Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion sought to take advantage Monday of a longstanding feud between Stephen Harper and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams.
Speaking in St. John's, Dion accused the Conservative leader of betraying the province by including non-renewable resources in the equalization formula and failing to respect the Atlantic accords when the Conservatives introduced the new formula in 2007.
"There is a breach of trust between Stephen Harper and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, but what they did for Newfoundland and Labrador, he may do the same for everywhere in Canada," Dion said during a campaign breakfast.
Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia negotiated new Atlantic accords with the former Liberal government in early 2005, updating a pact drafted two decades earlier.
The accords — which identify the provinces as the prime beneficiaries of their offshore oil and gas resources — prevent energy royalties from being clawed back through equalization.
Before the 2006 federal election, Harper made a written campaign promise that a Conservative government would exclude non-renewable resources, such as the oil pumped off Newfoundland's east coast, in any new formula.
But in the March 2007 budget, the federal Conservatives' budget introduced a new equalization formula that Williams said flouted that promise and would cost his province billions of dollars.
Williams steps up ABC campaign
The Liberals are hoping to sweep all seven seats in Newfoundland and Labrador as Williams, the province's Progressive Conservative premier, continues to urge voters to vote ABC, or "anything but Conservative," in the federal election.
The Liberals held four seats at dissolution. The Conservatives held the other three, but two incumbents — Loyola Hearn and Norm Doyle — are retiring from politics.
Dion said he agrees with Williams's criticisms of Harper, but added the best way to deliver the "ABC" message is by voting Liberal on Oct. 14.
Williams stepped up his anti-Harper campaign Monday by launching a website, AnythingButConservative.ca, aimed at encouraging voters to steer clear of a Conservative majority in the general election.
In an interview with a local television station NTV that aired Monday, Harper said he would be willing to bury the hatchet with Williams.
"Look, I run a political party where virtually we were at one time a whole bunch of factions, and virtually everybody who's in my party today opposed me at one time or another. So I never have any problems with letting bygones be bygones."
His response alludes to internal rifts that once plagued the Conservative party, formed from the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance in 2003.
Harper expressed disappointment Williams has made their dispute personal and has been unwilling to recognize even when the federal government did things in the interest of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Fishing industry 'treasured way of life': Dion
Dion also announced his party's $250-million plan to aid the Atlantic region's beleaguered commercial fishing industry, which includes credits to modernize the fishing fleet to reduce fuel consumption.
It also calls for increased funding for scientific research to protect and monitor depleted fish stocks, and additional funds to help fishermen retire their licences "with dignity."
The plan includes $100 million to improve Canada's small craft harbours, which Dion said are "vital economic centres" in the region.
"Our fisheries are more than simply an industry," Dion said. "They are a treasured way of life."
Layton touts doctor plan, Harper keys on self-employed
NDP Leader Jack Layton, who started the day in Halifax, released his party's proposed health-care plan, which calls for $1 billion over five years to increase the number of medical students across the country by 1,200 annually and the number of nursing students by 6,000 a year.
The NDP plan also calls for the forgiving of student loan debts of new family doctors who remain in general practice for a decade.
Harper was in Ottawa on Monday to announce a pan to allow self-employed Canadians to join the employment insurance system and access maternity and parental benefits.
After visiting a spa run by an Ottawa family, Harper noted that more than a third of the estimated 2.6 million small business owners in Canada are women.
He said it was ironic that self-employed entrepreneurs must pay into the EI program on behalf of their employees, but not for themselves.
"Their hard work and their determination are exactly what we need in our economy," Harper said. "We should allow them to pursue their dreams as entrepreneurs and as parents."
NDP promises 'not costed', Harper says
The announcement came as Harper shifted the focus of his campaign strategy to target the NDP and the Greens instead of the Liberals following the first week of campaigning for the Oct. 14 general election.
"The Conservatives feel that the NDP is more of a threat to them now — the NDP and the Greens — than the Liberal party is," said the CBC's Julie Van Dusen, who is covering the election from Ottawa.
Harper said that while the NDP tried to target the needs of real people with its proposals, only his party understood the requirements of a government having to work within a budget.
"We're making modest but affordable promises that we know we can deliver," he said. "I'm not so sure the NDP is making sure if any of this particularly adds up and some of their promises are very, very big."
He said that unlike the NDP proposals, the Liberals are going to cost their programs by "taxing everyone to death through a carbon tax."
Harper plans to spend more time in the key battleground provinces of Ontario and Quebec this week, said Van Dusen.
Dion will later travel to Halifax, the CBC's Susan Bonner reported from the campaign.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May campaigned in her Central Nova riding while Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe had campaign stops planned in Montreal, Pointe-Aux-Trembles and Laval.