OTTAWA — Stephen Harper made two very different sales pitches for his economic plan this week: one a public pep talk to jittery Canadians, the other a private smoothing-of-the-feathers for uneasy conservatives. The marquee speech Canadians saw on television Tuesday or read about the next day was about how the economy would recover swiftly and strongly through targeted spending in the budget.
The other was behind closed doors Thursday evening to a group of key conservatives — sharply partisan remarks that ripped into the Liberals, libertarians, the Obama administration's tax policies and Wall Street.
The Prime Minister spoke at a conference sponsored by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a conservative think-tank run by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning.
The Prime Minister's office did not signal beforehand that he was giving the speech, and refused to make his remarks available afterward.
In a recording obtained by The Canadian Press, Mr. Harper goes after the Liberals in a election-campaign style attack, saying the current situation would be much worse had they been in power.
“Imagine the stance Canada would have taken when Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists attacked Israel. Imagine how many Liberal insiders and ideologues would be now in the Senate, the courts and countless other federal institutions and agencies — I should say, how many more,” Mr. Harper said to laughter.
“Imagine the costs of going through with the Kyoto and Kelowna accords with no plan to actually achieve anything on either the environment or aboriginal affairs. Imagine what a carbon tax would be doing to our economy in the middle of a global recession.”
He twice pointed disdainfully to tax hikes U.S. President Barack Obama introduced for the highest tax brackets.
Mr. Harper urged the crowd not to “forget that Conservatives being in power has made an enormous difference.”
The Prime Minister has been criticized in some conservative circles for allowing the government to go into deficit with spending programs designed to stimulate the economy. At the conference, which continued Friday, some high-profile conservatives warned against watering down conservative ideas to win votes.
“Conservatives should stop having the internal debate in their head and all the philosophical arguments, and talk about hard specific ideas that make a difference in people's lives, have the courage to stand up and fight for the things we know are right,” said Tom Long, a former leadership candidate for the Canadian Alliance.
“We have tried going out and selling things we don't believe in — how's that working?”
Said Michel Kelly Gagnon of the Montreal Economic Institute: “If you want to vote for a centrist party, you can vote for the Liberal Party of Canada. They're very good at that.”
But Mr. Harper vigorously defended his policies, arguing that compromises had to be made to face the economic reality. “I'm talking about compromises that address the reality of the lives of real people.”
The Prime Minister went on to deride the spendthrift culture in the United States and the recklessness of Wall Street. Mr. Harper, who has been described as a libertarian in the past, surprised some in the audience by critiquing those same ideals.
“The libertarian says, ‘Let individuals exercise full freedom and take full responsibility for their actions.' The problem with this notion is that people who act irresponsibly in the name of freedom are almost never willing to take responsibility for their actions.”
Mike Brock, a Conservative blogger who attended the conference, called the speech bewildering.
“The treatment to classical liberals and libertarians — of which I consider myself — was nothing short of stunning,” he wrote.
“The condescension was literally dripping from his mouth. Was this his response to the disillusionment that libertarians across the country have had to his government and its policies of late?
“If it was, it did not build any bridges. Rather, it burnt them right down.”