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Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a surprise press conference Wednesday to warn opposition parties that he doesn't want an election but will give them ample opportunities to defeat him in the months ahead.

Mr. Harper's comments make it appear that the Conservatives are itching for the opposition parties to defeat his government and trigger an election.

He made it clear the he wouldn't be satisfying all their demands to change his political agenda - which will be outlined in the Oct. 16 Throne Speech.

While insisting he doesn't want an election, the prime minister said that if opposition parties vote in favour of his throne speech he will consider all future votes on priorities listed in it to be confidence votes as well.

"We're going to ask Parliament for a mandate. Once we have that mandate, we're going to consider that basically gives us the right to consider those matters confidence going forward and to get results and get things done," Mr. Harper said.

"Obviously, if we don't get approval, the opposition will force an election. That's not my preferred course of action, but if they force that, we'll be ready for it.

"It's not a matter of threats, they have to fish or cut bait."

Separately, Mr. Harper denied reports that he is preparing to replace Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier as top military commander when his three-year term expires in February.

Mr. Harper said last month's Quebec by-elections didn't give opposition parties the license to make demands in exchange for not defeating him.

"I wouldn't have predicted the results of those by-elections would be a message to Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Dion to make non-negotiable demands and otherwise demand a general election," he said. "That would not be my interpretation of the by-elections."

Both the Bloc and the Liberals lost a seat in September by-elections in Quebec.

Mr. Harper, who does not entertain a warm relationship with the press, cited "pent up demand" for a press conference as the reason he held one. Wednesday's move was the first time the Conservative Prime Minister has appeared in the National Press Theatre to talk to journalists since he was elected to office.

He said he has already set October 2009 as the date of the next federal election - through a bill passed in spring - and wants to govern until then.

"The government is not seeking an election through the Throne Speech. We will be seeking to govern," he said.

He said that Canada is entering a prolonged period of minority federal governments, a repeat of a message he has been putting out for weeks.

"The math for somebody to win a majority is not very easy," he said.

The media gathering comes as the Conservative campaign team accelerates plans for a possible fall election.

One Ottawa source compared the Prime Minister's Office to the bridge of the fictional Enterprise spaceship on the TV show Star Trek, saying the Tories have been on "red alert" since Monday.

Senior Conservatives have said in recent days that they can't believe Mr. Dion is even considering defeating the government over the Throne Speech.

The stars, the Tories believe, are lining up in their favour should the opposition parties defeat them. Many are welcoming it in a way they weren't last spring. The Liberals, they believe, are in deep confusion with a leader whose judgment is in question; the Bloc Québécois is reeling from significant by-election losses; and the Tories are fresh off a big win in those same Quebec by-elections.

The Harper government needs the backing of at least one opposition party to stay in power, but seemingly impossible Throne Speech demands by both the NDP and the Bloc suggest those two are unwilling to play that role.

This puts the pressure on the Liberals to decide whether to bring down the Conservatives or let them stay in power.

NDP Leader Jack Layton, who has already said he would be hard-pressed to support the Throne Speech, wants Canadian combat troops withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe has set out five "non-negotiable" conditions for the Bloc to support the Throne Speech, including eliminating all federal spending powers in provincial jurisdictions and complying with the Kyoto Protocol's tough greenhouse-gas-emission reduction targets.

Liberal demands include an early 2009 exit date from Afghanistan, a reintroduction of clean-air legislation that died in the last session of Parliament, and a plan to combat poverty.

Mr. Harper said he's not planning to oust Gen. Hillier in late winter as reported, adding there is no fixed term for the post.

"The only thing true in these stories that I have seen today is that the prime minister does in fact appoint and designate the … chief of the defence staff," Mr. Harper said.

He said there's been no discussion in his office, or with him or any senior officials, about possiblty of changing Mr. Hillier.

"I think he is an outstanding solider who is bringing strong leadership to the Canadian forces."

CTV reported that the Tory government plans to replace Gen. Hillier.

Quoting Conservative insiders, CTV said the charismatic Gen. Hillier has irked the government by outshining his political masters and undermining former defence minister Gordon O'Connor.