An NDP government would reverse the Conservatives' softwood lumber deal with the United States, NDP Leader Jack Layton announced Wednesday in the struggling forestry community of Kenora, Ont.

Layton was in the northern Ontario riding to present his party's policy for the forestry industry. He criticized the seven-year softwood lumber deal that the Conservative government signed with the U.S. in 2006 and that passed in Parliament in 2007.

Layton says that nearly 200 mills have closed across Canada in recent years and that the country needs a new forestry strategy to keep the sector alive.

He called the softwood lumber deal a "sellout," and said the Conservative government broke a promise to help support failing forestry communities and provide loan guarantees for struggling producers.

The deal places restrictions on exports of Canadian-sourced lumber if prices fall past a certain point and confines Canada's share of the U.S. softwood market to 34 per cent.

If elected prime minister, Layton said, he would restrict raw timber exports and promote the development of more "value-added" processing facilities to protect Canadian jobs.

He also said that an NDP government would develop stronger sustainable forestry practices, overhaul Ottawa's programs for containing pine beetle infestations and establish FedNor as a fully independent regional development agency for northern Ontario.

The local NDP candidate, Tania Cameron, and Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton joined Layton at the event. Layton will also attend events in Kamloops, B.C., Wednesday afternoon.

Layton's policy 'dangerous' for forestry: Harper

Speaking at an event in Vancouver on Wednesday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper attacked Layton's announcement, saying it would leave forestry communities across the country in worse shape.

"I think Mr. Layton's policy here is very dangerous for the province of British Columbia, and in fact for all forestry communities in this country," Harper told reporters.

He said Layton's plan wouldn't help lumber producers who rely on access to the American market. 

"What it means is that the duties we are now paying that go to our own government when the American market is weak and are distributed back to the provinces and lumber communities will now go to the Americans. That's what Mr. Layton is proposing."



with files from the Canadian Press