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NDP Leader Jack Layton serves a coffee at a Tim Hortons in Welland, Ont., on April 19, 2011. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Jack Layton serves a coffee at a Tim Hortons in Welland, Ont., on April 19, 2011. (Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Layton blames Harper for Ontario factory shutdowns Add to ...

Jack Layton paid a visit to a recession-ravaged manufacturing city in the Niagara Peninsula - one where he is fighting hard to keep an NDP seat from falling to the Conservatives - to poke holes in Stephen Harper's boasts that his government has been a solid steward of the economy.

The NDP Leader pointed to the plant closures in Welland, and throughout Southwestern Ontario, as proof that Mr. Harper could have done more to keep Canadians employed through the recent economic downturn and into the future.

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"This is a region where tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. Welland is he centre of the problem. We can see this problem wherever you go in the region," Mr. Layton said.

"Where, a few months ago or a few years ago, you had huge plants that had thousands of well-paid jobs but these doors have closed. This is the centre of the economic disaster caused by Stephen Harper."

Nearly 150 employees lost their jobs when the CanGro canning plan in St. David's, near Welland, closed its doors after more than a century of operation because Kraft Canada determined that it is cheaper to can fruit in China. A CanGro plant in Exeter near London was closed at the same time.

And the Bick's Pickle in Dunnville, Ont., will shut down later this year, ending 240 jobs, because its owner, the J.M. Smucker Co. of Orrville, Ohio, decided to move the operation to the United States.

These factories are being "shut down because of a foreign takeover approved by the Harper government," Mr. Layton said. "This is irresponsible economic policy."

NDP incumbent Malcolm Allen is in a tough battle with Conservative candidate Leanna Villella and John Maloney, a former Liberal MP, in Welland. Mr. Harper has already been through the riding during the campaign and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff paid a visit here just before the election was called.

"When I go by those huge factories and I have been here to watch those factories being dismantled right in front of the eyes of the people here, many of whom worked there for years, and now it's asphalt with blades of grass breaking through, it's tragic, it makes me angry," Mr. Layton said. "I say to myself, where were the governments of this country to stand up for these workers and this community."

The NDP platform calls for a $4,500 tax credit that would go to employers for every new job created. But they would roll back corporate tax cuts offered by the Conservatives.

When reporters asked what he was doing to keep the large companies that are still employing people in Welland from leaving, Mr. Layton pointed to the tax credits, and also to write-offs that he would provide for plant equipment.

"What we won't do it give tax reductions to big, profitable companies that are simply going to ship the jobs elsewhere," he said.

But, when it was pointed out that employers have been know to create jobs to take incentives and then layoff the workers when the incentives end, Mr. Layton seemed lost for a response. The long-term strategy would be to invest in education and training that keep jobs in Canada, he said. The tax credit, he said, is a "short-term strategy to get people back to work."

Mr. Layton has spent much time in Quebec and British Columbia in this election but only a few days in Ontario. Reporters asked if voters might ask why he has not focused more of his attention on Canada's largest province.

"Well actually, we have been in Ontario a fair bit and you can only be in one place at a time. We're a party that's opposed to cloning," he quipped.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, meanwhile, said in a radio interview Tuesday morning that Mr. Layton has as much chance of forming the federal government as the Natural Law Party, which promoted transcendental meditation and what it called "yogic flying," a form of levitation.

"Well, the only levitation you see in Quebec right now," Mr. Layton countered, "is the levitation of the numbers of the NDP."

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