Canada's PM says rival's green plan imperils unity

Thu Sep 11, 2008 3:57pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped up his campaign on Thursday against a carbon tax proposed by his chief rival to reduce greenhouse emissions, saying it would weaken national unity in a country battered by years of fights with separatists in Quebec.

Harper, whose Conservatives are well ahead of the official opposition Liberals in the polls in the run-up to an election on Oct 14, said the tax would undoubtedly cause a recession.

"If a government spends billions of dollars and tries to fund it through a new tax, the results for the economy will be disastrous -- disastrous. For national unity, I'd say the same thing," he told a televised news conference.

Harper made his comments in the French-speaking province of Quebec, where secessionist forces have been trying for several decades to break away from the rest of Canada.

The tax on carbon emissions, which have been blamed for global warming, is the brainchild of Liberal leader Stephane Dion. He says the measure would cut greenhouse gas output while remaining revenue-neutral.

Dion says he would offset the carbon tax with income tax cuts and higher subsidies to the poor. His plan would boost taxes on most fuels, with the exception of gasoline.

Harper's latest accusation may not make much headway with voters, since Dion is the man who in 2000 pushed through legislation making it more difficult for provinces to secede from the Canadian federation.

"I do not need any lessons from Stephen Harper on fighting for the national unity of my country ... It is completely irresponsible for (him) to do this," Dion responded. Polls show support for independence in Quebec is on the wane.   Continued...

<p>Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper listens to a question during a news conference in Montreal September 11, 2008. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election October 14. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>