September 17, 2015 3:44 pm
Updated: September 17, 2015 6:27 pm

Where’s Joe Oliver? Finance minister says he’s just been busy in his riding

WATCH ABOVE: The Conservatives have been using Defence Minister Jason Kenney to field financial queries for the past last two days, which has left many people wondering, "Where is Joe Oliver?" Mike Le Couteur tracks down the finance minister.

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Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver has resurfaced after weeks of flying under the radar, telling Global News on Thursday that he has just been busy fighting a “tough battle” in his Toronto riding.

Holding press conferences about the economy, arguably the most central issue of this election, is “not going to mean much if I’m not elected,” Oliver explained during a sit-down interview at his campaign headquarters.

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He’s not just being modest: Oliver’s riding is expected be hotly contested, with the NDP fielding former Saskatchewan finance minister Andrew Thomson. The Liberal candidate is Marco Mendicino, who defeated former Conservative MP Eve Adams for the nomination.

“I’ve issued statements, and I’ve had quite a number of interviews on the election here in Eglinton-Lawrence … and on the economy in general. When people arrive here in the riding, I’m happy to talk to them.”

While Oliver maintained that “if people are enterprising, they can find me,” the finance minister has been virtually absent from the front lines of the Conservative campaign trail since the election race began. After cancelling a widely criticized appearance at a Toronto men’s club in late August, and axing another planned speech at a second private club the previous week, Oliver briefly left the country to attend a G20 economic meeting in Turkey.

He was not the public face of the Conservative government as the country entered a technical recession in early September, and even remained mum after year-end figures recently revealed a surprise $1.9-billion surplus in 2014-15.

On Thursday, it was Defence Minister Jason Kenney who held a news conference to attack the NDP and Liberal fiscal plans.

“Jason Kenney is out there because he is in a pretty secure riding and he has a lot more time and he can devote that to helping his colleagues across the country,” Oliver explained. “I’ve got to spend a fair amount of my time here.”

Oliver was happy to address the surplus on Thursday, however, calling it “a remarkable and important achievement” and predicting a second surplus this fiscal year.

Still, the minister conceded, “the external environment is turbulent.”

WATCH: Finance minister Joe Oliver addresses why he’s been largely absent from the Conservative campaign trail.

“China is down, and that’s really significant because it’s the second largest economy in the world. We’ve seen the crisis in Greece, we’re aware of the geopolitical issues. So these externalities, including the collapse in the price of oil, are things we have to contend with.”

He said a Liberal plan to run annual deficits of up to $10 billion in order to fund a stimulus package “will weaken the economy,” and that when his own party relied on a similar stimulus plan in 2008, it was because the global financial situation was dire.

“We confronted the biggest recession since the great depression,”  Oliver said. “We’re not there [now] at all. In fact, we’re in a period of growth, but one that is confronting global instability and turbulence. This is precisely the wrong time to turn our backs on our tremendous accomplishment of creating a balanced budget.”

Oliver’s low profile in recent weeks spawned a Twitter hashtag, #WheresJoe.

Dozens of users have taken to social media to advance theories about his possible location:

Oliver said he’s aware of the hashtag, but it doesn’t bother him.

“My first responsibility is, of course, to my constituents,” Oliver said. “Simple as that.”

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