Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's suggestion that investors should look for potential "buying opportunities" amid falling stock markets shows his lack of concern for Canadians' fears about the global economic crisis, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton said Wednesday. 

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Speaking at the Canadian Club and Empire Club of Canada on Wednesday, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion accused Stephen Harper of being "completely out of touch with reality." ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

In an interview Tuesday with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge, after the release of the Conservatives' long-awaited platform during another tumultuous day for world markets, Harper said he believes there are "probably some great buying opportunities out there.

"We always know when stock markets go up, people end up buying a lot of things that are overpriced, and when stock markets go down, people end up passing on a lot of things that are underpriced," he said.  

"I think there are probably some gains to be made in the stock market. That's my own view."

Dion, speaking at a joint luncheon meeting of the Canadian and Empire clubs, where Harper launched his platform the previous day, said Harper's comments show "he's completely out of touch with reality."

"He doesn't understand the economic impact of this turmoil on Canadians' lives," said Dion, who was introduced by Paul Martin, the former Liberal prime minister and longtime finance minister, as "the man of the hour."

Earlier in the day at a breakfast campaign event in Edmonton, Layton said Harper's statement to "look for bargains" shows he "doesn't care" about the worries of working families and pensioners who fear they will lose their jobs and savings. 

"Most Canadians are extremely concerned, and yet he's trying to suggest that going out and gambling some of your money is the right strategy," said Layton, whose campaign will move through the Prairies on Wednesday, with stops in Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Churchill and Thompson in Manitoba.

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Jack Layton, shown at a stop in Edmonton on Wednesday, questioned why the Conservative leader was suggesting Canadians gamble their money at a time when many are worried about worldwide financial turmoil. ((Nathan Denette/Canadian Press))

"I think Canadians are looking for a government that's going to take this issue more seriously than that, and not be so cavalier or so casual."

Harper defends comments

Layton insisted an NDP government would take steps to protect Canadians.

"We will invest in the real economy to create and protect jobs, and we will protect the services that you count on, especially in such a difficult time, such as health care and education," he said.

He then continued to target Dion's economic plan, saying his $40-billion carbon tax proposal would hurt families, and is an "ineffective and unfair way to address the issue of climate change."

Speaking in British Columbia on Wednesday, Harper defended his comments, saying it was obvious to anyone who saw the interview that he was "specifically talking about the fact that many Canadians have seen big losses in their portfolios in the last couple of weeks."

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Stephen Harper, shown at a campaign event in Victoria, B.C., attacked his opponents' proposals would ultimately cause more harm to Canadians by driving the country into deficit and higher tax burdens. He then repeated it wasn't appropriate for a prime minister to "join in a wave of stock market panic and pessimism around the world," ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

"I know that because, as I say, my mother is one of those people, and I hear about it every single day. And we know that people are worried ,and they have a right to be worried about what's going on in financial markets," Harper said in a campaign appearance in Victoria.

He then repeated it wasn't appropriate for a prime minister to "join in a wave of stock market panic and pessimism around the world," but rather to ensure the government prepares in advance and make long-term investments to protect Canadians' interests.

"We had a plan," he said. "We do not get caught up in market panic."

The Conservative leader fired back at his opponents, saying their proposals would ultimately cause more harm to Canadians at a time of economic uncertainty by driving Canada into deficit and higher tax burdens.

"I hear the opposition parties trying to say they’re connected and they care. Tell me how imposing a carbon tax on our economy right now that would drive up the cost of everything Canadians buy, tell me how that shows you care or understand the situation.

"Tell me how advocating new taxes on investments that would hurt the savings of ordinary people, tell me how that shows anybody cares."

Comment 'extraordinary': Godfrey

In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, former Liberal MP John Godfrey called Harper's comments "extraordinary."

"He wasn't talking to institutional investors. He was talking to average Canadians who are worried about their homes, worrying about their savings," Godfrey said.

"He had the nerve to say to them, 'Oh, there will be great buying opportunities.' With what? They don't have any money. That's the problem."

Dion will end the day with a Your Turn appearance hosted by Mansbridge, which will be broadcast live at 6:30 p.m. ET on Newsworld. The appearance will also air on The National.

After polls suggested a slide in support for his party in recent days, Harper will try to gain momentum from the release of his platform – which pledges an extra $400 million in loans to Canada's beleaguered manufacturing industry.

Flaherty to meet G7 finance ministers in Washington

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Wednesday he will meet with other finance ministers from industrial countries to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the global economic crisis.       

Flaherty said he will confer Friday with his G7 counterparts in Washington  to discuss measures to strengthen the international financial system.

For the third straight day, Green party Leader Elizabeth May will be in the riding of Central Nova, where she is running against Defence Minister Peter MacKay. She'll spend the day in New Glasgow, N.S., before participating in an all-party candidates debate in the evening.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe will campaign in Quebec, stopping in Quebec City, Ste-Foy and Chicoutimi, before ending the day in Jonquière.