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Opposition parties want MPs back in September [PoliticsWatch updated 5:30 p.m. August 22, 2007]

Will the Commons chamber remain empty for another month? 

OTTAWA  —  The opposition parties  accused the Conservative government of running scared and being afraid of scrutiny after a published report appeared Wednesday claiming  the government will delay Parliament's return this fall by a month.    

On Wednesday, Montreal Gazette columnist L. Ian MacDonald reported  the government would announce "any day now" that it will prorogue Parliament and push back the return of MPs until after the October 10 Ontario election. 

"The Conservatives in Ottawa want to stay off television and out of the news to give John Tory and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives a clear shot at defeating Dalton McGuinty's Liberals at Queen's Park," MacDonald wrote. 

In addition, an extra month away from Parliament would give recently shuffled government cabinet ministers additional time to adjust to their new portfolios.

Parliament is scheduled to resume on September 17. Pushing the return date back to October 16 removes four weeks from the parliamentary calendar. MPs have not been in Ottawa since the House adjourned for the summer on June 20. 

Such a scheduling change would mean Canadian MPs will have been on a summer break for four months. 

The Prime Minister's Office declined to confirm or deny to PoliticsWatch the media report of the scheduling change. 

"I would not at all be surprised if that is their strategy," said Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale in an interview with PoliticsWatch. "That is something that the Official Opposition profoundly disagrees with."

"Question period is troublesome for them, so they try to avoid it," he said.  "It's our position that the parliamentary calendar says the House of Commons should resume on 17th of September in the normal flow of events and that's what we think should happen."

Goodale said if the Conservatives were to push back the return date it would indicate they are "not prepared to be accountable" and are losing the day-to-day contest when the House of Commons is in session.

The NDP admitted there is nothing the opposition parties can do to stop  Prime Minister Stephen Harper from exercising his power of prorogation. 

"It's a completely politically motivated thing that Harper is doing if he does do it," NDP House leader Libby Davies told PoliticsWatch in an interview. 

"He's trying to escape public scrutiny. There are very pressing issues that Parliament needs to deal with."

Davies said the government facing the opposition is "a basic component of parliamentary democracy" and said any move to shut Parliament down for political convenience would be "pretty reprehensible."

Canadian MPs already sit fewer days than their U.S. counterparts. So far this year, the Canadian House of Commons has been sitting a total of 74 days while the U.S. House of Representatives has been in session 111 days. 

Part of this discrepancy is due to the extended summer break Canadian MPs take. While MPs have been away from Ottawa the entire summer, the U.S. House of Representatives remained in session for July and is expected to return from summer break after Labour Day. 

Rumours about Parliament not returning until after the Ontario election were circulating in Ottawa as early as June. 

At that time, Government Whip Jay Hill told PoliticsWatch there had been "zero discussions" about delaying the House's return. 

"I know absolutely nothing about that," Hill said. "As far as I know, the House is going to sit until June 22 and we'll start sitting on the scheduled (return) date." 

Both Goodale and Davies said Government House Leader Peter Van Loan has not contacted them about any scheduling change. In fact, there has been no communication between the government and opposition House leaders' offices this summer. 

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> Opposition concerned Parliament may not be back come September

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