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Good luck getting Harper to listen to Canadians, Liberals say Add to ...

Stephen Harper wants to hear from ordinary Canadians about what should be in next year's budget. And Scott Brison is having trouble imagining that.

The Prime Minister has ordered his cabinet ministers and MPs to fan out across the country, talk to Canadians about what they want in fiscal document - then he will listen to what they have to say.

For Mr. Brison, the Liberal finance critic, the name Stephen Harper is not exactly synonymous with public engagement or, for that matter, listening.

Monday, it was revealed that the Tories are embarking on a national listening tour in advance of the 2011 budget - a budget that promises to be tough as the Tories cope with a fragile recovery from the recession amid promises to slash the deficit.

"I think the chances of a prime minister, who doesn't listen to his own cabinet, listening to ordinary Canadians seems pretty remote," says Mr. Brison. "Stephen Harper is more interested in photo-ops than in genuine engagement."

The knock against Mr. Harper is that he cannot walk out of his office without a script. Strong on photo ops, he has been weak on taking questions from reporters or regular Canadians.

The Liberals have made much of this, sending Leader Michael Ignatieff out on the road over the summer with only two rules, _ no tie and no script.

"Any level of public engagement from Stephen Harper is a bit of a news story," says Mr. Brison. "This guy does not do unscripted well. I'd like to see Harper take off-the-cuff, unscripted questions from the general public."

There is some speculation that the Liberals will not support the upcoming budget, creating the possibility of a spring election.

But it takes all three opposition parties to defeat the Harper minority government.

And Mr. Brison says it's premature to speculate, given that the Liberals have no idea what will be in the document.

"Hope springs eternal," he says. "Maybe there will be something that will generally reflect the priorities of Canadians."

And those would be Liberal priorities, he suggests - homecare relief, pension relief, reversal of corporate tax cuts and putting the $16-billion stealth-fighter deal out to tender.

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