VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Monday he is not “horse trading” with opposition parties over the budget, but that does not mean he is trying to force an election this spring.
Harper’s minority Conservative government will need the support of at lease one opposition party to win approval for the budget it is expected to unveil in March. If the measure is defeated it would require an election be called.
Harper met on Friday with New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, whose party is on the left of the political spectrum but is still seen as the party mostly likely to support the budget if some of its proposals are included.
“We listen to the views of other parties, whether we agree with them or not, but we do not engage in horse trading or negotiations over the budget,” Harper told reporters in Vancouver.
He said neither he nor the Canadian public want a spring election, and that the Conservative’s main budget priority was strengthening the economy, and he offered a potential olive branch to the other parties.
Both the New Democrats and the main opposition Liberals are against corporate tax cuts that are expected to be included in the budget. But Layton has said that will not be the only factor in his party’s decision.
“I‘m quite confident that any member of Parliament who puts the best interest the Canadian economy before all else will find good reason to support the economy,” Harper said.
The New Democrats have said they would like to see the budget include an elimination of the federal sales tax on home heating fuel, a boost in pension payments to low-income seniors and strengthening of the Canada Pension Plan.
Harper’s visit to the Pacific coast came as a poll on Monday showed the Conservatives may be benefiting from campaign-style attack advertisements they have been running against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
The Conservatives have 39.7 percent voter support compared to 26.6 percent for the Liberals, 18.9 percent for the New Democrats and 9.9 percent for the Bloc Quebecois, according to the Nanos poll.
Pollsters say a party normally has to have the support of at least 40 percent of the voters to win a majority government.
The Conservatives under Harper won a minority government in January 2008 and retained it in October 2008.
The Nanos poll said 34.5 percent of voters surveyed though Harper would make the best Prime Minister, compared to 14.3 percent for Layton and 13.6 percent for Ignatieff, whose support has dropped since the advertisements began running.
Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Christopher Wilson