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MPs head back to the Hill amid talk of guns and civility

The Peace Tower is seen through the main gate on Parliament Hill on Sept. 19, 2010, ahead of the return of the House of Commons after its summer recess.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

1. They're back. The summer is over for the 305 Members of the Federal Parliament.

Politicians return to the House of Commons on Monday promising, as usual, a new era of civility. Those of us who have heard that line before are expecting the pleasantries to end with the Speaker's call to Question Period - or, more likely, with the members' statements that precede it which have become increasingly nasty and partisan in recent years.

The fact both the Liberals and the Conservatives have named two of their best scrappers to the position of House Leader does not give civility much of a fighting chance. Add to that the fact that Liberal MP David McGuinty and Conservative MP John Baird have a deep loathing of each other going back many years - they have at times refused to participate in the same TV panel - and, well, let the parliamentary cage match begin.

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Conservative MP Michael Chong, one of the most thoughtful and collegial guys on the Hill, is offering some fixes for what ails Parliamentary discourse. Like other former politicians, he thinks the media has a lot to do with it. But he is also proposing some concrete ideas for injecting some substance back into Question Period.

Mr. Chong will be here live at 10 a.m. ET if you would like to ask him some questions.

So, what's on the agenda for the first day back?

NDP Leader Jack Layton will stand in the House after Question Period on Monday to ask for an emergency debate on the government decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census. In a letter written last month to Speaker Peter Milliken, Mr. Layton said:

"An Emergency Debate is required in order to allow parliamentarians to address the urgent need to retain the integrity of the Census. The ability to change the long form diminishes with each passing day, as printing deadlines loom and preparations by Statistics Canada proceed. At stake, of course, is the continuity and reliability of the country's historic data on which so many Canadians and their institutions depend."

Expect fair bit of census chatter during Question Period as well.

This morning we will hear from Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, who will tell us that the list of Designated Public Office holders, the folks subject to a temporary limit on lobbying once they leave the Hill, will be expanded to include MPs, senators and staff in the offices of the official leaders of the opposition in both the House and the Senate.

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Then it will be back to business.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the fall session will be about the economy. There is also the issue of the Tamil migrants and what to do with them. And, of course, the Conservative government has a few more crime bills it would like to introduce.

Oh, and then there is the gun registry vote coming up on Wednesday. Speaking of which...

2. Another change of heart? New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer will announce this morning how he will vote on the gun registry issue.

Earlier this month, Mr. Stoffer told The Globe that, since the registry was introduced in 1995: "I have always believed that the gun registry is a failure in principle and a failure in policy, and that we could do much better with different policies."

But Jack Layton, who insists he will not whip his caucus on the issue, has been doing an intense lobbying job in recent weeks.

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With Liberals being forced to vote in favour of the motion to scrap a Conservative bill to kill the registry, it will be up to New Democrats to decide if it lives or dies. Mr. Layton does not want the death of the gun registry on his shoulders.

So, one by one, New Democrat MPs who previously voted against the registry, have publicly announced that they have changed their minds and will vote against the Conservative bill.

And, although the NDP won't say what Mr. Stoffer plans to do, all indicators suggest he is ready to join them.

Which, of course, has outraged the Conservatives. They have been engaged in a public relations campaign of their own - one that is aimed at shaming opposition MPs who have been opponents of the registry into standing with the Tories on Wednesday.

"There are now reports that on Monday Stoffer will make announcement related to the long gun registry.," the Conservatives said in an alert sent to party supporters. "As he does, his constituents will remember that he once considered the mere suggestion he supported the registry to be a gross violation of his privileges as a Member of Parliament."

Stay tuned for Mr. Stoffer's decision.

Update As expected, Mr. Stoffer fell in line behind Mr. Layton's compromise position and will vote to save the registry.

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