Stephen Harper has once again shuttered Parliament, proroguing the Commons until mid-October in a move that ensures he won’t face opposition questions on the Senate expenses scandal for an extra month.
After the Governor-General consented to his request Friday morning, the Prime Minister flew to British Columbia for a visit that began with an address to Conservative Party faithful – remarks Mr. Harper used to take a swipe at rival Justin Trudeau and his pledge to legalize marijuana use.
Speaking in Kelowna, B.C., the Conservative Leader recalled the vision of Canada espoused by John A. Macdonald, the country’s first prime minister.
“Sir John A. spoke to British Columbians about things that matter … about economic growth, not grow-ops,” Mr. Harper said, referring to pot cultivation.
“About a national dream, not a pipe dream.”
The Commons was originally scheduled to resume sitting on Sept. 16 but will now only come back after Thanksgiving on Oct. 16.
The Conservative government, stung by a public backlash over the Senate expenses controversy, is hoping to reboot its public image with a fresh Speech from the Throne that outlines a recast agenda for the final two years in office.
Another election is expected in 2015.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair pointed out Friday this is Mr. Harper’s fourth prorogation since taking office in 2006.
“Stephen Harper is setting new records for proroguing and avoiding accountability. He should stop hiding and recall Parliament now to face questions from the people’s representatives,” Mr. Mulcair said.
Since taking office, the NDP said, Mr. Harper has shut down Parliament for a total of 181 days. Mr. Mulcair’s office called this a new record for recent prime ministers. NDP calculations indicate former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien prorogued parliament for 145 days while Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney’s prorogations lasted 68 days.
While Mr. Harper’s uses of prorogation when he governed with a minority were controversial, majority governments often employ the procedure to signal a new legislative agenda. New sittings begin with a Speech from the Throne. Conservative officials privately dismiss concern over prorogation as a “process issue” that is not going to galvanize widespread opposition.
Asked for comment on prorogation, a PMO spokesman had none Friday, referring a reporter to Mr. Harper’s comments on the topic 25 days earlier.
The Prime Minister announced in mid-August he would hit the reset button on Parliament but did not offer any defence for delaying the resumption of the Commons sitting by about four weeks.
Back then, Mr. Harper said the priority for his government would continue to be jobs and the economy.
“We remain in a very difficult, fragile and competitive global marketplace, and we think there is much more to be done to secure Canada’s economic potential and economic future,” he said in August.
On Friday night, Mr. Harper’s partisan speech painted the NDP and Liberals as indistinguishable on policy, saying they both betray a “big government inclination that would build bureaucracy at the expense of families and communities.”
It also suggests the Tories plan to continue giving tough-on-crime measures pride of place in their agenda. The Prime Minister cited new legislation he’s promised that would hand longer jail time to those who sexually abuse children, particularly those who harm more than one child.
“My friends, the era of sexual predators serving lenient, concurrent sentences in Canada will be over,” Mr. Harper told a Kelowna crowd.