MPs back in House of Commons to tackle pension, federal budget issues

A winter parliamentary session that many have predicted will be a donnybrook began Monday with the gloves still on, and the only jersey askew being an old powder blue sweater vest.

OTTAWA — A winter parliamentary session that many have predicted will be a donnybrook began Monday with the gloves still on, and the only jersey askew being an old powder blue sweater vest.

The benign, Ward Cleaver image Prime Minister Stephen Harper cultivated in a previous election campaign is gone, warned Peter Julian, the NDP finance critic.

“Very, very clearly, this government has taken off the sweater vests,” Julian said.

“They’ve taken off any pretence of moderation and a responsible approach to public policy.”

The Conservative government, which spent last fall clearing a number of long-standing legislative promises, wades into 2012 giving clear signals of a more far-reaching agenda.

Harper’s mini throne speech, delivered to a business audience in Davos, Switzerland, last week, set the stage for a bruising winter.

With deep spending cuts, pension reform, a new copyright act, changes to environmental assessment reviews, an end to the long-gun registry and tough criminal justice reforms all on deck, the opposition will have plenty to chirp about.

Nycole Turmel, the NDP’s interim leader, took a rhetorical suicide run at Harper’s majority last week, vowing to make the looming spring budget the “fight of my life.”

Asked about a fight that — numerically in the House of Commons, at least — the NDP simply can’t win, Julian said it’s a battle for public opinion.

“For the Conservatives to say ’we just don’t care about public opinion’ for the next few years, I think would be a primary mistake. I don’t think they’re that stupid,” he said.

But as hard as New Democrats and Liberals are working to pull the sweater over Tory heads and lay on a beating, the anticipated brawl has yet to materialize.

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