Shutting down Parliament: on the economy, detainees, and senators

The PMO gives its reasons—sort of—for proroguing Parliament

I took three main points from the media briefing offered earlier this afternoon by Dimitri Soudas, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, on shutting down Parliament until March 3. MPs had been scheduled to return from their year-end break on Jan. 25.

1. The government is emphasizing the economy. Soudas said a new parliamentary session is needed to set in motion “basically the next phase of the economic action plan.” There will be a budget on March 4, the day following the throne speech that will begin the new session. However, how much “action” can there possibly be in that plan? After all, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has been warning Canadians not to expect anything much in the way of new tax cuts or spending. That suggests to me something more like an inaction plan, not necessarily a bad thing, but why does it require a new session?

2. The Conservatives are hoping the Afghan detainees issue will fizzle from lack of Question Period and House committee attention. Asked if the government will at least appoint a new Military Police Complaints Commission chair, to allow the MPCC to resume its own inquiry into the matter, Soudas didn’t come close to answering. Instead, he took the opportunity to slam the opposition parties for pursuing what he cast as a stale file. “They are looking at an issue where it is old news,” he said, adding, “And we’re going to continue focusing on the economy.” Obviously, keeping the issue alive through January and February is now a key challenge facing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

3. The Prime Minister is eager not to be seen as wasting the work already done by the House on important legislation. Soudas said the private member’s bill to scrap the long-gun registry will not be affected by ending one parliamentary session and beginning another. He said key bills on consumer protection and drug crime will be reintroduced intact in the new session. And he suggested Parliament will function more smoothly when it resumes, since the Prime Minister will have had time to appoint five new senators—not quite enough for a Tory Senate majority, but giving them more senators than the Liberals. All this, though, argues for continuity with the work of the session the Prime Minister is ending, rather than providing any convincing grounds for starting a whole new one.

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