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Prime minister visits Langley for summer barbecue

Residents in areas near 56 Avenue and 248 Street likely wondered what all the traffic and police presence was about Wednesday afternoon. It was all due to a visit from the prime minister, Stephen Harper.

Harper spoke to the annual Conservative Party Lower Mainland summer barbecue, held for the first time this year at Krause Berry Farm on 248 Street. Hundreds of Conservative Party supporters from all over the Lower Mainland were in attendance, paying $35 for a chicken dinner and an opportunity to hear the prime minister speak.

His speech made it clear that the unofficial campaign leading up to the next federal election, slated for October, 2015, is already underway. His primary opponents, NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, are also making swings through many parts of Canada this summer.

Harper, although rarely mentioning the opposition parties, vigorously defended his government's position on many issues. He also made a blatant appeal for middle-class voters to support the Conservatives. All three party leaders are assiduously courting the middle class, not only because of their numbers, but also because many people face economic challenges, due to high debt, job losses or other circumstances.

He said that Canada has a "rock solid" economy and "the best financial system in the world. More Canadians are working than at any time before in our history."

He said his government has achieved a sound fiscal position, with an expectation of a balanced budget in 2015, "not by passing schemes like the carbon tax, not by raising taxes, but by lowering them for families.

"We have reduced the federal tax take by $30 billion annually, which is nearly $3,500 for every family, every year. We didn't cut the way the Liberals cut in the 1990s, by cutting health care, education and pensions. We froze operating costs, reduced back office cost and invested in economic activity and infrastructure."

He applauded late finance minister Jim Flaherty for his hard work in that area, and the crowd gave the former minister, who passed away suddenly earlier this year, a standing ovation.

Harper said the NDP and Liberals are promising to "spend, spend, spend and spend more" and "run a deficit if you have to, and then start raising taxes to pay for it all.

"Justin Trudeau was asked how he would balance a budget and he replied 'the budget will balance itself,'"Harper said.

Harper said the Canada-European Union Free Trade Agreement, tentatively agreed to last October and still needing to be ratified, is "the biggest single trade agreement in the country's history," and will take Canada to the point where it has "virtually tariff-free access to over half the world's economy."

He noted that Canada has trade agreements with 43 countries, and almost all of them have been negotiated by Conservative governments.

He defended the government's approach to crime and justice issues, and lauded the Victims' Bill of Rights his government has introduced. He noted that the NDP and Liberals have said "they will repeal virtually all our reforms.

"The justice system exists to protect law-abiding citizens, their properties and their families, not to protect criminals."

The prime minister also defended the government's foreign policy, saying Canada needs to take clear, principled positions on world issues.

"Canada must be strong in a dangerous world."

He said the government's record over the past eight and one-half years is plain.

"We have the best country and the best government in the world. We did not get there by accident — we have taken the necessary steps. Canada is headed in the right direction, and we have to make sure it keeps heading in that direction, and never look back."

After his speech, Harper, who was accompanied by his wife Laureen, spent an hour posing for pictures with barbecue attendees. A line to have photos taken quickly formed, and at least 150 people were in it shortly after his speech ended.

Langley MP Mark Warawa acted as master of ceremonies at the event, attended by many MPS, MLAs and local politicians.

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