CANADA always manages to give the impression of combining the virtues of the traditions of its British and French forebears with those of its neighbour the United States. However, the plea of the prime minister, Stephen Harper, that the national parliament should be closed down - “prorogued” is the correct term -so that he can avoid an almost certain defeat by opposition parties seems to enter new territory. Yet yesterday he got the approval of the governor general, Michaelle Jean, to take this course and as a result the parliament will not meet until January 26 when Mr Harper will present his annual budget.

Stephen Harper's Conservative party failed to win an overall majority at the last election two months ago and has recently faced an unusual coalition of three other parties whose only common interest is in unseating the government and fighting another election. Mr Harper has earned their joint displeasure by failing to consult, as he had promised to do, on his budget proposals and also by his decision to cut federal financial aid to political parties.

Whether the prorogation will buy Mr Harper enough time to win over the support of one of the other parties is uncertain. Butt what is already clear is that he has persuaded the governor general to approve the unprecedented step of helping a government to prolong its term of office by preventing its opposition from tabling a vote of confidence. Governments under pressure everywhere will look at the Canadian example with interest.


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