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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Conservative government, which came close to being toppled by opposition parties this month, said on Thursday it sees more scope for cooperation with new Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Ignatieff on Wednesday to congratulate him on his appointment as leader of the biggest opposition party and also to open the door to talks ahead of the January 27 federal budget.
"The prime minister indicated his willingness to meet with Mr. Ignatieff at any time," a top Harper aide said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.
"We are optimistic that there can be constructive dialogue with the new leader of the opposition... Liberals are taking a less strident line than they were a while ago."
Ignatieff threatened on Wednesday to vote against the government's next budget if it did not reflect the needs of Canadians, but he also said he was hopeful the country could find a way to move forward.
This week Ignatieff replaced Stephane Dion, who led the Liberals to a crushing defeat in the October 14 election and who also negotiated an agreement with the other two opposition parties to try to topple Harper and install a coalition government. Ignatieff says he will not necessarily proceed with this option.
The Harper aide also said the prime minister plans to appoint 18 people before Christmas to fill vacancies in the Senate, Parliament's upper chamber, whose members are appointed to serve until age 75.
Harper had campaigned on replacing the unelected body with senators who would be elected in each province and then be appointed by the government. But the aide said the Liberals in the Senate had blocked reform of the institution so the prime minister felt he had no choice but to appoint senators with a commitment to Senate reform.
The Conservatives now have 20 members of the 105-seat chamber and will still not have a majority if they get 18 more. There are 58 Liberals and nine others who are either independent or in other small groupings.