Canada to delay opening of Parliament

AP News
Posted: Dec 31, 2009 10:42 AM

Canada's Parliament won't convene until after the Winter Olympics, which are being held in Vancouver and nearby Whistler from Feb. 12 to Feb. 28, in a move seen as buying Prime Minister Stephen Harper time to reorder his political agenda.

The move was announced on Wednesday by the Conservatives, who said the legislature's goals needed to be restudied now that the economic crisis has passed. But the opposition said the shutdown was just a ploy to avoid questions about the handling of Afghan detainees and climate change.

"The specific reason here is that Stephen Harper doesn't feel like coming back to town and answering questions about his government," New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said.

Instead of resuming work as scheduled on Jan. 25, Parliament will start afresh on March 3 with a policy speech that will outline the priorities of the government. It will be followed by a new budget the next day, said Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Harper.

"Now is the time to also engage with constituents, stakeholders and businesses in order to listen to Canadians, identify priorities and to set the next stage of our agenda," Soudas said in justifying the delay.

The prime minister did not make the announcement in person, nor did he meet face-to-face with the Governor General to ask for a formal prorogation. Rather, Harper made that request over the telephone, Soudas said. The Governor General represents Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, but the position is largely ceremonial.

The move also could allow the Conservatives to fill five Senate vacancies with their own allies, robbing the Liberals of a majority in the upper house. That would give the party more control over the timing of an election call.