For the second time in just over a year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper temporarily shut down Parliament on Wednesday, evoking accusations from opposition politicians that he was abusing parliamentary tradition for political gain.

The move to end the current session of Parliament before starting a new one in March is not routine. Normally, governments take such a step only after several years in power to reset Parliament’s legislative agenda, often as a prelude to an election. The shutdown killed all legislation making its way through the parliamentary process, including bills championed by Harper’s Conservative government.

It also shut down all parliamentary committees, including a special one that was raising embarrassing questions about the government’s policies on Afghans detained by Canadian troops before being turned over to the Afghan government. Human rights groups and a Canadian diplomat say the detenus were abused after being handed to the Afghans. Mr. Harper’s government denies the allegations.

In a brief statement, Mr. Harper suggested that he shut down Parliament so that he could introduce a new economic plan in the spring. “While we see tentative, early signs that the economy is emerging from recession, the recovery is still fragile,” he said. Left unexplained was why the government chose to shut down Parliament rather than simply introducing a new budget.

Parliament was originally scheduled to return from its break on January 25. Now a new session will not begin until March 3, after the end of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

While recent polls have not put the Conservatives decisively ahead, they have shown that the Liberals, the main opposition party, are flagging. Analysts contend that if the Liberals continue to decline and the Conservatives can use the Olympics to their political advantage, Mr. Harper will again shut down Parliament shortly after it resumes in March and hold an election.

Mr. Harper moved to shut down Parliament in December last year to avoid a confidence vote that almost certainly would have defeated his government, which does not control a majority in the House of Commons. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service

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