Tories get set but say won't induce election

Mon Jan 31, 2011 1:59pm EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper put high-level election campaign staff in place on Monday, but his top spokesman said the Conservative government would do nothing to provoke an election.

The campaign appointments were made in reaction to opposition party threats to defeat the government over its budget legislation, to be presented in March, Harper communications director Dimitri Soudas told reporters.

"The prime minister or the government will not in any way, shape or form call an election or provoke an election," Soudas said.

Harper named his former chief of staff, Guy Giorno, as campaign chairman, and confirmed Jenni Byrne as campaign manager. Byrne has been serving as director of political operations for the party.

The Conservatives were reelected in October 2008 with more seats in the House of Commons but were still left in a minority government position, meaning they need the support of one of the three opposition parties to pass legislation. If their budget bill is defeated, an election will be triggered.

For the March budget, the Liberals, the biggest opposition party, and the left-leaning New Democratic Party have made a number of demands, including the repeal of corporate tax cuts, something Soudas reiterated the government would not do.

The New Democrats have made other demands, including scrapping the sales tax on home heating. Soudas said Harper was willing to listen to opposition ideas but said they must be affordable.

Monday is the first day back for the House of Commons after the Christmas break. Soudas listed as the government's top three priorities for the new sitting as jobs and growth, expanding free trade, and a tougher crackdown on crime.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway)