Canada's prime minister promises budget action

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised Friday to take bold budget action over a span of three to five years to rescue the Canadian economy, and he called the latest North American job numbers "troubling".

"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 told reporters in a televised news conference in Montreal.

"We'll take big, comprehensive actions. We'll assume that we're probably going to have to look at a period of three to five years of such actions," he said, adding that it would not necessarily take that long to see an economic recovery.

Harper, whose minority Conservative government came close to being defeated in Parliament late last year, called on the opposition parties to work closely with him on a fiscal stimulus plan.

With a little over two weeks left before delivering a budget on Jan. 27, Harper plans to meet with provincial premiers next Friday and said he hoped to meet with Liberal chief Michael Ignatieff, leader of the biggest opposition party, in coming days before making final budget decisions.

"Now is the time for everybody to be open to dialogue ... especially to try to work together -- provincially, federally, internationally, across party lines -- to deal with problems that everyone knows are urgent and are large," he said.

He said Canadian job losses in December were troubling but that U.S. job losses were even more so, saying they were a sign of the deepening global economic crisis.

Canada lost 34,400 jobs in December and the United States shed 524,000. (Reporting by Randall Palmer)