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Canadian Parliament, Ottawa. Photo: Wikipedia.
Canadian Parliament, Ottawa. Photo: Wikipedia.

Parliament resumes after Olympic break

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Canada's Parliament got an unexpected break in late December when its session was suspended by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper wanted to resume work after the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Critics complained he was just evading questions about possible mistreatment of Afghan detainees.

The suspension sparked nation-wide protests in January and the whole controversy may have cost conservatives their lead in opinion polls.

Parliament opened yesterday afternoon, with the Governor General's traditional speech from the throne. Lucy Martin has more.

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Lucy Martin
Ottawa Correspondent

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Queen Elizabeth is Canada's official head of state.  But real political power lies with the Prime Minister and the ruling party, right down to writing the "throne speech, " which was delivered yesterday with traditional pomp 

The queen's representative, Governor General MichaŽlle Jean, arrived to a 21-gun salute before climbing the red carpeted stairs.

Inside, there was a fanfare as she entered the chamber of the unelected Senate, where the Prime Minister and Justices of the Supreme Court also gathered.  

Throne speeches in Canada are a rundown of the ruling party's agenda and goals, sort of like the President's State of the Union address to Congress, but without interruptions for applause.  Jean saiid this one comes at a time of " both great uncertainty and great optimism."

The speech contained no major surprises.  It calls for one more round of stimulus spending, followed by measures aimed at reducing Canada's $56 billion dollar federal deficit.

Other proposals included salary and budget freezes at the federal level, more efforts to stimulate the  economy, help the unemployed and fight crime.  And an array of specific ideas, ranging from something called Senior's Day, to a a new biometric passport.

One proposal that will draw attention would make a line in Canada's national anthem - sung endlessly in Vancouver - gender neutral. "True patriot love, in all thy sons command" could revert to the 1908 phrasing "thou dost in us command". 

Speaking afterwards, opposition leaders called the throne speech's contents a sorry collection of old stuff, which did not justify December's shut down. 

Party leaders are walking a tactical tightrope.  If the opposition parties unite to defeat any vote that's considered a measure of confidence, Harper's minority government will fall. On the other hand, there's widespread public hostility toward another election, so all sides will proceed with caution. 

The session starts in earnest today when the conservatives present their federal budget.

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