Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion on Thursday compared Stephen Harper's plan for the Canadian economy to the approach of U.S. President George W. Bush, saying the Conservative leader has "no vision" to deal with increasing global economic uncertainty. 

Speaking to a business audience in Quebec City, Dion said Harper "cannot pretend" that Canada will not be affected by the current financial crisis gripping the United States, as the country's leaders debated a proposed $700-billion US bailout plan to rescue the largest banks from risky mortgage debt.

"This approach from the right saw nothing coming, was not equipped to get out of the crisis," Dion said of the embattled Bush administration.

"It’s just not working. It never worked, and it’s the same approach that is being proposed by Stephen Harper to Canadians in these difficult times."

Dion said Harper cannot hide from his "sad record" in handling Canada's economy and presiding over the slowest period of economic growth since the days of Brian Mulroney in 1991. He again accused Harper of squandering a $12-billion surplus and bringing the country to the brink of a deficit.

"He wants to escape this election without Canadians noticing how incompetent his government has been in managing the economy," the Liberal leader said. "Canadians have to ask themselves — do we really want more of this? Can Canadians afford more of this?"

Problems could last beyond next year: Harper

Dion has faced a continued barrage from Harper and the Conservatives over his proposed Green Shift plan, which calls for income tax cuts for most Canadians paid for by taxing carbon fuels.

Speaking in Victoria, B.C., Harper predicted more problems to emerge from the U.S. markets that he expected to continue over the next year and perhaps beyond.

"I think this will continue to be a slow and a tense and a somewhat difficult period," Harper told reporters, but reiterated his confidence the Canadian economy would weather the storm.

He again insisted Canadians have a choice in the Oct. 14 federal election between staying the course with the Conservatives' proven record and "going backward" with "new, wild or stupid" initiatives proposed by the Liberals.

In turn, Dion said history has shown that centrist, progressive parties have managed economic crises better than conservative governments, pointing to the records of former U.S. presidents Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and Bill Clinton in the face of the recession of the early 1990s.

In an appeal to his home province where polls suggest his party was lagging well behind the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, Dion said a Liberal government would restore $6 million in funding for the Quebec-based National Optics Institute that was cut by the Conservatives.

With files from the Canadian Press