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Harper delays Parliament's return [PoliticsWatch updated 5:05 p.m., September 4, 2007]

The Commons chamber will remain empty for another month.

OTTAWA  —  Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to delay the opening of Canada's  Parliament a full month.  

Harper made the announcement in a statement released hours before he left for Australia. 

Parliament was scheduled to resume on September 17. 

The new return date will be October 16, a week after the Ontario election. 

As a result of prorogation, the government will have to present a speech from the throne which will be subject to three confidence votes this fall. 

“Now it’s time to launch the next phase of our mandate,” Harper said in a statement. 

"I invite the other parties to join with us to make the second session even more successful than the first. There is much more we can and will do to make Canada stronger, safer and better for all of us.” 

The decision created an angry reaction from the opposition. 

NDP leader Jack Layton accused the government in a statement of "locking out MPs." 

“Students have gone back to class. Working families are back from vacation. Why is Stephen Harper locking MPs out? Why is he stopping us from getting back to work," Layton said. 

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. 

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. The U.S. Congress ended its August break on Tuesday and was back in session.  

Opposition House leader Ralph Goodale's office told PoliticsWatch that they were unaware of the decision beforehand and have not been in communication with Government House Leader Peter Van Loan all summer long. 

Rumours of a prorogation of Parliament to avoid sitting during the Ontario election campaign have been circulating in Ottawa since June. 

Harper's decision comes after Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and Liberal leader Stephane Dion have threatened to vote against the throne speech if their wishes regarding Canada's mission in Afghanistan and the environment are not met. 

If all opposition parties vote against the throne speech then an election would be triggered. However, it is unlikely an election would be in any party's interest as recent polling shows little change from the results of the last federal election. 

In an earlier interview with PoliticsWatch, Goodale said he expected the government would delay the return of Parliament because of the problems they have faced in recent months when the House is in session. 

"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.

:  Related Links

> Opposition parties want MPs back in September

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