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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters at Red Cross headquarters in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to reporters at Red Cross headquarters in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE)

Tory Caucus

What's Harper's take on census? <br/>He won't say just yet Add to ...

Stephen Harper's summer break from the parliamentary press gallery continues.

The Prime Minister will not be taking questions from reporters Thursday when he attends a caucus meeting with fellow Conservative MPs in Ottawa, his office says.

That means by Thursday, Aug. 5, Mr. Harper will have gone about 30 days without fielding questions from journalists. This calculation is based on information from the Prime Minister's Office, which says the last time Mr. Harper made himself available to reporters was July 6 in Waterloo, Ont.

(PMO staff point out, however, that the Prime Minister has taken time in recent weeks to be with his family.)

This summer is not the first time Mr. Harper has taken a significant hiatus from the press. But this particular absence has enabled him to avoid questions on the census controversy, a backlash the Conservatives privately admit is far bigger than they expected.

Instead, it's been left to Industry Minister Tony Clement to face the critics, who warn the decision to scrap the compulsory long-form census questionnaire will hamstring Statistics Canada. The minister's handling of the issue, however, ended up sparking further controversy in that it prompted the senior civil servant at Statistics Canada to resign in frustration.

Munir Sheikh, a veteran bureaucrat, could not abide Mr. Clement's repeated claims that Statscan had assured the government a voluntary survey could adequately replace the mandatory long-form. Upon quitting, Mr. Sheikh released a statement that repudiated this notion.

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