Harper says Tories govern 'for everyone'

Stephen Harper sought to reassure Canadians Thursday that despite having a majority government and a weakened opposition, his government will 'make some compromises or pick our priorities.'

PM vows to 'listen to the opposition and try and accommodate them' when it's in the country's best interest

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during an announcement in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his Conservative government will respond to Canadians and to the elected opposition, despite a majority mandate and the absence of any permanent opposition leader in the House of Commons.

Harper, in Yellowknife as part of a four-day northern tour, was responding to questions about the death of the NDP's Jack Layton and the unusual absence of any permanent political counterweight on the opposition benches.

"The government's position has always been that the government governs for everyone," Harper said during a media availability at a Yellowknife hospital, where he announced extended territorial health funding Thursday.

"The government provides a clear direction in what we know are troubled economic times around the world, and the government is prepared to adapt and listen to the Canadian population when necessary."

After seven years of Liberal and Conservative minority rule, the Tories won a clear majority in May that had them boasting of an unfettered mandate for weeks afterward.

But there's been no such partisan chest-thumping in the aftermath of Layton's death, which has sparked a national outpouring of grief.

The Liberals are led by interim leader Bob Rae, while the Bloc Quebecois has only two seats and is leaderless. When the Commons returns next month, Harper will be looking across the aisle at three parties in search of permanent standard-bearers to take them into the 2015 federal election.

Harper said he's won three successive elections "because the government does what it says it will do."

But he said a mandate does not simply come from the day-to-day manoeuvring in Parliament.

"We remain the government because we maintain the confidence of the Canadian population. That involves listening to the population and involves listening to the opposition," he said.

Harper argued that with more than 140 opposition seats in the 308-seat Commons, the NDP and Liberals have "plenty of tools to delay passage of government measures.

"So we either have to, in some cases, make some compromises or pick our priorities."

The prime minister granted a state funeral to Layton that will be held Saturday in Toronto. Harper and his wife Laureen will attend, with the prime minister flying directly to Toronto from his last tour stop in Haines Junction, Yukon, on Friday.

Harper sought to reassure those Canadians concerned that his Conservative government faces no serious opposition in implementing its agenda.

"I think the checks are there and we will certainly do our best to listen to the opposition and try and accommodate them when we believe they're making requests that are in the best interests of the country," he said.