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Balancing the books not top priority: Harper

Mark Dunn. (Andre Forget/QMI Agency)

By Mark Dunn, Senior National Reporter

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says shielding the economy from a global broadside is his top priority even if it means balancing the books later rather than sooner.

In an exclusive interview Thursday with Brian Lilley, host of Byline on Sun News Network, Harper said he's surprised at the extent world economies continue to struggle following the 2008-09 financial collapse.

"I thought that while the recovery would be slow, I did not expect the level of uncertainty that we still see," he said.

And with economic storm clouds swirling over Europe, the debt and jobs crisis in the U.S. showing little signs of abating and other industrialized economies retreating, Harper said he will take additional steps this fall to protect Canada.

"I want the budget to be balanced...but our first objective is not balancing the budget. Our first objective is to make sure the Canadian economy keeps growing.

"And in my judgment the gradual reduction in the ($24-$25 billion) deficit is the way to go if that can be managed and I think it can be managed."

He said the government will continue to seek new trade opportunities to wean Canada off its dependence on the U.S. and pointed to 50 agreements in the works, including deals with China, Japan, Europe and India.

"This will be essential as our traditional markets like the U.S. face slow growth. We've got to make sure we're taking advantage of the growth that is happening in other parts of the world."

And with MPs set to return to the House of Commons on Monday, Harper couldn't resist a shot at the NDP and its prescription for prosperity.

"You can't grow your economy by raising taxes as the Opposition proposes. You can't grow your economy by shutting down trade as the Opposition proposes. And you can't grow your economy by declaring certain industries to be diseases and trying to put them out of business."

On the latter issue, Harper has Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney in his corner.

Last week, Carney said those who use the so-called Dutch disease theory to argue oilsands development is artificially inflating the value of the dollar and causing the manufacturing sector to slump are wrong.




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