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Layton's death alters political landscape for Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures from the cockpit of a Douglas DC-3 aircraft in Yellowknife, Aug. 25, 2011.

Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters

First he was released from the constraints of a minority government, and now Stephen Harper is returning to a House of Commons where both opposition parties are run by interim leaders and are likely to be preoccupied by their own internal turmoil.

But the Prime Minister said on Thursday that his party is prepared to govern for all of the people of Canada, even if the normal counterweight on the opposing benches has been lightened this week by the loss of NDP Leader Jack Layton.

"The opposition parties collectively still have a lot of seats. They cannot be ignored," Mr. Harper said in the capital of the Northwest Territories, the third stop on his annual summer tour.

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"While the government ultimately has the votes to pass its measures, the fact of the matter is that the opposition has plenty of tools to delay passage of government measures," he said.

That means some compromise may be necessary, and the government may have to set a list of priorities that it is determined to push through Parliament in the short term, Mr. Harper said.

But as he prepares to govern with a majority for the first time, the Prime Minister has what would seem to be an advantageous political playing field.

Mr. Layton is gone, replaced temporarily by Nycole Turmel, who has been under attack for her past ties to separatist parties. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and almost all of his party members were defeated in the May election. And the Liberals, who have been reduced to a mere 34 seats, are consumed with rebuilding their brand.

In the end, Mr. Harper's biggest foe may be the economy.

Canada has weathered the latest downturn better than most other western economies. But the poor economic times that have beset other countries are expected to take their toll here eventually. Economists predict Canada's second quarter GDP will show a slight contraction when the data are released next week.

And even Mr. Harper admits that recovery in this country will depend, in large part, on the fragile global situation.

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His government will have to decide if more stimulus is required even as Canada tries to dig itself out of a deficit created by the recession of two years ago. None of that will be easy. Even without full-time leaders, the opposition parties can be expected to rip at any holes they find in the government's financial performance.

"I expect all of the opposition parties to be vigorous in putting forth their points of view," said Mr. Harper. "I also expect them individually to lobby the government and express their concerns about whatever the priorities may be in their individual ridings."

The Prime Minister said he will do his best to listen to the concerns of opposition MPs "and to try to accommodate them when we believe they're making requests that are in the best interests of the country."

And, as for the 60 per cent of Canadians who did not vote for his party, Mr. Harper said "the government is prepared to adapt and to listen to the Canadian population when necessary."

That is how the Conservatives have been elected three times, he said.

So "the government will listen," Mr. Harper said, " but, in the end, the government will make decisions it believes are in the best interests of the country and it will be answerable to Parliament and the Canadian people for those decisions."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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