OTTAWA – It’s unclear whether Stephen Harper made any European friends during his visit this week. It’s a safe bet, however, that his Conservative MPs in Ottawa made none.
As the prime minister jetted out of France on Thursday after breakfasting with the newly-minted president, Conservatives in the House tore a strip off of Europe — particularly the socialist kind represented by Francois Hollande.
It all started with a question Wednesday from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who castigated Harper for lecturing Europeans about their festering financial crisis while not participating with G20 nations on possible solutions.
The following day, Tory MPs stood up one after another in the House of Commons to deliver member statements denouncing the NDP leader — and to especially tell Europe that if they are looking for help from Canada, the answer is “non.”
The language got especially colourful when it was Pierre Poilievre’s turn.
“They have taxed to the max, borrowed to the brink and are seeking a bailout to continue spending what they do not have,” said the Ottawa-area MP, known for his hyper-partisanship.
“This prime minister will not force hard-working Canadian taxpayers to bailout sumptuous Euro welfare-state countries and the wealthy bankers that lend to them.”
In case the message wasn’t clear, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty later met with reporters to again reject a proposal, supported by the majority of the G20, that nations contribute to an emergency fund to prevent a European financial collapse.
Canada is under pressure — even more so than the United States, where presidential politics and congressional gridlock render the question moot — to add its weight to the International Monetary Fund initiative, but Flaherty has so far refused.
“What we do know is that Mr. Mulcair criticizes our government for not participating with Canadian taxpayers’ money in bailing out European banks,” Flaherty said.
“Quite frankly, these are among the wealthiest countries in the world and they can manage their own issue before looking to other countries to bail them out.”
Flaherty said the IMF is there to help out poor countries, not rich ones.
Still, both Harper and Flaherty have warned that if the Europeans don’t fix their mess, countries like Canada will be hit by aftershocks similar to those that occurred when the U.S. financial system collapsed in 2008.
In France, Harper called the 17-country eurozone a “half-done project” that lacks the tools to contain Europe’s spiralling debt crisis.
“The problem here is we have a monetary union, but the European Union and the eurozone lack the strong institutional structures that normally go with a monetary union,” he said.
Analysts agree with the view that there are sufficient funds to backstop sovereign and bank debt in the zone, but they say creating a sufficiently large safety net, as Canada has urged, is politically difficult because most of the money would need to come from Germany.
That has led to the kind of temporary measures that have kept indebted nations and undercapitalized banks in southern Europe from collapsing, but have also failed in Flaherty’s words to “overwhelm the problem” once and for all.
The criticism comes at a time when the federal government is actively seeking to forge a free-trade deal with the European Union.
Mulcair did not meet with reporters Thursday, but in response to claims he wants Canadian taxpayers to pony up money for Europe, he told the House: “That is the type of pure fabulation one resorts to when one does not have any arguments.”
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said her party is focused on what plans the prime minister has to help Canadians in the case of a second recession.
“I don’t know why the prime minister needs to attack what’s happening in Europe,” Nash said. “The prime minister should be focused on the Canadian economy and let the Europeans sort out their own economy.”
Harper said in a CBC interview this week that the government has contingency plans in case of a new global crisis, but did not offer specific details.