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Harper, Flaherty in B.C. to woo voters ahead of Jan. 27 federal budget

SURREY, B.C. - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his finance minister came to B.C. on Monday to show voters their government is working hard to manage the country's troubled economy.

SURREY, B.C. - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his finance minister came to B.C. on Monday to show voters their government is working hard to manage the country's troubled economy.

Harper didn't announce any new plans or so much as hint at what could be in the coming budget. Instead, he re-announced a $1-billion highway development.

For his part, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty held pre-budget consultations in Victoria and West Vancouver,ahead of tabling the Conservative fiscal plan on Jan. 27.

Over the next two weeks, Canadians can expect the Tories to try to build support while preparing for the possibility of defeat in Parliament.

The road project is aimed at handling increased traffic from Asia, and while it was in the works long before the economy began to sour, Harper didn't shy away from making the connection.

"As the world struggles with the effects of the global recession, we as Canadians are looking ahead, we are looking ahead in order to ensure that we are part of the great economic opportunities of the century before us," he said.

"Whatever may happen in the next couple of years, there is no doubt that many of those opportunities will be located across the Pacific."

Flaherty was vague but said the economic crisis would require an "extraordinary" approach.

He said his government was looking for ways to help the Canadian economy but he tried to separate an expected deficit from speculation that Ottawa would slash spending.

"This is not a cuts exercise; this is in fact a creative exercise," Flaherty said before his closed-door budget meeting in B.C.'s capital.

"We are in extraordinary times. It calls for some extraordinary thinking."

However, Flaherty didn't offer specifics, declining to even speculate on how large the deficit might be.

Instead, he said he expects to have a more up-to-date picture of the country's finances when he receives new economic numbers later this week.

The Jan. 27 federal budget will likely include much of what was in the government's failed fiscal update in November, which almost toppled the Conservative minority.

The November economic statement included additional credit for the business development bank, measures to help the financial and manufacturing sectors and improvements for pension management.

But the Conservatives will likely need to go further to ease the fears of Canadians and pacify the opposition as gloomy predictions about the economy become an almost-daily occurrence.

As Harper and Flaherty tried to woo the westernmost province, there was more bad news from the Bank of Canada.

The bank released new surveys that indicate the country's business community has become increasingly pessimistic about what lies ahead as companies brace for slower sales, shrinking prices and disappearing jobs.

Statistics Canada reported last week that 34,400 jobs disappeared in December as the unemployment rate continued to climb to 6.6 per cent.

Many economists expect Canada to lose another 200,000 in 2009.

"This is not normal budgeting," said Flaherty.

"The world is not in its stable fiscal condition. These are extraordinary times."

-with files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria

 
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