OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government will suspend Parliament until early March, a spokesman said on Wednesday, giving it political advantages but bringing an angry backlash from a sidelined opposition.
Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the government would present a new policy speech on March 3, and a new federal budget the following day.
That means Parliament won’t resume on January 25 as previously scheduled, and debate on hot-button topics will cease.
“We’re not out of the woods (economically) yet but we’re not facing the same catastrophic possibilities of just one year ago,” Soudas told reporters in a conference call.
“So we want to make sure not only that the economy stays on track but also that we are preparing for future growth, prosperity and a return to balanced budgets.”
Postponing the reopening of Parliament until after the Winter Olympics in Vancouver means the government will be able to avoid persistent questions on the treatment of prisoners who were handed over to Afghan authorities by the Canadian military in 2006-07.
The government will also be able to take control of committees in the upper house of Parliament, the Senate. The Senate has been dominated by the opposition Liberal Party until now and the Liberals have blocked efforts at Senate reform.
All three opposition parties charged that Harper was trying to duck parliamentary accountability.
“Mr. Harper is showing his disregard for the democratic institutions of our country,” Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said in a statement.
He said Harper was “showing that his first impulse when he is in trouble is to shut down Parliament.”
Jack Layton, who heads the small, left-leaning New Democratic Party, told Reuters: “It’s a slap in the face to the democratic process and all those Canadians -- who were in the majority, actually -- who voted for other parties and expected us to be there to hold Stephen Harper’s feet to the fire and make sure he didn’t go racing off too far in any one unacceptable direction.”
The separatist Bloc Quebecois said Harper had shown “no legitimate reason” for paralyzing Parliament until March.
Soudas said it was routine parliamentary practice and has been done 104 times in Canada’s history, an average of two to three times per Parliament. This will be the second suspension since Harper was reelected in October 2008.
The Conservatives have only a minority of seats in the House of Commons and need support from at least one other party to stay in power, but no election is likely in the near future.
A Nanos poll issued earlier on Wednesday showed the Conservatives would handily win an election if one were held now, although possibly not with enough seats to win a majority of seats in Parliament.
Nanos gave the Conservatives support of 39.5 percent of voters, compared with 30.2 percent for the Liberals. Under Canada’s voting system, a party usually needs support from at least 40 percent of voters to win a majority in Parliament.
Nanos polled 1,003 voters between December 10 and December 13. It considers its survey accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Additional reporting by Rod Nickel and John McCrank; editing by Peter Galloway