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Workmanlike Throne Speech to include dollop <br/>of red meat for Tory base Add to ...

The Harper government will sketch out a modest agenda that strikes a workmanlike tone Friday in a Throne Speech that pledges to balance the budget within four years, toughen criminal laws and inject a measure of democracy into Canada’s appointed Senate.

There are a few bones for party stalwarts, including axing the long-gun registry, ending the Canadian Wheat Board’s control over grain exports and phasing out per-vote political subsidies.

But Mr. Harper has promised a “no surprises” government that doesn’t go beyond what he campaigned on, so the Conservatives are not expected to veer off in a fresh direction that confirms critics’ fears of a hidden agenda.

Parliament is back in session with the closest thing to a fresh start in a long time: the first majority government in seven years, Ottawa’s first NDP Official Opposition and promises all around to bring civility and decorum to the House.

More than one third of the 308 MPs in the Commons are first-timers in Parliament – and on Thursday they got a new referee when the House selected 32-year-old Conservative Andrew Scheer from Regina as Speaker. He’s the youngest in Canadian history.

With their 166 seats, the Conservatives can do whatever they like now and their first priority is making headway on passing the 2011 budget that was rejected by opposition parties in the previous Parliament and helped trigger the recent election.

The fiscal plan will be slightly revised from the version unveiled March 22 to include measures to axe the $2-per-vote subsidy to political parties that his opposition rivals supported but which Mr. Harper argued promoted political instability in Ottawa.

There’s scant time to do much more during the roughly three weeks left in the parliamentary calendar before the House rises for summer break, but the Conservatives want to put some more bills in the display window to define their mandate. They will table legislation to enact limited reforms to the Senate and to combat human smuggling.

The biggest debate may be Mr. Harper’s decision to extend the Canada's controversial military intervention in Libya. He is asking the Commons, which he controls, for approval to lengthen this country’s participation in the NATO-led mission and unless it’s a free vote the Prime Minister will get his assent.

An omnibus crime bill – which bundles 11 pieces of law-and-order legislation Tories failed to enact as a minority government – will be introduced and passed in the fall, as will the bill to abolish the long-gun registry.

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

 

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