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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff sips tea at Stornoway during a year-end interview on December 17, 2009.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff sips tea at Stornoway during a year-end interview on December 17, 2009.

Ignatieff tells caucus to report to work Add to ...

Liberal MPs and senators will return to work as scheduled in the nation's capital later this month, even though Parliament has been suspended until early March.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff informed his caucus during a conference call Tuesday that he expects them to report for work on Jan. 25.

He told caucus members they can't let Prime Minister Stephen Harper get away with shutting down Parliament and stifling debate.

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The move is intended to capitalize on what Liberal strategists believe is a groundswell of public opposition to Mr. Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament until March 3.

"We think there's lots of work to do even if the government doesn't," said one Liberal involved in the call.

Still, Liberals want to avoid anything that might be dismissed as a partisan stunt. To that end, insiders say there'll be no mock Parliament or banging on the padlocked doors of the House of Commons.

Rather, they'll do things like hold roundtable discussions with experts on a variety of issues in a bid to show Liberal MPs and senators are busy constructively addressing the issues that matter most to Canadians.

The insider said Liberals are also open to continuing unofficial hearings into the treatment of Afghan detainees, provided all opposition parties work together to ensure the hearings don't devolve into "an overtly partisan event."

The all-party committee that had been holding hearings into the detainee issue ceased to exist when Mr. Harper decided to prorogue Parliament.

Opposition critics contend Mr. Harper made the decision precisely so that he could silence the controversy that's been raging over allegations that prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were tortured.

But in his first public comments since suspending Parliament, Mr. Harper insisted prorogation is a "routine" matter and dismissed the detainee issue as something that's of little interest to Canadians.

"The reason is quite simple," Mr. Harper told CBC's Peter Mansbridge in an interview broadcast Tuesday night.

"It's been an extraordinary year in which we were obviously trying to implement an extraordinary economic action plan, a series of stimulus measures to deal with the peculiar [global recession]circumstances of 2009.

"We're now looking at a very different year coming forward, a year that we're much more optimistic about and we want to take some time to recalibrate the government's agenda, both on the economy and on some other matters."

Mr. Harper said parliamentary sessions typically last about a year and that there's nothing unusual about proroguing.

He shrugged off a suggestion that the detainee issue was really behind his decision to prorogue.

"I think polls have been pretty clear, Peter, that that's not on the top of the radar of most Canadians. What's on the radar is the economy."

Mr. Harper added that his Conservative party has "a big difference of opinion with the opposition as to whether that [the detainee issue]is an issue that warrants attention or not." Nevertheless, he said the decision to prorogue had nothing to do with it.

"This year's circumstances are, frankly, quite normal . . . I don't think it makes sense for a session of Parliament to go on and on without the government periodically re-examining its overall agenda."



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