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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper speaking in Fredericton, N.B. Saturday morning. ((CBC) )

Canadians have become more accepting of small -c conservative ideas in recent years, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Saturday, adding that his party needs to stay with the mainstream of political thinking to remain in office.

At a campaign stop in Fredericton, N.B., Harper said public debates when he first got involved in politics were about free trade, balanced budgets, fiscal responsibility and how to lower taxes.

Now all of those are a reality, he said.

"We saw the Liberal party in the 1990s flip all of its previous positions on these issues, and adopt small-c conservative positions," the prime minister said.

"This is where the Canadian public is in this day and age."

He said his opponents in this campaign were reverting to old positions that the public had long ago turned away from.

"What’s surprising to me in this election is to see all of the other parties, including the Liberal party, go basically to a pre-free trade, Cold War kind of approach to the economy, where they’re against free trade, they want to spend more and if they have to raise taxes, that’s fine," he said.

Harper admitted that some members of his Conservative party were perhaps to the right of the "broad majority of Canadians" on some issues though.

"Not only do we want to pull Canadians towards conservatism," he said, "also Conservatives have to move towards Canadians if they want to continue to govern the country."

Small business measures announced

Harper was in Fredericton to visit a riding held by the Liberals since 1993 where incumbent MP Andy Scott is retiring. The Conservatives believe they have a chance of winning it.

Speaking at a local contractor’s office, the prime minister said a re-elected Conservative government would cut taxes and simplify federal  paperwork requirements for small businesses.

Most of the measures he outlined had already been included in the 2008 federal budget, or other legislation.

They included:

  • A 20 per cent reduction in federal paperwork required of small business owners, to be implemented before the end of this year.
  • Easier access to a government venture capital fund to help budding technology companies sell their ideas and products.
  • Indexing lifetime capital gains tax exemptions to inflation to allow the handover of businesses to children and heirs.
  • Raising the threshold of the small business tax rate to $500 thousand.

Harper’s next stop Saturday was Newfoundland and Labrador, where Progressive Conservative Premier Danny Williams has been harshly critical of the prime minister’s leadership.

He told a crowd at the community centre in the town of Harbour Grace that the war of words with Williams didn't really matter.

"I can't tell you how to vote. No one can tell a Newfoundlander and a Labradorian how to vote. It's not about personality fights. It's about your own best interests," Harper said in the lone reference to the row with Williams.

Two of three Conservative MPs in Newfoundland are retiring before the Oct. 14 federal election, and CBC’s Julie Van Dusen says Harper is keen to shore up his party’s support in a province where the premier is urging people to vote "anything but Conservative."

"It’s a pretty feisty Stephen Harper who’s heading off to Newfoundland and Labrador," Van Dusen says.