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No compromise? Harper refuses to say if he'd bend to opposition

OTTAWA - Stephen Harper is refusing to say if he would compromise with opposition parties if he returns with a minority government — even as he accuses his opponents of being unwilling to bend.

The prime minister has been pounding home the campaign message that unless he wins a majority, his opponents will gang up and bring him down as soon as he introduces a budget. He says the only way to avoid a "reckless coalition" is to give him a majority.

Harper was asked today whether he would be willing to work with the other parties and table a budget they could support — as Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has said he would do.

"I don't accept the question," Harper replied in Riviere-du-Loup, Que.

"The only way to avoid it (a coalition) is to follow through our popular budget. We want a mandate of the Canadian population to put this budget in action and that's what I'm pursuing in this campaign."

Ignatieff said Harper's response shows that he loathes compromise and consensus.

"What does he think he is? The king, here?" Ignatieff said in Saint John, N.B..

"It's 'My way or the highway,' the whole time ... He has an obligation to present a budget that has the confidence of the House of Commons... The ruthless, relentless disrespect for Parliament is why we're having an election here."

The spat comes as a new poll suggests Ignatieff has made significant gains in personal popularity during the election campaign and is now tied with the prime minister.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests the Liberal leader has regained the personal popularity ratings he held in early 2009, when the Conservatives began pounding him with a barrage of attack ads.

Both Harper and Ignatieff, however, badly trail the leaders of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois in the leadership department. Jack Layton was viewed favourably by 68 per cent of respondents — and unfavourably by just 26 per cent — while Gilles Duceppe was similarly popular in Quebec.

Pollsters watch leadership scores closely, as they often foreshadow changes in general voting intentions. In this election, the Liberals have trailed the Conservatives throughout the campaign.

The new survey suggests Ignatieff has seen his personal popularity spike in recent days while the prime minister's has fallen.

The Liberal leader was viewed favourably by 42 per cent of respondents and negatively by 50 per cent — roughly the same levels recorded by Harper, who was viewed favourably by 43 per cent and unfavourably by 52 per cent.

The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted April 14-17 and is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

With just 12 days left before voters casts their ballots on May 2, federal party leaders are exercising some precision campaigning while fighting off increasingly bitter attacks from their rivals.

Ignatieff is down east trying to recover two former Liberal ridings from the Conservatives.

Harper hits some francophone ridings in eastern Quebec and New Brunswick, among them one held by the Bloc Quebecois, another by the Liberals.

And Layton visits the Tory town of Essex, Ont., then travels to NDP country in Thunder Bay, Ont., a day after Ignatieff dropped in looking to steal the ridings from him.

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