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Harper targets NDP's Layton with forest policy attack

Jack Layton and the federal NDP would be “disastrous” for B.C.'s forestry-dependent communities, Prime Minister Stephen Harper charged today in the Conservatives' strongest attack yet aimed at the NDP leader.

But a Vancouver NDP candidate said Conservative policies are the real disaster for communities that survive on logging.

Layton's proposals to restrict raw timber exports and to break the Tory government's softwood lumber deal with the U.S. would mean trouble for B.C., Harper said.

“The NDP is preying on the obvious troubles that we are all aware of with softwood lumber in forestry communities,” Harper said Wednesday morning at a press conference in Vancouver. “But in fact when you look at what they are advocating, it would actually be terrible for those communities.”

Harper said the Canadian industry has been hurt by the weakened U.S. housing market. “Once the American market turns around, and it will, we will not have access that we will have under the agreement we've signed,” Harper said.

But spurred by polls that suggest the federal NDP is on the rise in B.C. at the expense of the Liberals, Harper also sought to dissuade “strategic voters” from placing their votes with the NDP. He even attempted to draw a distinction between the federal NDP and the Carole James-led provincial party, to which he offered a lukewarm compliment for opposing B.C.'s carbon tax and supporting tough-on-crime measures.

“We know there's a long tradition in B.C. of protest, or opposition voting, but pay careful attention to what these guys are actually advocating,” Harper said. “British Columbia could find itself with a bunch of policies it did not realize it was voting for.”

Vancouver-Centre NDP candidate Michael Byers seemed pleased to hear of Harper's NDP-bashing strategy. “I think it's indicative of the fact that British Columbia is turning into a two-way race between the Conservatives and the New Democrats.”

But the UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in global politics slammed the Tories' plans for the forestry sector. “I've taught international trade for years so I actually have some understanding of the softwood lumber agreement and NAFTA,” Byers said. “Any agreement, especially a bad agreement, can be repudiated or renegotiated.”

It's Conservative policy, Byers said, that's a disaster for B.C.'s forestry communities. “The Harper government with David Emerson … sold out Canadian forestry workers by giving a billion dollars of what was rightfully Canadian money to the United States.

“To suggest that repudiating the agreement would be irresponsible contradicts the gross irresponsibility of Emerson and Stephen Harper by agreeing to that massive giveaway.”

Harper's attacks on the NDP this morning were somewhat of a diversion from his original intention to pledge a crackdown on polluters. The Tories pledged $113 million in funding over five years. It's money, Harper said, that will fund stiffer penalties for serious environmental crimes, increased inspection, specialized environmental prosecutors and a searchable public database for corporations convicted of environmental crimes.

Irwin Loy reports for 24 hours.

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