Vote for ‘new choice, true voice’ Tories, PM urges

Winnipeg Sun
September 10, 2008

Kathleen Harris
Sun Media

TORONTO – Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a direct pitch for the immigrant vote tonight, calling his Conservative Party the “new choice and true voice” for new Canadians.

In a packed community centre in Toronto’s west end, Harper announced he would restore veterans’ allowances for vets living in Canada more than 10 years who fought for Commonwealth or Allied forces in the Second World War.

Conservative officials say the announcement will restore a $1,200 annual war veterans’ allowance plus health benefits to up to 9,000 vets who were cut off in 1995. The total cost is pegged at about $50 million a year.

“If re-elected, our Conservative government will undo an injustice created by the previous government,” Harper said to the cheers of immigrant veterans wearing medals.

Harper also promised to put the issue of recognizing foreign professional credentials on the agenda at his next first ministers meeting with provincial and territorial leaders.

Second World War veteran Jan Gasztold, 83, applauded the news.

“I think it’s about time. We deserve it,” he said. “It felt like we were not belonging to Canada.”

Earlier in the day, Harper’s best laid plan to make a good-news announcement about fuel tax relief in Winnipeg was derailed when he wound up apologizing for a pooping puffin and calling himself a fruit.

Flanked by crates of carrots, cucumbers and onions stacked in a Winnipeg vegetable warehouse, Harper pledged to cut in half the excise tax on diesel and jet fuel – a move he claims would reduce prices on everything from groceries to plane rides.

But no sooner had the PM sketched out his first campaign policy plank, he was forced to say sorry for a “tasteless” party website showing a bird defecating on Liberal Leader Stephane Dion. Then he was blindsided by a question from a local reporter who asked him to pick what kind of vegetable he would be. After a long pause and nervous laughter, Harper said he would be a fruit instead – “sweet and colourful.”

Today’s policy announcement, designed to be in direct contrast to Dion’s carbon tax plan, will cost an estimated $600 million a year when fully implemented over four years. He called it a “modest and affordable” initiative, but Harper said halving the excise tax from four cents to two cents a litre will lower the price of moving food, clothes, furniture, cars and building materials.

“This tax reduction will benefit consumers who buy virtually anything that moves by train, truck, ship or plane. The impact will be broad,” he said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said Harper’s announcement was simply a way to look after his “powerful friends in the oil industry,” while Liberal MP and consumer affairs critic Dan McTeague slammed it as a “shell game” because there’s no guarantee any tax cuts would be passed on to consumers.

Reference: Winnipeg Sun