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Stephen Harper disinclined to let 'games begin' in the House

1. Parliament bad; prorogation good. Ubiquitous is a word not usually associated with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But he is proving otherwise as he appears here, there and everywhere in the media, talking about the economy and defending his decision to shut down Parliament.

In an interview on BNN yesterday, the Prime Minister suggested that prorogation gives him the opportunity to do the serious business of the nation without the distractions of democracy - Commons committees and having to answer those pesky questions from opposition MPs in Question Period.

Once the House returns, however, he said, "the games begin." And he wasn't referring to the Olympic Games. Rather, his take on Parliament seems to be that it's a bother and a barrier to getting his work done. "I think we're the most, longest uninterrupted constitutional system in the world. I think the games begin when Parliament returns and the government can take time now to do the important work to prepare the economic agenda ahead."

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In the interview, he said confidence votes that could bring down his minority government will begin as soon as the House returns with a Throne Speech, followed by a budget, in early March. He suggested that financial markets don't like that "kind of instability."

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper's former chief of staff and mentor, Tom Flanagan, now a political professor at the University of Calgary, offered another explanation for prorogation. On CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon yesterday, he said that everyone knows the only reason Mr. Harper prorogued was to "shut down the Afghan inquiry." Mr. Flanagan was referring to the special Commons committee investigation into the Afghan detainee affair that has caused much grief for the government.

He also called the government's defence of prorogation "childish," criticizing the PMO talking points that defended the move. The talking points, released Sunday, made no case for prorogation. Rather, they condemned Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for taking an "extended vacation" in Europe over the Christmas holidays. Mr. Flanagan noted, jokingly, that his comments certainly show that he is no "Harper stooge."

2. Summoned back for a drive-by caucus. Stephen Harper's Tories - MPs and Senators - are being told they must return to Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 22 for a 2.5 hour meeting. And attendance is mandatory, according to the email that went out yesterday from national caucus chairman Guy Lauzon.

This "Winter National Caucus Meeting" is to take place on Parliament Hill from 9: 30 a.m. until noon. Caucus members are to receive "updates on the economy, the employment situation and finances." As well, the Harper leadership wants to hear what MPs are hearing from their constituents and they are being asked to "provide input into the Throne Speech."

Bringing in Tories from across Canada to Ottawa on a Friday in January for a 2.5 hour meeting shows the Conservatives are hard at work despite their decision to shut down Parliament. It also seems like a true test of loyalty.

3. Jim Watson takes the plunge again. Ottawa isn't only about federal politics. Indeed, there is much buzz in the capital this morning with the informed speculation that Jim Watson, a senior minister for Premier Dalton McGuinty, is poised to announce he is stepping down from the Ontario cabinet to run for Mayor of Ottawa.

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Mr. Watson held this position from 1997 to 2000; he was a popular mayor. This morning, sources close to Mr. Watson told The Globe he will "formally announce his intentions today at 10 a.m. and step down as Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing."

These sources say he has "become increasingly concerned about the goings-on at Ottawa City Hall and the lack of any long-term planning."

"It was pretty evident Jim was frustrated with the way the city was being led and he approached the Premier late last year to tell him he was thinking of running, pending a discussion with his family in early January."

With his decision to enter the race Mr. Watson will likely become the front-runner even if the current mayor, Larry O'Brien, decides to run again. Mr. O'Brien has been a very controversial mayor. He was found not guilty of influence peddling last August after a much publicized trial in which he had been accused of trying to help a rival for the mayor's position get a federal appointment in return for not running against him. The municipal election will take place in October.

(Photo: The Prime Minister meets with business leaders in Saint John last week. Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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