Stephen Harper and Jack Layton used the battleground of British Columbia to announce their rival consumer protection plans ahead of the Oct. 14 federal election.


NDP Leader Jack Layton blasts both the Liberals' and the B.C. government's carbon taxes while candidate Michael Crawford, right, backs him up on Thursday in Kamloops, B.C. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

The two leaders have mirrored each other's appearances in B.C. over the past two days by making direct appeals to residents potentially disaffected with Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's carbon tax plan, while also stepping up attacks on each other's proposals.

Speaking outside a Kamloops gas station, Layton pledged Thursday that an NDP government would create a federal consumer protection minister as part of its plan to "stop the ripoffs and watch your back."

The NDP leader also targeted Dion and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell over the Green Shift proposal and the existing provincial carbon tax, calling both "unfair for ordinary working families."

Layton also lambasted Harper for allowing the B.C. carbon tax to be implemented, while insisting the NDP's environmental plan would target "big polluters" and create incentives to "radically" reduce carbon production.

Shortly after Layton spoke, Harper made his own pitch, saying a re-elected Conservative government would ban telecommunications companies from imposing fees on Canadians for unsolicited text messages.

"We think this is completely unfair to consumers and completely unwarranted," Harper told reporters in Victoria.

Harper said his party would also increase penalties for bid rigging, price fixing and false advertising, as well as increase anti-spam e-mail measures to protect against identity fraud and viruses.

Layton said his government would also create an investigation and prosecution office to probe consumer complaints of collusion by gas companies and "stop the big oil giants from gouging you at the gas pump."

Polls suggest the two parties are neck-and-neck in the province as they target many of the same seats.

At Parliament's dissolution, Conservatives held 18 of British Columbia's 36 seats, while the NDP had 10. Liberals held seven seats and one riding was represented by Blair Wilson, a Liberal-turned-Independent who joined the Green party shortly before the election call.

Dion targets Tory spending

In what has become his campaign's mantra, Harper said the consumer protection plan was the latest in a series of measured proposals by his party at a time of global economic uncertainty.

"What is at stake in this election is determining to which party you can put your trust in to manage the economy and to protect the interests of Canadians all over the country," he said.

Across the country in Quebec City, Dion told a business audience that Harper's Conservatives have a "sad record" of handling Canada's economy in the face of a potential global downturn, citing Canada's dwindling budget surplus and dropping economic growth, ranking among the worst of the G8 nations.

"He spent more than any other government before him," Dion said. "Canadians have to ask themselves — do we really want more of this? Can Canadians afford more of this?"