Canada's federal election campaign took a temporary detour Wednesday into whether Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would be excluded from the televised leaders debates. 

The broadcast consortium that independently governs debates, made up of representatives from CBC, Radio-Canada, CTV, Global and TVA, has decided that May would not be invited to take part.

Protesters from the youth wing of the Green Party staged a performance in the lobby of CBC's building in downtown Ottawa to draw attention to the slight.

"Elizabeth May has been unfairly excluded from the leadership debate," said Jonathan Halasz. "And she needs to represent the million Canadian voters who voted Green in the last election."

Halasz says one survey showed 77 per cent of Canadians want May in the debate. He says it appears the broadcast consortium is making up rules on the fly.

May reacted angrily to her exclusion, and both Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and the NDP's Jack Layton said they didn't mind her participation.

Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, appearing in Brampton, Ont., said the Tories were open to any number of formats, including one involving the Green Party. He specifically mentioned a one-on-one debate with Ignatieff.

"I hope that [the consortium] will consider the views of all Canadians, and everyone should be treated fairly," he said, speaking in French.

May scheduled a press conference for 1 p.m. PT in Vancouver, and CBC News has learned she has hired a lawyer to plead her case. May was initially denied a spot at the 2008 leaders debates as well, at about this point in the campaign, but in the face of threatened legal action and public opinion, May was allowed to take part.

Harper started the morning at an event with local candidates at auto parts manufacturer Hydroform Solutions in Brampton, Ont.

He stressed his party's lower-tax plan for businesses and announced an extension of accelerated business write-offs for capital investments, which was propsed in the Conservatives' March 22 budget. He said this would allow Canadian companies invest in machinery and equipment to raise productivity and create jobs.

"If you want people to invest, you need to make it easy for them," he said. "Lowering taxes on investments will create and protect jobs for Canadians."

Layton reached out to small businesses, promising to cut their tax rate to nine per cent from 11 per cent and offering tax credits to help companies keep employees, but he said his party would also raise corporate taxes paid by big business to 2008 levels.

Speaking in Oshawa, Ont., Layton said the NDP would:

  • Offer a job-creation tax credit of $4,500 for every new hire. This would be a rebate of employer Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance contributions for a year.  As well, there would be a $1,000 tax credit to the employer for people that are kept beyond the first 12 months.
  • Extend capital cost allowances for machinery and equipment.
  • Drop the small business tax rate to nine per cent from 11 per cent.
  • Pay for this $2.2 billion program  by raising the corporate tax rate to 2008 levels of 19.5 per cent from 16.5 per cent today (scheduled to drop to 15 per cent in 2012). The party estimates that the corporate tax increase would to restore $5.9 billion to general revenues.

The NDP says it can create 220,000 jobs with its economic program.

On Wednesday, party leaders were again criss-crossing the country as they attempted to build support and woo voters following a day of promises on the federal election campaign trail.

Harper was scheduled to hold a rally with local candidates at Des Sources Secondary School in Montreal Wednesday evening.

Layton was scheduled to spend the day in Ontario, starting with the morning announcement at The Kitchen Studio in Oshawa.

Layton was then to tour the MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Plant in Brampton, followed by a campaign rally at Wychwood Barns in Toronto on Wednesday evening.

Campaigning in Vancouver, Ignatieff announced that a Liberal government would expand Canada Pension Plan benefits and boost the Guaranteed Income Supplement by $700-million a year to enhance retirement security.

He also pledged a new, voluntary supplement to the CPP called the Secure Retirement Option, which he said would allow Canadian workers to save an additional five to 10 per cent of their pay in a secure retirement fund backed by the CPP.

Ignatieff was expected to travel to Winnipeg later in the day for a town hall discussion at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre at 7 p.m. CT.