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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Opposition Liberal leader Stephane Dion, trailing badly in the Canadian election campaign, urged voters Saturday not to follow what he called the right-wing ideology of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration.
Dion said that after watching part of the U.S. presidential debate Friday night he was struck by differences between Canada and the United States during the eight years Bush has been in the White House.
"I see the tough times coming in the United States, the mistakes they have done, terrible mistakes with its right-wing ideology of laissez-faire I-don't-care," said Dion, whose plan to impose a new carbon tax has fallen flat in Canada.
"I saw that and I think the liberal approach ... is the solution for Canada more than ever now," he said.
By a large margin, opinion polls show Canadians prefer Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper over Dion as the best prime minister, and on a party level the Conservatives are also running strongly ahead of the Liberals.
In January 2006, Harper was elected to a minority government. More than halfway through the current five-week campaign, the main remaining questions appear to be whether the Conservatives will get a majority of seats in Parliament and which opposition party will be the largest.
The Liberals have always either governed Canada or been the Official Opposition, but polls are increasingly showing the New Democratic Party, which is further to the left, nipping at their heels.
The centerpiece of Dion's platform is a C$15 billion ($15 billion)-a-year tax on hydrocarbons like diesel, fuel oil and coal, accompanied by income tax cuts and subsidies for the poor, but it has been a tough sell with energy prices high.
He pledged Saturday to create jobs through a huge infrastructure program, which his party had priced at C$70 billion over 10 years.
"We will have massive investment in infrastructure, (a) massive one, to create jobs now and to be sure that the bridges don't fall down on the heads of our children," he said at a rally near the steel city of Hamilton, Ontario.
Harper has said a steady hand, with no major spending or tax promises, is required in uncertain economic times.
"It is a choice between modest targeted investments or enormous reckless spending promises, between keeping taxes down or hiking them back up, between staying in surplus or going into deficit," Harper told a Toronto-area rally Saturday.
Polls published Saturday give the Conservatives an imposing lead of 14 to 16 percentage points over the Liberals.
In a new sign of worry for the Liberals, the New Democratic Party is now close behind them.
Support for the New Democrats has at times been limited by people not wanting to throw their votes away on candidates who are unlikely to win, but that could change as the party gains in strength among voters.
"They're opening the door to the idea that maybe there isn't just one party that has the entitlement to perpetually be the alternative to the Conservatives," New Democratic leader Jack Layton told a news conference in Vancouver.
Editing by Peter Cooney