Harper touts Tory anti-crime agenda

Stephen Harper talked tough on crime during a campaign stop Saturday in British Columbia, saying a re-elected Conservative government would do more to protect victims' rights.

Ignatieff heads west; Layton campaigns in Atlantic Canada

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is campaigning in B.C. Saturday, while his political rival Michael Ignatieff will be in Saskatchewan. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press )

Stephen Harper talked tough on crime during a campaign stop Saturday in British Columbia, saying a re-elected Conservative government would do more to protect victims' rights.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also took his campaign west on Saturday, while NDP Leader Jack Layton continued his push in Atlantic Canada.

Harper reiterated several party pledges during a campaign event Saturday in the Vancouver area, including a promise to end sentencing discounts for multiple child sex offences.

The Conservative leader also repeated a pledge to amend the Criminal Code to double the victim surcharge —  a fine that helps fund victims services programs — and make it mandatory.

"Not imposing these fines, and that has often become routine, has been shortchanging victims support programs across this country," Harper told a crowd of supporters.

He also promised to crackdown on drug use in prisons, saying there would be more testing, additional charges for possession and sanctions for failed drug tests.

Harper said reducing drug use would make prisons safer for both guards and inmates.

"Canadians have been saying yes to our approach on cracking down on crime," Harper said.

Harper has previously said a majority Conservative government would fold several unpassed crime legislation into one bill, which would be pushed through Parliament within 100 days.

But a key reason Harper's minority Conservative government fell was because the opposition said the Tories wouldn't give a clear idea on how much its crime bills would cost, the CBC's Julie Van Dusen said.

Harper was joined by Stockwell Day, who is leaving federal politics, and Deborah Meredith, the Conservative candidate for the Vancouver Quadra riding. Liberal candidate Joyce Murray defeated Meredith in a 2008 byelection in the B.C. riding.

The Tories currently hold 21 seats in the province and are hoping to pick off a few  swing ridings.

However, the other parties are also pushing hard in the province.  Green Party Leader Elizabeth May hopes to unseat Conservative candidate Gary Lunn in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.

During a campaign swing through the province earlier in the campaign, the NDP's Layton told voters that his party was the "only way British Columbians can defeat Stephen Harper."

Harper acknowledged Saturday that support for the NDP is "stronger in parts of British Columbia than other parts of the country" but he said he doesn't think that changes the "fundamental choice" of the election, which he characterized as a choice between another minority Parliament and a Conservative majority.

NDP backs Lower Churchill

Layton continued his trail through the east coast, with events in St. John's. Layton announced Saturday his  party would back a loan guarantee  for Newfoundland and Labrador's multi-billion dollar Lower Churchill hydroelectric project if elected to form a government.

NDP Leader Jack Layton speaks to supporters at a rally Saturday in St. John's. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Meanwhile, Ignatieff was taking part in a town hall event in Saskatchewan in the morning to tout his party's early childhood learning and . The Liberals hold only one seat in Saskatchewan — in the province's capital and held by former finance minister and current candidate Ralph Goodale.

The Liberal leader will then head over to Alberta, where his party remains shut out in terms of seats. He will attend a rally with former prime minister Paul Martin.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe swing through Quebec City and St-Tite, while the Greens' May is scheduled to attend an all-candidates meeting in Brentwood Bay, B.C.

The full weekend of campaign stops comes after Harper, Ignatieff, Layton and Duceppe squared off in Ottawa during the two leaders' debates.

In Tuesday's English-language debate. Harper spent much of the time on the defensive, fending off charges on issues including the G8/G20 summit spending controversy, corporate tax cuts and respecting the institution of Parliament.

On Wednesday, the two-hour political match in French sparked heated exchanges on Quebec's identity, stirred up more coalition talk and jousting over Canada's military and spending priorities.

May was left out of the debate after the broadcast consortium, which includes CBC and Radio-Canada, decided to invite only the leaders whose parties are represented in the House of Commons.