NDP Leader Jack Layton slammed the Liberal Green Shift proposals Thursday saying Stéphane Dion's plan is wrong and won't work.
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.
"As you know, I have not said much about Mr. Dion in this election and that may not change," Mr. Layton told reporters at a park in downtown Montreal, adding that, in the end, Mr. Dion may not be much of a factor.
Thomas Mulcair, the NDP's lone MP in Quebec and the party's hope for an expanded presence in this province, opened Mr. Layton's morning event by pointing out that greenhouse gas emissions actually increased over the course of the Liberals' last term in office.
The New Democrats say that 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.
"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."
The Liberals also support a cap-and-trade system like the one proposed by Mr. Layton. But they say it would take years to be fully implemented - and that their carbon tax, which would be offset by income-tax cuts, will force immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Layton dismissed that argument as a "typical" Liberal excuse.
Cap-and-trade is already happening, he said, pointing out that his Montreal event was held outside the Montreal Climate Exchange where carbon credits are being traded.
"The forcing of big polluters to pay, taking that money and investing it in solutions which is the cap-and-trade system, has already happened. It's already going on in Canada on a voluntary basis," said Mr. Layton.
"There is no reason why it has to be slow in implementation. In fact, the provinces are already implementing the program. So are states. And the provincial premiers and leaders have called out for the federal government to step in and implement a cap-and-trade system on a pan Canadian basis."
Cap and trade will put a tougher price polluters and carbon "faster and more efficiently" than any other proposals that have been put forward by any other party, he said.
As for the Liberal plan, said Mr. Layton, it doesn't set a target for reducing emissions. "Unfortunately it doesn't force the big polluters to pay. And perhaps most unfortunately, it doesn't take any of that money and put it into the investments in the solutions that people need," said Mr. Layton, citing public transit as one of those requirements.
Later, Mr. Layton criticized Mr. Harper's decision to link the carbon-tax issue to national unity.
"I think it's very unfortunate that we are seeing the Prime Minister trying to drive wedges just at the time when the conversation between Quebeckers and the rest of Canada is turning into a positive conversation about what we can do," said Mr. Layton during an afternoon campaign stop in the Westmount suburb of Montreal.
"I find it very unfortunate that he's chosen to try to drive these kinds of wedges once again. Of course, it's not a first for Mr. Harper. We all know what he used to say about firewalls."