OTTAWA – A possible trade breakthrough, a security scare and outbreaks of political scheming added to the drama Wednesday, as the federal government prepared to open a new session of Parliament.
Despite the distractions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s schedule — and a familiar Conservative message of economic stability in challenging times — remained right on track.
While he met with his caucus for the first time since June, Harper turned to Twitter to reveal hints of the themes from the speech, set to be read by Gov. Gen. David Johnston later in the afternoon.
Harper said his government won’t rest on its accomplishments, and spoke of it being “Canada’s moment” globally. The speech will lay the foundation for the government’s legislative plans leading into the 2015 election.
“We know – and Canadians know – that we face new competition from a host of rising economic powers,” he tweeted. “That’s why, despite our accomplishments, we will not rest here. We must go further and we must go faster.”
He also said that the government “will soon complete trade talks” with the European Union, the kind of announcement the Conservatives have been longing to make for years. Sources said an agreement in the protracted negotiations is within reach and could be final in a matter of days.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair quickly demanded to the see the text of the pact expressing fear that the deal will throw Canadian dairy farmers “under the bus.”
“If he sells out Canadian dairy farmers, having promised that he won’t fool around with Canada’s system (of supply management) that has protected dairy farmers for years, there’s going to be a hell of a price to pay,” Mulcair warned.
As the speech from the throne was set to unfold, the scene across the street from Parliament’s red-carpeted Senate chamber was in chaos.
Police arrested a man as he tried to deliver a suitcase-sized package to the Langevin Block, the stately sandstone building that houses the prime minister’s offices. A joint RCMP-City of Ottawa bomb squad was called to the scene.
If trade deals and consumer initiatives such as lower cell roaming charges and pick-and-pay cable options were part of the focus of the speech, the opposition viewed things much differently.
Both the NDP and the Liberals vow to keep the Senate spending scandal, and related allegations of a coverup by the Prime Minister’s Office, on the front burner.
The NDP plans to raise a point of parliamentary privilege as the first order of business in the Commons on Thursday, arguing that Harper misled MPs. Harper had told the House in June that nobody in his office knew about his chief of staff Nigel Wright’s plan to pay off $90,000 in improper spending by Senator Mike Duffy.
But RCMP documents filed in court quote Wright’s lawyers as saying three other PMO staffers were in the loop about his intention to write the contentious cheque. The Mounties are investigating the transaction, as well as Duffy’s expenses.
Liberal MPs and senators, meanwhile, began proactively disclosing details of their travel and hospitality claims online. They have challenged the other parties to follow suit.