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Canadian Conservative [political party] leader Stephen Harper reportedly slammed as irresponsible a Liberal government pledge, made during the election campaign, to help the car industry, but said he would honour the commitment if his party forms the next government.

“They don’t have the moral authority to sign big contracts with a lot of taxpayers’ money just before an election that they’re going to lose,” Harper told Reuters after visiting Canada’s motor industry capital of Windsor, just across the river from Detroit. He added: “It’s completely irresponsible.”

The government in Ottawa reportedly said on Monday it would offer $C100 million ($US73 million) to help Ford of Canada proceed with a plan to refurbish its Oakville, Ontario, assembly plant.

Reuters noted that the federal money, which matches Ontario’s provincial commitment to Ford, is part of a $C1 billion, five-year programme of government support for manufacturing industries.

On Wednesday night Harper reportedly told a rally of 500 in Windsor: “We’ll honour all contracts that have been signed and money that’s been committed by the government.”

The next day, he added, according to Reuters, that he would ask the federal auditor-general to examine whether various corporate subsidy programmes were delivering value for money.

“It’s not a question of saying we’ll automatically eliminate them,” Harper told Reuters, adding that Canada has received a direct return of only 1% on investments under the Technology Partnerships programme.

Harper – whose Conservatives are just ahead of the ruling Liberals in recent opinion polls heading into the June 28 election – reportedly said his goal would be to move away from specific subsidies to industry and counterbalance that with broad corporate tax cuts.

“Listen carefully to what I say. It doesn’t matter how many millions or hundreds of millions of dollars a Liberal-NDP coalition will be willing to give to the auto industry to win the election,” he told the Windsor rally, according to the report. “Their reckless use of taxpayers’ dollars will make us less competitive. Their anti-American rhetoric will jeopardise relations with our biggest trading partner.”

Reuters said that motor industry watchers have expressed concern that Ontario, home to Canada’s automotive sector, the country’s largest industry, has lost new investment to Mexico and the southern United States, which heavily subsidise auto-sector development.