New Canadian government to focus on economy

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to the media after meeting with members of the C.D. Howe Institute Monetary Policy Council Toronto, November 6, 2008. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s Conservative government, which won re-election last month, plans to focus on the economy and avoid battles with opposition parties over its justice policies, a senior aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday.

Harper is sounding increasingly gloomy about the economy and looks set to break a campaign vow to maintain Canada’s budget surplus over the next four years.

“Our focus and our priorities will be on the economy,” the aide told reporters at a briefing.

He also said the Conservatives and the official opposition Liberals agreed that now was not the time to raise business taxes. Harper spoke with Liberal leader Stephane Dion earlier in the day.

The Conservatives only have a minority of seats in the House of Commons and need the support of at least one other party to govern.

During the election campaign, Harper accused his opponents of blocking much of his draft justice legislation and said he was prepared to make some bills a matter of confidence, threatening an election if the measures were defeated.

Now that the financial crisis is taking hold, Harper’s antagonistic tone seems to have disappeared.

“We are not seeking confrontation on areas that are secondary to the economic focus of the government,” the aide said.

Opposition legislators are unhappy with proposed laws that would impose tougher penalties for young offenders and restrict the use of conditional sentences.

Reporting by Randall Palmer, writing by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson