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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday brushed aside any suggestion he might step down in the next couple of years, saying he would seek a fourth term in the 2015 general election.
"It is interesting to read in the papers one day that I plan to retire, and the next day to read that I intend to trigger elections immediately," he said in a television interview with the French-language TVA Nouvelles.
"The reality is there are elections on a fixed date in 2015. I intend to lead my party (into the next election), which is the only party which has serious policy on the number one priority of the population, which is the economy."
Only four of Canada's 22 prime ministers, including Pierre Trudeau, father of current Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, have won more than three mandates.
The speculation of Harper's possible departure has mounted at the end a difficult year for him and his Conservative government.
It has been marked by criminal allegations extending into his office over a Senate expense scandal, and the Conservatives are polling at their lowest level since taking power in 2006, well behind the newly resurgent Liberals under Trudeau.
Harper has denied any knowledge of what police say was corruption by his then-chief of staff, who provided money from his personal funds to a Conservative senator to help pay back expenses determined to be inappropriate. The former chief of staff denies any wrongdoing.
But the affair has tarnished the reputation of Harper, who came to power pledging accountability and avoiding even the appearance of evil after Liberal wrongdoing. The Senate expense scandal overshadowed his government's biggest accomplishment of the year, a major trade deal with the European Union.
Asked if he would use the Christmas holidays to reflect on his political future, Harper said flatly, "No."
"My intention for this period is to determine the next steps for the government... We have finished the most productive year of any since we took power. I hope 2014 will be like that," he said.
"There are a lot of challenges. There are a lot of opportunities for Canada but also a lot of threats, a lot of challenges, and we must ensure a prosperous future for our children."
Harper said the government was in the process of making fundamental economic changes, for example, launching Canada's biggest infrastructure plan, and transforming immigration as well as research and development to better serve economic needs.
Reporting by Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Dan Grebler