Parliament’s return will be officially delayed by a month, with the Prime Minister set to prorogue proceedings in preparation for a Throne Speech.
The House of Commons will be prorogued this Friday – three days before it had been scheduled to return – and will resume on Oct. 16, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office confirmed Wednesday.
Mr. Harper had earlier signalled the move, and is expected to use the Throne Speech to lay out, in broad strokes, his government’s vision for the final two years of its mandate.
The Official Opposition NDP say the timing is conspicuous, and have accused Mr. Harper of delaying Parliament’s return – and, as such, the return of Question Period – to avoid questions about the Senate expense scandal, which has already led to the resignation of the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
The Liberals, meanwhile, plan on reconvening in Ottawa for a caucus meeting next week, regardless of whether Mr. Harper had prorogued Parliament. They’re expected to formally cement a new policy to disclose expenses of the party’s MPs and senators – an attempt to outflank Mr. Harper while he faces questions about claims made by senators he appointed.
The Speech from the Throne is expected to reflect the Conservative government’s continued focus on a bread-and-butter issues: jobs and the economy. Mr. Harper has previously said his government will continue to focus on economic growth leading up to the next federal election, which is scheduled for the fall of 2015.
“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,” the Prime Minister said last month, during his northern tour.
The Throne Speech will give Mr. Harper two high-profile platforms in the coming weeks. His party’s national convention is scheduled for Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 in Calgary, after having been delayed by floods that struck the city in June.
The delay of Parliament’s return further signals that Mr. Harper has no plans to follow in the footsteps of British Prime Minister David Cameron and recall parliamentarians to discuss the situation in Syria. The House of Commons rose for its summer break on June 19.
Mr. Harper has been under fire from Thomas Mulcair, with the Official Opposition Leader saying the delay of Parliament’s return amounts to the Prime Minister running away from Question Period. Mr. Mulcair is meeting this week with his caucus in Saskatoon, and said the prorogation was completely unacceptable.
“This is a democracy. Parliament has a schedule, it has a calendar. We should have been sitting as provided,” Mr. Mulcair told reporters.
Mr. Mulcair accused Mr. Harper of hiding from his responsibilities and evading questions about senators’ expenses – a scandal that has reached into the Prime Minister’s Office.
“These aren’t the questions from the Official Opposition. These are questions that Canadians want answered by their Prime Minister,” he said. “He can run but he can’t hide. We’ll have him in the House sooner or later.”
The Liberals have previously said their caucus members will return next week, and prorogation won’t change that. “It’s a shame Mr. Harper has decided to move forward with prorogation. However, Liberals will be back at their parliamentary work the week of September 16th, as originally planned,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s office said in a statement.
The Liberal caucus is scheduled to meet Sept. 18, when details of its new expense policy are expected to be finalized. Liberal MPs and senators’ will be expected to disclose travel and hospitality expenses on a regular basis, in line with the standards cabinet ministers are currently held to. They aren’t expected to do so retroactively. The Auditor-General has already struck a review of claims made by all senators, though not MPs.
Mr. Harper’s office says he will formally prorogue the House of Commons on Friday, and he was running out of time – it needs to be done before its scheduled return on Monday. Parliament had initially been scheduled to be on recess during the third week of October, when it will now return. MPs had been scheduled to sit until Dec. 13.
With a report from Gloria Galloway