BRAMPTON, Ontario (Reuters) - Political leaders courted voters in Canada's ravaged manufacturing heartland on Wednesday with goodies designed to bring back the jobs lost during the global financial crisis.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Democrat leader Jack Layton took their campaigns for the May 2 election to the southern Ontario towns of Oshawa, which relies heavily on the auto industry, and Brampton.
The left-of-center Layton, who is running at a distant third in the polls, said he would reverse the minority Conservative government's cuts to business taxes, raising them back to the 2008 level of 19.5 percent from 16.5 percent currently and a planned 2012 rate of 15 percent.
The pro-business Conservatives will keep the scheduled tax cuts, but Harper also offered manufacturers a two-year extension of an accelerated write-off for investments in machinery and equipment to help them cope with a high-flying currency and anemic U.S. demand for their goods.
Layton offered the same write-off -- a key demand of the sector -- for four years.
The main opposition Liberals have proposed raising the corporate tax rate to its 2010 level of 18 percent.
Layton said he would use the "billions of dollars" in savings to finance a targeted tax break for companies that hire new workers. He also promised to cut the tax rate for small businesses to 9 percent from 11 percent.
"I'm going to ensure that the Canadian corporate tax rate always contributes to our competitive edge, so my plan will ensure that the combined federal-provincial corporate tax rate in Canada is always below that of the United States," he said.
The NDP has little chance of forming the next government, but it has in the past squeezed concessions out of a minority government in exchange for its support.
A new poll released on Tuesday showed the Conservative Party held a 10-point lead over the Liberals, while the NDP trailed by another 9 points.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff unveiled a plan to bolster pensions while the separatist Bloc Quebecois focused on gun control.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government was toppled in Parliament last week, has attacked the opposition for what he calls a "high tax agenda" that would kill jobs and drive away foreign investors at a time of economic fragility.
"That's why in this phase of the economic recovery, no country is proposing to raise these tax rates," he said.
The Nanos Research tracking poll of results over three days of surveys put support for the Conservatives at 38.4 percent, compared with 28.7 percent for the Liberals and 19.6 percent for the New Democrats.
That would be enough to ensure that the Conservatives remain the largest party in the Parliament, but would not give the party the majority it covets.
Additional reporting by Pav Jordan; writing by Louise Egan; editing by Janet Guttsman