OTTAWA – The two-year countdown to the next federal election begins with gusto on Oct. 16, with a new speech from the throne and a fresh round of attacks by the opposition.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is to ask Gov. Gen. David Johnston on Friday to prorogue the current session of Parliament. MPs had been scheduled to return on Monday.
A throne speech is a government’s policy blueprint, a document with broad statements about main priorities and hints about legislation to come.
Still, it comes with a degree of pomp — a grand arrival by the Governor General on the Hill, the spectacle of MPs cramming into the Senate chamber to listen to him read the speech, and opposition leaders jockeying to criticize it in the hallways.
Harper has said he wants to lay out the government’s agenda leading to a scheduled October 2015 election. The core issues mirror those the Conservatives drew on during the last election in 2011.
“The No. 1 priority for this government, I do not have to tell you, will continue to be jobs and the economy,” Harper said during his annual tour of the Arctic last month.
Sources have told The Canadian Press that special emphasis is expected to be placed on cementing a European trade deal, and pushing ahead with major energy projects.
The prime minister goes into the planning phase for the new parliamentary session with a newly configured office.
His chief of staff Nigel Wright resigned in May after it was revealed he secretly gave embattled Sen. Mike Duffy $90,000 to cover repayment of improper living expenses. Wright was replaced by longtime aide Ray Novak, who will be assisted by senior party operative Jenni Byrne.
But even after a four-month hiatus from the pressures of question period and committees, there is little indication that the scandal that dominated the end of the last parliamentary session has petered out.
Both the NDP and the Liberals are advocating for more transparency in the expenses of MPs. An RCMP investigation into the expenses of three senators and the $90,000 payment is still unfolding.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, at a summer caucus meeting in Saskatoon, said Harper should never have delayed the return of Parliament.
“We’ve got very straight up questions for Stephen Harper, and he can run but he’d can’t hide,” said Mulcair. “We’ll have him in the House sooner or later.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has promised that his party will return to work on Parliament Hill as scheduled on Sept. 16. The details of what they’ll be up to have yet to be announced.