Harper promotes religious freedom
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to the media at the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa, April 13, 2011.(CHRIS ROUSSAKIS/QMI AGENCY)
While he may not be going to church Easter Sunday because he’s “on the road,” Conservative Leader Stephen Harper kicked off the final leg of the election campaign promoting his party’s promise to create an Office of Religious Freedom.
Later, Harper is travelling to B.C. where the party hopes to quell the rising NDP surge there.
At Saturday’s event here, Harper told an ethnically diverse crowd of about 650 people at a Coptic Christian centre that a re-elected Conservative government would make defending religious freedoms a “priority” for Canadian foreign policy.
The new Office of Religious Freedom, which would be part of Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, would cost about $5 million a year.
“We do need to do more for this cause. We owe it to all who look to us as an example of freedom and refuge, and it is a cause worthy of us as Canadians,” Harper said. “This office will monitor these rights around the world, and will promote religious freedom as a key objective of Canadian foreign policy.”
In a statement, he added the new office, “will signal to religious minorities everywhere that they have a friend in Canada.”
After Saturday’s event here, Harper was expected to fly to Vancouver Island for a rally in Campbell River, B.C., where former Indian Affairs Minister John Duncan is in a tight race with the NDP.
Duncan’s riding of Vancouver Island North was solidly Reform and Alliance territory, but has flipped between the NDP and Conservative since 2004 in sometimes very tight races.
He won in 2008 with 2,500 votes, but the NDP’s rise in the polls, especially in B.C., is expected to put some of the Tory seats on the West Coast in jeopardy.
The NDP has been blasting the Conservatives for supporting the HST, which proved so unpopular with B.C. residents the former premier had to resign.
In the riding of Mississauga-Streetsville, the Conservatives are taking on Liberal incumbent Bonnie Crombie. She won by just under 5,000 votes in 2008. It’s one of many ridings in the suburban belt of the Greater Toronto Area the Tories are hoping to win this time around in their bid to form a majority government.
This is Harper’s fifth tour through the GTA so far this campaign, and he’s expected to spend several days there this week as well.
In 2008, the Liberals won about 40 of the 50 seats in the Toronto region.
On Saturday, Harper warned the other parties are all “outdoing each other to prove they are the best opposition, and they believe that a combination or coalition of all these oppositions — Liberals, NDP, Bloc Quebecois — constitutes some kind of alternative. It doesn’t,” Harper said. “Canada needs a government, a stable national majority government.”