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Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion warned New Brunswickers on Thursday that the international community will punish economies that don't shift toward greener policies and cleaner fuels.

Mr. Dion, whose Green Shift carbon-tax plan has met with tepid support in Atlantic Canada, raised the spectre of foreign tariffs on Canadian energy exports if this country doesn't clean up its act.

"The world will not be nice for the free-riders of climate change," Mr. Dion told Liberal partisans at a morning pancake breakfast. "The world will not be nice for the kind of leader we have today."

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But Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton were peddling different warnings: that the Liberal plan will plunge the nation into a recession and undermine national unity, while costing consumers money.

Speaking to a Montreal business crowd, Mr. Harper launched his harshest attack on the Liberal policy, saying it would concentrate money and power in Ottawa.

"I tell you that this new tax on carbon is going to destroy all that our government has built in the last two and a half years," the Conservative Leader said.

But it turns out that the Conservative research underpinning Mr. Harper's forecast of a carbon tax-induced recession isn't all that recent.

While the Liberals' proposed income tax cuts might spur economic growth, the Conservative leader also said he is not taking these into account because he doesn't believe Mr. Dion will enact them.

The Tory leader wasn't able to cite a study that specifically modelled the impact of the Liberal Green Shift plan, which Mr. Dion only unveiled this summer. Instead, he said, the Conservatives are taking their cue from a April 2007 study prepared for their government - and released by Environment Minister John Baird at the time - that calculated the impact of cutting greenhouse gases under Bill C-288. This legislation was a private member's bill the Liberals had championed as a way to meet the country's commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the 1997 Kyoto accord.

"That modelling demonstrated very clearly that such policies would cause a big recession in this country - a recession equivalent to the recession of the early 1980s," Mr. Harper told reporters.

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Mr. Dion punched back at Mr. Harper, saying he doesn't have to take any lessons in national unity from the Conservative leader.

He said too that he didn't believe Mr. Harper "understands Canada."

Meanwhile NDP Leader Jack Layton slammed the Liberal Green Shift proposals while speaking with reporters in downtown Montreal.

It was the first time in the days-old campaign that Mr. Layton has taken direct aim at Mr. Dion, and it marked the beginning of what promises to be a pitched battle for the right to wear the environmental crown.

The NDP says the carbon tax being proposed by Mr. Dion will hurt consumers, will be nothing more than a nuisance for energy producers, and evaluates emission equally across all sectors instead of maximizing reductions where the cost is lowest.

Mr. Layton instead proposes a cap-and-trade system that forces polluters to pay for emissions that exceed hard caps - and gives that money to companies whose emissions fall below the set targets.

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"Unlike Mr. Dion's carbon tax, our plan puts absolute limits on pollution," said Mr. Layton.

The NDP proposal would require an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A plan to increase jobs in sectors that improve the environment is included in the NDP proposals as is an additional $1-billion for home retrofits and public transit.

"It's a bold plan, it's a prudent plan, its what we need to do," said Mr. Layton. "We are already way behind schedule."

Mr. Dion's message was part of a wider effort to undermine Tory economic stewardship, which he says has left Canada in its worst position since the early 1990s - when Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney was prime minister.

He cited Canadian growth numbers that trail the rest of the G8 in 2008, and said productivity has fallen for nine consecutive months for the first time since 1990.

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It took the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin to fix the country's deficit problems after Mulroney, Mr. Dion told the crowd.

"We'll do the same now with Stephen Harper and his mess," said Mr. Dion, drawing a standing ovation from the 200-plus seated in the Lilly Lake Pavillion.

Mr. Harper will head to a rally in Saint-Eustache, Que., later Thursday, where it is believed he will introduce a candidate who is a long-time Action Démocratique Québec member.

Mr. Dion will talk to a local Board of Trade luncheon before stopping in Thunder Bay, Ont., while en route to Vancouver.

NDP Leader Jack Layton makes an early policy announcement with Quebec candidates in Montreal, where he'll spend most of the day.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe is on familiar turf in Huntingdon and Valleyfield, Que., this morning, and Green Leader Elizabeth May - fresh from landing a spot in the leaders' debates - campaigns in the Antigonish, N.S., area.



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