OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked off the fifth week of the election by avoiding questions about whether the economy is in recession.

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked off the fifth week of the election by avoiding questions about whether the economy is in recession.

As Harper and the Conservatives brace for a Statistics Canada report expected Tuesday which many economists predict will say Canada’s economy was in recession, the prime minister staged an event in Ottawa to push his party’s record on the economy.

But he wouldn’t use the word recession or answer a question about how he defines one.

"I haven’t gotten into that debate," Harper said at a hotel in downtown Ottawa. "I’ve simply laid out what I think the facts are."

Harper went on to say "we’ve had a contraction that has been focused almost entirely on one sector of the economy."

The Conservatives and some economists say even if Tuesday’s report shows Canada’s economy contracted in the first half of this year, it was restricted to the energy sector; and with most of Canada’s economy still growing, it is only a "technical" recession. By that they mean one that fits the definition of a recession – which is two straight quarters of negative growth – but not the actual feeling of one because other parts of the economy are strong.

Harper argues Canada’s economic troubles are strictly because of the falling oil price and ensuing impact on the energy sector and that "80 per cent of the economy is actually growing."

A recent analysis of that claim by the Canadian Press found it to be inaccurate. CP noted Harper was citing a Bank of Canada report which found together the oil and gas sector and the non-energy commodities sector, which make up about 18 per cent of our GDP, were down but that overall, the rest of the economy together had grown.

If you look at specifics within the rest of the economy however it’s not just oil and gas that got smaller. Manufacturing in particular is struggling with industrial production and durable manufacturing industries both down. Even if you remove the energy sector completely from the picture, the GDP still shrank 0.4 per cent between December and May. The June figures are what will be reported by Statistics Canada Tuesday.

Opponents, such as the NDP, have said Harper’s job growth has been flat in the last few years, while the Liberals accuse him of sending money to millionaires instead of investing in the middle class and in the economy directly.

Harper sharpened his attack on the NDP in recent days as that party has taken a clear lead in almost every poll. Meanwhile Harper’s party is struggling in the wake of the Mike Duffy trial and testimony from Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright that has left many seriously doubting whether Harper didn’t know about a scheme to have Wright repay Duffy’s ineligible expense claims to try and sweep the problem under the rug.

Three polls have even had the Conservatives trailing in third place in the last week.

On Sunday the Conservatives trotted out Defence Minister Jason Kenney to poke holes in the NDP platform and argue Thomas Mulcair has an $8-billion hole in his platform costs. Harper reiterated that this morning, and said that figure doesn’t include "more than 125 other promises that we haven’t yet been able to cost."

"They will wreck our economy as the NDP has done almost everywhere else," Harper said.

The Liberals jumped into the anti-NDP fray as well, with a new radio ad contrasting their position versus the NDP’s on the middle class, and held a press conference in Ottawa Sunday where they say the NDP have a $28-billion hole in their budget over the next four years even though Mulcair says he will balance the budget immediately.

Kildonan – St. Paul Liberal candidate MaryAnn Mihychuk was among the Liberal candidates at that event. Mihychuk was the industry minister in Gary Doer’s NDP government in Manitoba between 1999 and 2003. After a failed attempt at the mayor’s office in 2004, Mihychuk left politics for a decade and says when she decided to come back it was to the Liberals instead of the NDP because that’s where her confidence lies.

"This is a party that slayed a massive deficit," Mihychuk said in an interview with the Free Press Sunday.

She and the Liberals are pushing the Liberal record in the 1990s that saw the party slash spending to balance the books after the debt to GDP ratio was getting out of control. Between 1997 and leaving office in 2006, the Liberals repaid about $72 billion to the debt, Finance Department documents show.

The Liberals last week became the only party to say they will have to run a deficit in the first few years in office with Trudeau arguing the Conservatives have left a "mess" behind in the budget and the economy and it will take investments like a massive new infrastructure program to get the economy growing again.

A party spokesperson says the Liberal plan is to run a deficit of less than $10 billion in the first two years, a smaller deficit in year three and then balance the books in year four, which is 2019-20.

Harper argues deficits are not the answer to the current economic situation – although his own government produced deficit budgets for the last seven years.

"As Conservatives we borrow money only when we must and then we repay as planned," Harper said, noting his opponents "borrow in hard times because they must and they borrow in good times because they can."

He said because of the Conservative plan Canada has the lowest debt burden of any country in the G7. Canada’s debt. Canada’s net debt has grown $166 billion between 2007-08 and 2013-14, according to the Department of Finance. Our debt to GDP ratio, which is the clearest marker of how well positioned a country is to repay its debts, rose from 28.2 per cent in 2007-08, after a decade of surplus budgets (nine under the Liberals, two under Harper) to 33.3 per cent in 2012-13. Despite continued deficits, economic growth meant the ratio began falling again and was forecast to be 30.8 per cent by the end of this year.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was in Saskatoon this morning announcing a national strategy to combat violence against women. The NDP and Mulcair dismissed the other parties’ suggestions the NDP platform isn’t affordable and said it’s just an attempt by the other parties to stop NDP momentum.

It should be noted not one of the three main parties have released a fully-costed platform.

Mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca