Brace for a big, 'comprehensive' budget: Harper

The government may have to take major action over the next three to five years to deal with the economic crisis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday, adding that the next federal budget will be one of the biggest in a long time.

The government may have to take "big comprehensive action" over the next three to five years to deal with the economic crisis, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday, adding that the next federal budget will be one of the biggest in a long time.

"We're going to work on the assumption that this is going to be a tough time, that we should not underestimate the actions we need to take," Harper said at a news conference in Montreal. "We'll take big comprehensive actions."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives at a press conference on Friday after meeting with business leaders in Montreal. ((Graham Hughes/Canadian Press))

Without getting into specifics, Harper said the actions could last between three to five years.

"It won't necessarily be that long, but we're not going to underestimate the situation. We're going to do whatever is necessary."

Harper said the government has been involved in heavy consultations leading up to the tabling of the budget on Jan. 27.

"This will be one of the biggest budgets in a long time, it will be a comprehensive budget to deal with a range of economic — not just economic problems and challenges — but also some economic opportunities."

Harper's comments came as Statistics Canada reported Canadians lost 34,400 jobs in December, a figure that was worse than economists had been expecting, as the economy weakened.

While Harper said the numbers are "troubling" he said the job losses being incurred in the U.S. are a lot worse.

The U.S. economy shed 524,000 jobs in December, pushing overall job losses for 2008 to 2.6 million.

"Certainly the numbers in the United States, in particular, are very bad, continue to get worse," the PM said.

3 budget tests: Ignatieff

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, speaking in Halifax, said he will judge the federal budget on whether it provides tax relief for low-income Canadians, infrastructure projects and invests in productivity and competitiveness.

Ignatieff, who spoke in Halifax as part of a town hall tour across the country, has said he's prepared to vote down the Conservative government and form a governing coalition with the NDP if the budget isn't in the best interests of Canadians.

On Thursday, Ignatieff had said he would consider speedy tax cuts for the poor, infrastructure projects and changes to the employment insurance program if he were prime minister.

Ignatieff's town hall tour will also include stops in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal.