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Bob Chiarelli, the Liberal incumbent in Ottawa West-Nepean, praises his government's proposed immigration tax credit. CBC

The Ontario Liberal Party’s plan to offer a tax incentive to companies hiring new Canadians has added another spark to the provincial race in Ottawa West-Nepean.

Talking with residents in the largely urban riding, the proposal from Dalton McGuinty’s government appeared to be on top of people's minds, just as it has dominated the public debate between McGuinty and PC leader Tim Hudak.

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Ottawa-West Nepean has a sizable immigrant population — about 28 per cent are first-generation Canadians. Among Eastern Ontario ridings, only Ottawa South (30 per cent) has a greater percentage of immigrants.

The incentive, which would be available to employers who hire immigrants who have lived in the country for up to five years, was well-received by many new Canadians at a barbecue outside the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre on Richmond Road.

Asha Siyad, who works at the centre, said she works with many skilled immigrants who are desperately looking for work.

"This opportunity I think will help a lot of immigrants to go out and find a job and the businesses will be encouraged to actually take those immigrants so they can get experience," said Siyad.

But outside the Centrepointe employment centre, geographic information system technician Bob Degrushay said he's all for competing with skilled immigrants for jobs, but wants to do it on a level playing field.

"Native-born Canadians don't seem to have the advantage, and on first blush it does seem sort of discriminatory, really," said Degrushay.

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PC candidate Randall Denley and his government argue against the tax incentive, saying it favours one group over another. (CBC)

Though the riding has historically voted Liberal, it was expected to be a battleground this year with the Progressive Conservative selection of Randall Denley to run against incumbent Bob Chiarelli. Wendy Byrne is the NDP candidate and Alex Hill is running for the Green Party.

Opponents have history of sparring

For years, Denley, the former Ottawa Citizen city columnist, sparred in print with Chiarelli, the former Ottawa mayor.

Denley said he thinks the tax incentive is a bad idea.

"This selects one group of people to get a special deal and nobody else gets it. That's just not how Ontario's supposed to be run," said Denley.

But Chiarelli said the Conservatives are using language that paints the proposal as divisive, but he added the proposal is a good one.

"This is welcoming newcomers to our province, to our country, people who have been invited to work here in many cases. They're not foreign workers," he said.

Almost one in five people in the riding are also a senior, and Denley said the issues he is hearing from those voters focus on more basic needs.

"They're really worried about taxes going up, power bills going up, we've got a lot of people who are retired on fixed incomes so they just don't have any money to give," said Denley.

"So it would be great to say to them, no new taxes, no tax increases, give people a bit of piece of mind, that's what they're worried about."