Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament until later this fall shows he is afraid to answer the opposition's questions, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said Tuesday.
"Stephen Harper, for the fourth time, has prorogued the Parliament of Canada, depriving elected officials of their ability to do what they were put there to do, which is to ask questions of the Canadian government," Mulcair told reporters in Montreal Tuesday.
"Mr. Harper is afraid to answer the questions that we have for him."
Harper confirmed Monday during a news conference on his annual tour of the North that he will ask the Governor General for prorogation and begin a new fall session with a speech from the throne in October.
Harper did not give a date for the throne speech, but if he waits until after Thanksgiving, the earliest likely date would be Oct. 15. The House of Commons was scheduled to resume sitting Sept. 16.
Mulcair said that by the time the House of Commons resumes sitting, Harper will have spent just five working days in the House over 5½ months, in the midst of a scandal over Senate expense claims that involves senators he appointed.
"That's the problem," Mulcair said. "Stephen Harper doesn't respect our democratic institutions, he's hiding from his own accountability and we're calling on him to start showing some leadership, to show up in Parliament and start giving clear answers on the Senate scandal and on a lot of other issues that are plaguing his government."
Harper defended his decision Tuesday.
"Look, a new throne speech is, as you know, completely normal," Harper told reporters following a speech in Hay River, N.W.T. "We have been able to have adopted virtually all our legislation to this point in Parliament.
"There's a need to refresh legislation. We will be very busy during the fall, as we have been very busy during the summer. And I look forward to bringing forward new legislation and continuing to focus on jobs and growth," he said.
Mulcair agreed prorogation is a fact of life in Parliament, but delaying the return of the House, he said, is "not a way to behave in a democracy."
"Mr. Harper did two things [Monday] — he prorogued, but he also decided that Parliament wasn't coming back [until October].
"So the people who have been elected and put there to ask questions on your behalf, on behalf of all Canadians, won't be able to do it because Mr. Harper has gone into hiding," Mulcair said.
Harper has used prorogation to change the parliamentary schedule and begin a new session four times going back to when he first took power in 2006.
In 2008, he used the tactic to out-manoeuvre the opposition's attempt to form a coalition government shortly after the 2008 election. 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.