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Justin Trudeau and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde take part in a joint news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 13, 2016.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Candidates vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party took aim at the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday, saying its endorsement of the Trudeau government's "left-wing ideology" will only kill jobs and plunge the country further into debt.

Leadership candidate Tony Clement went so far as to accuse Christine Lagarde, the head of the respected international body, of "spouting left-wing ideology" when she praised the fiscal policies of the federal government a day earlier in Ottawa.

"I don't care if it's the Queen of Sheba — if you're advancing theories based on left-wing ideology that means more tax and more spend, it will not create jobs," he said on the last day of the Conservative caucus retreat in Halifax.

"We're not going to fall down the same cliff again just because some expert from outta town has said it's ok."

Lagarde met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday and gave her stamp of approval to his economic initiatives, adding that she hoped they would "go viral" and spread to the European Union.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose downplayed the endorsement, saying the IMF had praised the policies of the Tory government under Stephen Harper during the global recession.

Instead, Ambrose said the party is paying closer attention to domestic indicators and the opinions of the Bank of Canada, the Conference Board of Canada and ordinary Canadians who are struggling with unemployment and increasing debt.

"These are people who are out of a job, these are people that are worried about their paycheques," she said at the close of the two-day retreat.

"Things are quite grim in a lot of parts of our country right now."

The IMF's support of Ottawa's "growth strategy" could serve to weaken the Conservatives' criticism of Trudeau's economic policies, sure to be one of its main targets when it heads back to Parliament on Monday.

But Conservative finance critic Lisa Raitt said that while it's nice to have Lagarde's approval, both she and Trudeau failed to explain how the federal Liberal government will pay for its spending.

"My fault in what she said is it's one thing to say it's ok to spend, it's another thing to tell us how we're supposed to pay it all back," she said.

"This government has shown us nothing on how they're going to pay it back."

Leadership contender Maxime Bernier said it was a wrong-headed policy at a time of flagging growth in Canada, and that billions in federal spending has done little to spur economic recovery.

"The reality is that after nearly a year you don't have any growth in Canada," he said.

"We need growth of four per cent and the way to do that is with less government and more private investment."

The MPs made the comments as they wrapped up summer meetings that were dominated by discussions over immigration, electoral reform, party unity and the nascent leadership contest.

Much of the debate in the hallways of the Halifax hotel centred on controversial remarks by leadership Ontario MP and candidate Kellie Leitch, who has proposed screening newcomers for "anti-Canadian values" as a way to assess their views on issues like gender equality.

The proposal has already caused dissension between some declared candidates, with Michael Chong calling it "unworkable nonsense" and Deepak Obhrai saying it is "anti-immigrant."

Caucus members also looked at ways to make a comeback in Atlantic Canada, a region that shut out the party in all 32 ridings in the last federal election. They met with the Conservative leaders from the four Atlantic provinces, adding that they chose Halifax as the site of their retreat in a bid to reassert their presence.

"We are here, we get it, we know we have work to do but we want to earn back your vote," Ambrose said. "We want you to think of us when the time comes on election day in 2019."