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Friday, 30 December 2011

Economic gloom weighs down Harper's holiday cheer

As the holiday season brings 2011 to a close, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his focus for the new year remains on the world's fragile economic situation and its potential fallout on Canada's economy.


Harper, in year-end remarks to Chinese-language broadcaster Fairchild TV, said the continuing debt crisis in Europe and problems in the United States are bound to affect Canada’s economic fortunes.


“These things continue to impact the Canadian economy, so I think the economy’s going to continue to have to be our No. 1 focus into the next year,” he said, in an interview that aired Friday evening, and will be rebroadcast Wednesday evening.


“We’re preparing the next budget, the next steps of Canada’s economic action plan to create jobs and growth, and also to continue seeing our own deficit decline,” Harper continued. “So, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”


Opening trade with Asia is one avenue Harper said he is looking to expand upon as Canada seeks to insulate itself from troubles in Europe and in the U.S. “Well, I think, given some of the problems in places like Europe and the United States, I think it’s more incumbent than ever that for our country, that we look at our wider trade opportunities, including our trade opportunities in Asia,” Harper told Fairchild in the interview conducted Dec. 19.


Harper’s Conservative government repeatedly has said it is looking to ease the country’s reliance on the U.S. market for its exports of resource-based commodities, such as oil and lumber.


With TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline project to ship oilsands crude to the U.S. facing legislative speed bumps south of the border, Harper’s government has made it clear that it will push to expand opportunities across the Pacific, through projects such as Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipelines from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C.


“I’m sure it’s important for the Chinese that they’re looking at markets where they can see potential growth and particularly, potential growth in their access to resources, which is very important to them, and which Canada obviously has an abundance of,” Harper said.


Harper said his government continues to monitor the situation in Europe, as the threat of a eurozone collapse continues to loom. “I do worry that the fundamental problems have not yet been fully addressed, and obviously, we’re working with them,” he said.


Harper also discussed the Occupy Wall Street protests and the continentwide demonstrations they inspired. He said many of the protesters’ grievances had little to do with Canada. “Well, you know, I don’t know what to make of it,” he said.


“In the United States, there was an understandable protest against the fact that the government seemed to have bailed out very large banks and financial institutions, and yet, you know, many of these continued to have large bonuses and obviously, paying their chief executives very well.


“I mean, none of this is relative to Canada, because we didn’t bail out our banks, so obviously, we have a different set of issues here.”


However, Harper said his government remains concerned that the middle class “remains under some pressure.”


“I think there’s a couple of things we have to do, individual things we can do to help the middle class, but I think also, we must realize as a nation that we’re in an extremely competitive world, not just competition with our traditional competitors in Europe and the United States, but from all the emerging economies.” Harper said.

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