OTTAWA - The federal Conservatives are suspending Parliament until after the Winter Olympics, saying they need a fresh start now that the economy is no longer in crisis.
Instead of resuming work on Jan. 25, Parliament will resume on March 3 with a speech from the throne, followed by a new budget the next day, said Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"Now is the time to also engage with constituents, stakeholders and businesses in order to listen to Canadians, identify priorities and to set the next stage of our agenda," he said.
"Minority governments have a different horizon than majority governments, and also those change quickly. So this is time to recalibrate, consult and deliver the next stage of our plan."
Soudas said Harper asked the Governor General by telephone on Wednesday morning to prorogue the current Parliament.
Prorogation kills almost all legislation in its tracks, and also disbands all Parliamentary committees - including the committee looking into how the government handled Afghan detainees.
The down time will also give Harper time to fill five vacancies in the Senate, Soudas noted.
By filling all five seats with Tories, the party would outnumber the Liberals, and should be able put a stop to the Liberals using its power in the Senate to undermine Conservative legislation, Soudas said.
Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale called the move "a shocking insult to democracy."
And NDP Leader Jack Layton accused Harper of trying to avoid accountability on climate change, pension reform and Afghanistan.
"You've got a serious democratic deficit in addition to a whopping economic deficit," he said.
Constitutional expert Nelson Wiseman told CBC the move was "a debasement of our Parliamentary system."