Canadian political leaders clash in televised debate
Canada's embattled prime minister has clashed with three opposition leaders in the first of two televised debates, ahead of the 2 May election.Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff accused Mr Harper of deceit, saying Canadians "don't have confidence in your management of the economy".
Mr Harper said the opposition had provoked an unnecessary election at a key time for the economy.
Polls suggest the Conservatives will likely win re-election.
The election was prompted by a non-confidence vote in Canada's parliament after Mr Harper's government was criticised for failing to provide details about areas of spending, which included a budget for new fighter jets.
The Conservatives have about 40% support, according to recent poll, with the main opposition Liberal Party on about 30%.
Questions over spending But with nearly 25% of voters still undecided, correspondents say the televised debates could have an impact on the election.
Mr Harper was immediately put on the defensive by Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe over controversies surrounding G8/G20 summit spending and corporate tax cuts.
A leaked draft report on last summer's G8/G20 summit in Canada alleged the government spent millions of dollars on dubious projects and that parliament was "misled" about the spending.
End Quote Jack Layton New Democratic Party leaderThe Conservative Party is the problem here when it comes to the economy”
Shortly into the debate on Tuesday evening, Mr Duceppe called on Mr Harper to release the auditor general's report that alleged the Canadian government misled Parliament to win approval for a $50m (£32) G8 fund that put money toward questionable projects.The report, which Auditor General Sheila Fraser has said she will not release until after the new parliament is seated, suggests the process by which the funding was approved may have been illegal.
Mr Ignatieff and New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton soon jumped into the conversation, demanding answers on spending practices.
"The Conservative Party is the problem here when it comes to the economy," Mr Layton said.
Mr Layton added that Conservative corporate tax cuts contributed to "why people can't make ends meet, why so many people are still out of work".
"Your policies don't address them," he said.
Mr Ignatieff also accused Mr Harper of pushing corporate tax cuts, which he said the Liberal Party would end in order to pay for a student grants programme.
"We can invest in Canadian learning," Mr Ignatieff said.
"That's a billion-dollar investment ... you spent that in 72 hours on the G8/G20 photo-op."
It was Mr Ignatieff's first election debate since the academic, author and human rights advocate began in Canadian politics in 2006.
But despite an energetic campaign, Mr Ignatieff has made little headway in opinion polls, with his party trailing the Conservatives by 8.5 points in a Nanos Research poll released on Tuesday.
The debate was broken down into six portions, which saw two of the four leaders debating in six-minute showdowns.
Each segment began with a question from a Canadian voter, and ended with a brief free-for-all debate involving all four leaders.