CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Newly reelected Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet other world leaders and put Parliament back to work quickly to hammer out ways to weather the credit crisis and keep the country’s economy competitive, he said on Wednesday.
In the wake of Tuesday’s federal election, which strengthened Harper’s minority government, other opposition leaders said they were ready to work together to tackle the fallout from global economic instability.
“The No. 1 job of the prime minister of Canada is to protect this country’s economy, our earnings, our savings, and our jobs, during a time of global economic uncertainty,” Harper told a news conference in Calgary, Alberta.
“The mandate we received allows us to continue moving forward,” he added, presenting a six-step plan to ensure Canada remains as unscathed as possible.
Harper said Ottawa would take “whatever steps are necessary to ensure that Canada’s financial system is not put at a competitive disadvantage” but gave no details.
He plans to summon Parliament later this autumn and present an economic and fiscal update before the end of November. He will meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy and senior European Union officials for talks on the crisis this Friday.
Rivals frequently accuse Harper of playing partisan politics but he was keen to shoot down suggestions he would be thinking only of his future electoral prospects.
“The last thing I want to talk about today is another election ... I don’t think the people of Canada do either. I think that’s a message that all parliamentarians will understand,” he said.
“We will always keep all our parliamentary options open but at the same time I would prefer if possible to work with the opposition parties, particularly on the question of the economy.”
Harper’s party rose to 143 seats from the 127 they held before the election, while the Liberals dropped to 76 from 95. The separatist Bloc Quebecois rose two to 50 seats, the left-of-center New Democrats jumped seven to 37 and two independents were elected.
Harper had run on providing a steady economic hand but was sideswiped by severe market volatility toward the end of his campaign as the Liberals accused him of having no plan for tackling the crisis.
On Wednesday, Harper received early and somewhat unexpected support from Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, who called for Parliament to return quickly “so we can work together to sustain and stimulate the economy”.
New Democrat leader Jack Layton said Harper should draw the right conclusion from the vote and start cooperating.
“I‘m opening the door to working with other party leaders to try to achieve real results, particularly around issues like the economy,” he told reporters in Toronto.
Liberal leader Stephane Dion had no plans to talk to the media. The Liberals, who recorded their worst electoral showing in terms of seats since 1984 and their lowest percentage of the vote since the 1860s, are likely to start looking for a replacement for Dion.
Some critics asked why Harper had not managed to win a majority of seats, given that Dion ran a poor campaign based on the promise to introduce a carbon tax to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“The fact that Mr. Harper was restricted to another minority government, albeit a marginally stronger one, means that this campaign can only be viewed as a personal defeat,” said an editorial in the influential Globe and Mail newspaper, which had endorsed Harper before the vote.
In percentage terms, the Conservatives won about 37 percent of the vote against 27 percent for the Liberals. Voter turnout was a record low 59.1 percent.
Additional reporting by Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway