ADSTOCK, Que. - Prime Minister Stephen Harper says another federal election would serve only to undermine the current economic recovery.

The Conservative government and the Opposition Liberals are locked in a battle over employment insurance reform that could lead to a federal election this fall.

But, without mentioning the Liberals by name, Harper urged them Thursday to focus on the economy.

"Our first priority and the first priority of the Canadian people, in Quebec and everywhere else, is that Parliament deal with the economy," Harper said in Adstock, Que., as he announced plans to make high-speed Internet available everywhere in Canada.

"We're still in the middle of a major global economic crisis, the biggest since the Second World War.

"I know there are some signs of optimism but the so-called recovery at this point is extremely fragile. It's based on governments continuing with co-ordinated worldwide fiscal and monetary stimulus.

"We do not need another round of political instability, another round of elections. We need Parliament to focus on the economy. That's what the government is doing and obviously that is what I would encourage the other parties to do as well."

A six-member panel made up of three Conservatives and three Liberals is looking at ways to reform the EI program.

The panel is to explore two issues: Harper's promise to extend EI benefits to self-employed workers and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's demand for a national standard for qualifying for EI.

Depending on local unemployment rates, a person must currently have worked from 420 to 700 hours before qualifying for EI benefits. Ignatieff has proposed a single national standard of 360 hours of work, which Harper has categorically rejected.

The panel has already met and will hold more meetings in August.

It is to report to Parliament by Sept. 28. Liberals have said they'll be prepared to bring down the government in a confidence vote if there is not sufficient movement to enhance EI.

Most Popular From ...