Conservative leader Stephen Harper promised an expanded tax break for hiring apprentices Monday, as parties started an extended summer election campaign.
Campaigning in Quebec, Harper announced that if his government is re-elected Oct. 19, employers will receive a credit up to $2,500 a year for wages paid to qualifying apprentices for all four years of their training. Harper's Conservatives established the program in 2006, with a credit of up to $2,000 for the first two years to stimulate hiring and training.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair began his campaign emphasizing signs of weakness in the Canadian economy, with the latest statistics showing the economy contracting in the first five months of the year.
"Wages are falling, incomes are stagnant, and household debt is skyrocketing," Mulcair said at his campaign kickoff in Hull, Quebec. "Middle-class families are working harder than ever, and can't get ahead."
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has also focused his campaign on middle-class voters, with a central policy of reducing tax on middle income and increasing it for the top one per cent of income earners.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May began the campaign in her home riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. Her economic platform also calls for tax increases for the highest income earners, as well as increasing corporate tax rates to 2008 levels
The early election call increases spending limits for parties and caps it for third-party advertisers such as labour unions that have been targeting Harper. It also leaves some ridings without nominated candidates.
Another change is in debate formats, as first Harper and then Mulcair declined the traditional debate organized by TV networks. The first national debate is set for Thursday, Aug. 6, hosted by Maclean's magazine.
Among the topics will be sharp differences over Canada's role in the international military action against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Harper renewed Canada's commitment to maintain six fighter jets and special forces support in one of his last acts before calling the election.
Both the NDP and Liberals are promising to end the bombing of Islamic State positions. Mulcair would withdraw all military personnel from Iraq and Syria, while Trudeau supports keeping military trainers in place, with both promising increased humanitarian aid.
VIDEO: 'Harper: Global factors behind slow Canadian economy' via BC Daily Buzz/The Canadian Press
Conservative leader Stephen Harper says slow national economic growth is a 'temporary effect' of the global economy and was to be expected in some sectors. Harper added he is 'optimistic' about a possible turnaround if 'we stay on track' (by the Canadian Press).