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Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives a thumbs up as he leaves a news conference in Calgary, Alberta May 3, 2011. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives a thumbs up as he leaves a news conference in Calgary, Alberta May 3, 2011. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Conservatives

Majority man: Harper gets more ambitious, relaxed and mainstream Add to ...

His majority mandate in hand, Stephen Harper is preparing to recall Parliament within weeks and keep the Commons sitting until the 2011 budget is approved - setting the stage for a whirlwind session that will cram a lot into a short time frame as summer looms.

He has to fill holes in a postelection cabinet shuffle, draft a Speech from the Throne and table one of the Conservatives' legislative priorities: an omnibus crime bill containing a far-reaching rewrite of justice laws to fulfill their tough-on-crime agenda.

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Speaking to reporters in the afterglow of his majority win - the first for a conservative party since 1988 - the Prime Minister revealed a very different Stephen Harper: jovial and visibly relaxed - and one anxious to position the Tories as a mainstream government that would rule closer to the centre.

He promised Canadians there would be no surprises or radical measures from the Tories.

"One thing I've learned in this business is that surprises are generally not well-received by the public, and so we intend to move forward with what Canadians understand about us and I think what they're more and more comfortable with," he told a press conference in Calgary.

He even cracked a self-deprecating joke, recalling how after the election-night victory, jubilant staff convinced him, almost a teetotaller, to drink a gulp of champagne straight from the bottle.

"So much for my wild side," he quipped.

Even as he tried to explain his victory, including why he thought the Conservatives finally made key breakthroughs in the heart of Toronto, Mr. Harper addressed the big setback for the Tories: the erosion of support in Quebec.

He sounded a conciliatory note to Quebeckers, promising to reach out to the province where the party lost five seats, including three sitting cabinet ministers.

"That's the decision of the voters and we accept it. We accept we have a lot more work to do to gain the true confidence of Quebeckers," the Tory Leader said.

Mr. Harper lost four cabinet ministers in the May 2 election and his first order of business will be filling vacancies left by defeated MPs including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. "You can't go without a foreign affairs minister for too long," one senior Tory said. Also needing to be replaced are Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner, Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Minister of State for Sport Gary Lunn.

The omnibus crime bill is Item No. 2 on the legislative agenda.

It will be a bundle of 11 pieces of law-and-order legislation the Conservatives had failed to enact during their tenure as a minority government, wrapped into one bill that they'd promised during the campaign to pass within 100 days of taking power.

Officials Tuesday clarified the timing, saying the pledge, more precisely, was 100 sitting days in the Commons. This means it could take until the fall for the crime bill to make it into law.

Measures would include an end to house arrest for serious and violent criminals, tougher sentences and mandatory jail time for sexual offences against children and a crackdown on the handling of violent and repeat young offenders.

Senior Tories expect a new cabinet to be announced in the next week-and-a half to two weeks, followed by a Throne Speech that opens Parliament - and replays Conservative campaign promises - as well as the 2011 budget that Mr. Harper failed to pass before his minority government was defeated March 26.

Timing could be affected by international obligations. Mr. Harper is due to attend the Group of Eight meetings with other world leaders on May 26 and May 27 in France.

The Conservatives are going to frame their return to the Commons using four broad priorities, sources say, talking about their budget's "low-tax plan for jobs and economic growth" to aid the recovery and their "low-tax plan for families," including the budget's tax cuts, such as the $300-million enhancement to the Guaranteed Annual Income Supplement for seniors, and legislation to crack down on elder abuse.

The third priority will be slaying the deficit - embarking on operational spending cuts to help reduce the deficit by 2014-15 as promised during the campaign. The fourth is the omnibus crime bill.

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

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