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Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 13:55 UK

Canada PM attacked over economy

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper defended himself against attacks on his economic record

Canadian political leaders have accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of not having a plan to deal with effects of US financial crisis on the economy.

The five leaders were taking part in the second of two TV debates ahead of a general election on 14 October.

Opposition leaders said Mr Harper was keeping voters in the dark by failing to come up with an economic plan.

However, the Conservative leader played down fears, saying Canada was on a better economic footing than the US.

During the debate, Mr Harper also said for the first time that he had been wrong to support the US invasion of Iraq while leader of the opposition.

Polls have consistently given Mr Harper a 10 percentage point lead over his nearest rival, Stephane Dion of the Liberal Party.

What crisis?

The longest part of the debate focused on the economy.

"We are not in the kind of economic crisis we have in the US," Mr Harper said.

Where's your platform? Yours is the only party that hasn't put forward any platform in this election
Elizabeth May
Green Party

"Overall, we're being successful. We're keeping the economy on course and we're not going into recession," he said.

"What Canadians are worried about... is they see the stock market problems," he said.

However, the head of the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP), Jack Layton, challenged Mr Harper's position, saying: "The economy is not fine."

"Either you don't care or you're incompetent, which is it?" he asked.

Mr Dion shot back that Mr Harper had "no idea what to do" about the crisis.

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe likened Mr Harper's approach to the economy to the laissez-faire policies of the Bush administration.

"It's like 'don't worry, be happy'," he said.

Elizabeth May, the first Green Party leader to participate in the leaders' debate, called on Mr Harper to release an economic plan.

"You offered nothing up and again tonight you've spent your time attacking the policies of others. Where's your platform? Yours is the only party that hasn't put forward any platform in this election," she said.

Green tax

Mr Harper turned on Mr Dion, accusing him of panicking under pressure by unveiling an economic plan during the previous night's debate in French.

During Wednesday's debate, which also focused heavily on the economy, Mr Dion promised to consult financial regulators and provincial governments within 30 days of winning the election to develop measures to stimulate the economy.

It's obviously clear the evaluation of weapons of mass destruction proved not to be correct
Stephen Harper
Prime Minister

For the first time in the campaign, Mr Layton turned on Mr Dion - in some parts of the country, the NDP has supplanted the Liberals as the most serious challenger to the Conservatives.

Mr Layton criticised Mr Dion for backing Mr Harper in confidence motions in parliament.

"If you can't do your job as leader of the opposition, I don't know what you're doing running for prime minister," he said.

Mr Layton joined Mr Harper in attacking the Liberals' Green Shift plan, which would pair income-tax cuts with a new tax on greenhouse gas emissions, saying it did not "add up".

Plagiarism claim

On Iraq, Mr Harper said the invasion "was absolutely an error", reversing his past support for the US-led war.

"It's obviously clear the evaluation of weapons of mass destruction proved not to be correct," he said.

A senior staffer in the Conservative Party resigned on Tuesday after admitting he plagiarised parts of a speech by Australia's then PM John Howard, urging support for the war.

Mr Harper's Conservatives were elected in 2006 but without a majority.

His move to call a snap poll is seen as a bid to capitalise on favourable opinion polls and win an overall majority in parliament this time round, correspondents say.


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