Canada's convalescing economy may have topped Prime Minister Stephen Harper's agenda Wednesday, but anti-prorogation anger ended up crashing his Toronto road show.
About 35 protesters, ranging from students to seniors, picketed Harper's afternoon visit to the C.D. Howe Institute, chanting "Stop the prorogation, listen to the nation!"
It's just a taste of what's to come on Saturday, when thousands are expected to gather at rallies across Canada to protest the shutdown of Parliament, said Walied Khogali, who helped organize the demonstration.
"We just want to send a clear message that we are watching and we do care, and our MPs are accountable to us, not to any specific political party or to any elite," said the 25-year-old university student. "We want them back to work."
Wednesday's protest, which included antiwar demonstrators and those opposing Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr's detention at Guantanamo Bay, was confined to the sidewalk opposite the institute's office until police shut down the busy downtown street.
Harper visited the institute for a roundtable discussion about the economy with high-powered business and banking executives, such as TD Bank president and CEO Ed Clark and Elyse Allan, head of General Electric Canada.
Earlier in the day, he addressed his 11-member Greater Toronto caucus at a closed-door meeting at a Toronto hotel. Members included newly minted Senator Linda Frum and cabinet minister Lisa Raitt.
The prime minister didn't make himself available to answer questions from reporters at either event.
Harper outlines budget priorities
Harper has defended the decision to prorogue until March 3, saying the extra time was needed to adjust the government's policies now that the economy has moved from recession into the recovery phase.
But polls suggest opposition parties have largely succeeded in portraying the move as an attempt by the Harper government to evade scrutiny over its handling of the Afghan detainee torture allegations.
Media were not permitted in the Tory caucus meeting, but Harper's staff provided a transcript of his opening address, in which he outlined three priorities heading into the March budget.
"The first is to continue to deliver the stimulus, to complete that stimulus roll-out of those projects in the year to come," he said.
"But to think again, to think beyond that, to begin to think about the deficit and deficit reduction, which we know is a rising concern. We don't want to get into the situation we see some other countries … with huge and unsustainable financial situations."
The third priority is to "do the things necessary to build our economy and create the jobs of the future," the prime minister said.