Harper calls for crisis talks with premiers

Wed Dec 3, 2008 5:24pm EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper invited provincial premiers to a meeting on January 16 to respond to the global economic crisis, his office said on Wednesday.

"A critical objective of this meeting will be to identify issues related to accelerating infrastructure investments, strengthening financial market regulation, improving competitiveness and ensuring labor market preparedness and flexibility where immediate government actions will make positive economic impacts," Harper's office said in a statement.

Federal and provincial finance ministers will meet on December 16 and federal Transport Minister John Baird will work with provinces prior to January 16 to identify specific infrastructure projects in each region that would help stimulate the economy "during the next two construction seasons," the office said.

The invitation comes as the minority Conservative government fights for survival, with opposition parties uniting in a bid to defeat it at the first opportunity, which could come before January 16.

Harper is expected to request a temporary shutdown of Parliament ahead of a confidence vote scheduled for Monday and is set to deliver a television address to the country at 7 p.m. (2400 GMT) on Wednesday.

The opposition has accused the government of failing to seriously consider a fiscal stimulus package to help the country recover quickly from the economic down.

Fast-tracking infrastructure projects that were planned anyway is so far the only item certain to be in the government's stimulus plan.

But the construction seasons in Canada are short and most analysts are skeptical much can be done until mid-2009.

Harper last met with the premiers on November 10.

(Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson)

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a statement in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 28, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>