'I’m going to watch your back' on gas prices, Layton tells voters

The NDP leader says Stephen Harper isn't doing enough to stop price gouging by big oil companies as Canadian gas prices continue to rise.

NDP leader attacks Harper for inaction on pump costs

More needs to be done about soaring gas prices in Canada, NDP leader Jack Layton said Saturday.

Speaking to a rally for the party’s Toronto candidates, Layton said the big jump in retail pump prices on Friday — about 13 cents a litre on average across the country — was gouging by big oil companies, and he accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of doing nothing about it.

Asked on Friday by reporters if the fuel hikes were price-gouging, Harper said it "appears" that they were, but he shied away from saying his government would take action.

"I've learned not to make policy on a day-to-day basis," Harper said at the time.

To loud cheers and chants of "NDP, NDP," Layton again promised that his party would appoint a gas price ombudsman to keep tabs on oil companies.         

"Harper says there’s nothing can be done about the gouging. I say that’s a defeatist attitude," Layton said, "As prime minister, I’m going to watch your back, and if the gas companies collude on prices and if we catch them at it, we’ll prosecute them and the rip-offs will stop."

He accused the prime minister of giving corporate tax breaks to big companies, including petroleum firms, as Canadians were paying record high prices and facing increasing hardship.

The NDP leader had been scheduled to make what was billed as a major policy announcement about poverty, but party officials said it was decided to postpone that until next week and talk about rising prices.

The loudest cheers of the rally came when Layton likened his Conservative rival to the outgoing U.S. president.

"The George Bush era is coming to an end, and so is the Stephen Harper era," he said.

CBC’s Julie Van Dusen said the NDP leader is practically ignoring the Liberals and Stéphane Dion and focusing his campaign on Harper.

"I was listening for the word Dion and I only heard it once," Van Dusen said, "He’s making this into a two way race … marginalizing Stéphane Dion and portraying himself as a potential PM.