Canada's Flaherty warms to opposition on budget
By Nick Edwards
PARIS (Reuters) - Canada's finance minister said on Saturday he could juggle spending in his next budget to accommodate any worthwhile opposition demands, a strong signal that a snap election may be averted.
Flaherty said some of the opposition's demands fit with the minority Conservative government's plan to help low-income Canadians. His remarks came the day after the leader of the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP) made four proposals with similar aims.
The minority government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs the support of at least one opposition party to pass key legislation like the budget and stay in power. If the budget is defeated in Parliament, it would automatically trigger an election.
"I shouldn't get into specifics but we made it clear we do want to take some measures to help people with the most need and I think there are suggestions from some of the opposition parties that would meet that criteria," Flaherty told Reuters Insider television in an interview in Paris.
Flaherty will deliver his budget in March and the two biggest opposition parties -- the Liberals and the separatist Bloc Quebecois -- are seen as unlikely to support it.
But NDP leader Jack Layton met with Harper on Friday and made four requests: taking the federal sales tax off home heating bills; boosting pension payments for low-income seniors; strengthening the Canada Pension Plan; and taking action to help Canadians who do not have a family doctor.
"We listen, we do make compromises and if they want a huge new spending program, no we won't do that. But if they have more modest suggestions there will be some reallocation of spending priorities in the budget and we can talk," he said.
Conservative sources have said it was likely the government would be able to sweeten pensions for poor seniors. Harper insists he does not want an election. Likewise, the NDP is trailing in the polls and Layton has been recovering from cancer and now has a fractured hip.
(Reporting by Nick Edwards; Writing by Louise Egan; editing by Patrick Graham)
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