Prime Minister Stephen Harper has confirmed he will ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament until October, when his Conservative government will introduce the next speech from the throne.
"There will be a new throne speech in the fall, obviously the House will be prorogued in anticipation of that. We will come back — in October is our tentative timing," Harper told reporters in Whitehorse Monday. Harper is in the Yukon on the second day of his annual summer tour of the North.
The Prime Minister's Office later clarified that Harper will ask for Parliament to be prorogued before the scheduled return of the House on Sept. 16, meaning Parliament will not sit again until after the throne speech in October.
The prime minister did not give a date for the throne speech. His spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, said he wouldn't speculate but did note the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit is in the first week of October and is followed by Thanksgiving. That would suggest Parliament could return as early as Oct. 15. The Conservatives hold their postponed party convention in Calgary at the end of that month.
The move was not unexpected. The government managed to pass much of its outstanding legislation before rising for the summer break, and Harper undertook a major shuffle of his cabinet in July as he passed the halfway mark of his mandate.
Harper used prorogation in 2007, but it was subsequent moves to prorogue in 2008 and 2010 that drew the most attention. In 2008, he used the tactic to successfully out-maneouvre the opposition's attempt to unseat him and form a coalition government. He prorogued again in 2010 in the midst of a controversy over Canada's treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan and ahead of Vancouver's hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Before the summer break this year, Harper had been under fire daily in the House of Commons over the continuing scandal involving the expenses of senators, including three Conservatives he had picked.
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair accused Harper of shutting down Parliament to evade accountability and avoid questions on the Senate.
"People aren't going to be fooled. This is clearly a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement. Stephen Harper refuses to answer legitimate questions from the public," the NDP leader said in a statement released Tuesday.
Liberals denounce move
The Liberals also accused Harper of delaying tactics.
"While starting a new session is an appropriate way to provide direction, Parliament has been on a summer recess since June and the prime minister has had plenty of time to write a throne speech," deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale said in a statement. "This delay clearly shows that Stephen Harper and his government are without a plan."
Harper gave few specifics about his agenda for the fall.
"We will obviously have still some things, still some unfulfilled commitments, that we will continue to work on. The number one priority for this government, I do not have to tell you, will continue to be jobs and the economy," Harper told reporters.
"While we are overall pleased with the progress the Canadian economy has made since the recession, we remain in a very difficult, fragile competitive world marketplace."
When asked about his own political future and whether he would lead his party into the next election, the prime minister said "yes," and quipped: "I'm actually disappointed you feel the need to ask that question."
Senate reform legislation is just one of several bills that will die on the order paper with prorogation. The government is awaiting a Supreme Court opinion on Senate reform that could come as early as this fall.
The Senate media relations office said prorogation would not affect the auditor general's review of Senate expenses, which was confirmed to be underway last week. However, the recommendations of a Senate report issued last week into Senator Pamela Wallin's expense claims would be on hold until they are adopted by the full Senate. That can't happen while Parliament is prorogued.
Other affected legislation includes changes to the Canada Elections Act to establish new rules for political loans, which has been stalled for some time at a Commons committee, and a bill to change parole rules for offenders found not criminally responsible for their actions.
However, these bills can be reintroduced at their most recent stage in the House of Commons.
A private member's bill that would require labour unions to publish detailed financial information, known as Bill C-377, would be restored to third reading, the last stage completed by the House of Commons.
The bill had been the subject of heated debate in the Senate, where it was amended and sent back to the House of Commons. But prorogation would wipe the slate clean as far as the Senate deliberations are concerned, according to the Library of Parliament.
"Thus, the bill would be sent back to the Senate in the same state it had been when it was passed at third reading by the House in December 2012, prior to the Senate amendment," the library said in an email to The Canadian Press.
"The Senate would then begin the process of considering the bill anew; the Senate may vote to pass the bill unamended, amend the bill in precisely the same way it had been amended before, or introduce entirely new amendments."
with files from The Canadian Press