March 10, 2011 / 8:52 PM / in 7 years

Canada PM accepts reprimand, stresses "big issues"

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 9 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday that he accepted his government’s formal reprimand from the speaker of the House of Commons, but urged his opponents to focus on what he called the “big issues” like the economy.

As election speculation builds in Ottawa, the speaker issued two rulings against the minority Conservative government on Wednesday for breaking parliamentary rules.

The rulings are a victory for the opposition Liberals, who many political observers think will be emboldened to bring down the government over a series of ethical and spending issues and force an election.

In his first remarks since the ruling, Harper tried to deflect the criticism, repeatedly stressing the government’s focus was on “big issues like the economy and creating jobs.”

“It’s all part of the democratic system and keeping the government accountable, and we accept that,” Harper told reporters in Toronto.

“You win some, you lose some ... but our focus can’t become on parliamentary procedure. Our focus has to be on the big interest of Canadians, and in my judgment that is the economy,” he said.

The government is scheduled to present its budget on March 22, an opportunity for the three opposition parties to unite to defeat the Conservatives. There is also an chance they might even try to topple the government through a nonconfidence motion on March 21.

Harper said he thought opposition parties would “see every reason to support” the budget initiatives.

Conservative legislators also sounded conciliatory on Thursday, promising to respect the ruling of speaker Peter Milliken.

Milliken ruled the Conservatives had ignored Parliament’s demand to produce financial documents and that International Aid Minister Bev Oda may have misled legislators over why she cut funding for an aid group the government disliked.

“Let me assure you that we will make every effort to comply with your ruling,” Conservative House leader John Baird said.

Reporting by Claire Sibonney; writing by Louise Egan

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