Parliament adjourns for holidays

Parliament began its six-week holiday recess Friday, with MPs scheduled to return to the House on Jan. 25.

Parliament began its six-week holiday recess Friday, with MPs scheduled to return to the House on Jan. 25.

As the recess began, election fever has fizzled, the Conservatives are stronger than ever and the Liberals are wounded and regrouping.

Canadians, it seemed, did not want another election and it appeared they were prepared to punish the Liberals if they sparked one.

Despite a Conservative jump in the polls that briefly elevated them to the dizzying heights of majority territory, surveys now show the seat standings would not change much in Canada's minority Parliament if a vote were held now.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's personal popularity has also plummeted massively, according to pollsters. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, has managed to competently govern the country, providing a steady hand during the economic crisis.

Only when the Afghan torture imbroglio flared again in recent weeks have the Conservatives been on the hot seat, but that may not be a ballot-box issue for most Canadians, say pollsters.

The quick cooling of election fever was in large part because of a risky strategic move by the NDP to back the Conservatives for as long as it took to pass a $1-billion improvement to employment insurance benefits.

Though that caused some discomfort in the NDP base, Leader Jack Layton feels he rightly assessed the public's lack of appetite for an election. He said Thursday he'll take a co-operative approach in the next session, too, when it serves his purposes.

Layton said he will continue to press the Tories on pension reform and demand an independent inquiry into allegations of abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan.

The NDP also takes great pride in being the only federal party to consistently and vehemently oppose the Harmonized Sales Tax in British Columbia and Ontario.

The fall session unfolded relatively smoothly for the Conservatives. They launched their massive stimulus program to push the country out of recession, doling out $16 billion for infrastructure projects.

Research by The Canadian Press showed that the money overwhelmingly favoured Tory ridings. For days on end in the Commons, the Conservatives faced accusations of pork-barrelling and of hiding coherent information on their spending.

But opposition attacks on the topic frequently fell flat, met by rapid-fire retorts from Transport Minister John Baird and boasts about spending money in every corner of the country.

The Conservatives also won two of four federal byelections, including a seat in Quebec. Recent polling shows the Conservatives making gains in Quebec, closing the gender gap, and making significant inroads with visible minority communities.

Harper's travels to India and China were as much about connecting with ethnic voters back home as strengthening economic ties.

Ignatieff took a parting shot at Harper on Thursday in the Commons, accusing the government of "wilful blindness" on the Afghan detainee issue.

For Ignatieff, that wrapped a tough year in the Commons because he was not going to be at the final session of Question Period. That's because it will be Friday, and for the opposition leader, that means he'll be in Montreal.