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Visiting Quebec, Layton rips into oil sands Add to ...

Jack Layton is taking aim at the oil patch, recycling a long-time party message in a plant that recycles computers.

The New Democratic Party Leader said Thursday he would cut federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Mr. Layton calculates that these subsidies amount to about $2-billion a year.

“Under Stephen Harper, every single Quebecker is sending roughly $75 a year to subsidize dirty fossil fuel producers,” Mr. Layton said at Insertech Angus, a company that trains underemployed young people to rebuild computers from cast-off parts.

“The result of this subsidy is an increase in the greenhouse gases pumped out in Canada and a competitive disadvantage for businesses looking to build clean solutions and the new energy economy,” Mr. Layton said.

The subsidies lower the cost of production and boost profits for the fuel industry but puts green energy projects at a disadvantage, he said.

If the NDP were elected to form government, Mr. Layton said, it would redirect that money to renewable energy like solar, wind, tidal and geothermal sources. It would also establish a training fund for jobs in the so-called green energy economy.

The Conservatives promised to phase out some of the subsidies to the oil sands in the 2007 budget and said in the budget that was defeated last week that tey would make additional reductions.

But Mr. Layton said the cuts to subsidies announced by the Conservatives amount to about 1 per cent of the total subsidization given to the big oil companies.

It's not a new message for the New Democratic chief. Cutting Ottawa's assistance to the oil industry has been a mantra of the NDP for many years.

But it is one that plays well in Quebec, which has been a national leader on the environmental file.

When Mr. Layton's campaign touched down in Edmonton on the first day of this campaign, the reference to oil subsidies had been carefully excised from his speech.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach noted that omission when he fired back at Mr. Layton later Thursday, calling the NDP Leader's comments “disturbing.”

“Here we have a campaign that’s driving a wedge between provinces, and that’s not a quality for a prime minister - not, certainly, one I would vote for,” Mr. Stelmach told The Globe and Mail. Had Mr. Layton made the same comments in Alberta, “he would have gotten an earful before he’d left, definitely from me.”

The Premier noted the recent federal budget, which Mr. Layton opposed and in doing so triggered the election, cut some federal tax incentives in the oil sands, a move Alberta opposed at the time.

“It’s funny that Mr. Layton didn’t vote for the budget, because those tax incentives were going to be eliminated,” Mr. Stelmach said, adding: “The contribution of the [oil sands] economic growth pays for social programs in the country, in every province, especially in Mr. Layton’s riding as well.”

Thursday marked Mr. Layton's first trip to Quebec since the start of the campaign but it won't be his last.

Ever since Thomas Mulcair established a beachhead for the party in a 2007 by-election in the Montreal riding of Outremont, the New Democrats have been making a serious play for additional support in this province where Mr. Layton grew up.

The party has been polling in the high 20s in recent public opinion surveys and has sometimes been shown to be running in second place behind the Bloc Québécois.

But a new Nanos poll suggests support across the province dropped from 17.8 per cent to 13.5 percent, possibly as federalist voters bent on preventing a Conservative majority move strategic votes to the Liberals.

With a report from Josh Wingrove in Edmonton

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