Green party Leader Elizabeth May cut into her rival, Conservative candidate Peter MacKay, on Tuesday for failing to support a local knife manufacturer in his riding over one in China.

May and MacKay are competing in the rural Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova in one of the most closely watched races in the Oct. 14 federal election.

The Green party leader accused MacKay, who is defence minister, of allowing his department to cut corners on quality by dropping a contract for military knives made by a Pictou, N.S.-based family business.

Instead the military choose a cheaper Chinese-made alternative, said May.

"The idea that the Canadian military would choose a slightly cheaper imitation of a Grohmann knife made in China, and that our MP — the minister of defence — couldn't insist that we put quality above a couple dollars per knife, I just found shocking," she told Antigonish, N.S., radio station CJFX.

The decades-old Grohmann Knives company supplied the military with knives for more than 40 years before it lost out in the yearly tendering process two years ago.

"The bottom line is that we have a competitive procurement process that invites bidders — contracts are won and lost on that basis, protecting taxpayers," MacKay told radio station CKEC in New Glasgow, N.S.

MacKay said the company that won the contract is based in Ontario, though he added it's unclear where the knives are actually made.

Louise Lorefice, the NDP candidate in the riding, slammed the military for dropping the Nova Scotia company, saying it made MacKay look weak.

"One of his campaign platforms seems to be: 'I control the money, so you need to vote for me,' " she said.

"When these kinds of things happen, you have to wonder how much influence he actually has."

The Pictou company has made efforts to distance itself from the other blade, putting a disclaimer on its website saying its knife is distinguishable because it identifies itself as made in Canada.

Michelle Jamieson, co-owner of the company, said she has received complaints from soldiers who say the new knives are cheap knockoffs. The two look similar, but the China-made one costs $1 to $2 less, she said.

"We're just getting feedback from all of these military people … complaining about … the shoddy workmanship, the cheap sheath," she said. "We had one guy call up and ask, 'How safe is it for us to be using?' "

The company's No. 3 Jump Knife, a straight 11-centimetre blade with a rosewood handle, was designed by Jamieson's grandfather.

Though initially used by paratroopers who need a knife to quickly slice through fouled parachute lines, it is now also used to cut plastic explosives. Its brass rivets help eliminate potentially deadly sparks.

Grohmann had been selling up to 6,000 knives annually to the Canadian Forces. The knife retails for about $60.

MacKay defeated his NDP rival in the 2006 election by almost 3,300 votes and has held the riding 11 years.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion agreed not to run a candidate in the riding as part of an agreement with the Green party not to run opposing candidates in the leaders' respective ridings.

May is expected to unveil her party's entire platform on Wednesday in downtown Halifax.

With files from the Canadian Press