

The economic gloom threatened to overshadow what was otherwise a political love-in between Harper and Cameron.

Cameron, who was elected in May 2010, lauded everything from Canada’s military contributions to its “moral clarity and political leadership.”

Harper in turn cited Cameron’s “firmness of purpose.”

“I can safely say that where it matters most, your thinking parallels that of our own government.”

Cameron, however, pushed the boundaries of the Harper government’s foreign policy when he trumpeted the need for greater foreign aid.

“If we’d put a fraction of our current military spending on Afghanistan into helping Afghanistan develop 15 or 20 years ago, just think what we might have been able to avoid over the last decade,” said the British prime minister, drawing applause from around the Commons.

The two leaders discussed the situation in Libya, but Harper clearly signalled their talks on the world economy, including the European debt crisis, were paramount.

Harper lauded Cameron’s handling of the U.K.’s financial woes, which has included deep cuts to the public service.

He also commended Cameron for “his consequential handling of the difficult fiscal choices confronting the British economy.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said he didn’t want to see Harper use Cameron’s visit to justify cuts to Canada’s federal bureaucracy.

Canadians understand the importance of public services, Dewar said before Cameron’s arrival.

“I think Mr. Harper shouldn’t be using Mr. Cameron as a foil to … do his work. I don’t think that would be accountable, responsible. And I think people would see through it.”

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