Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says party members will return to Ottawa later in January, despite the Conservative government's decision to prorogue Parliament until March. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff called the decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to prorogue Parliament and muzzle the opposition "a crazy way to run a democracy," but he stopped short Friday of threatening to bring down the government.

Instead Ignatieff said all of his party's MPs and senators plan to return to work in Ottawa on Jan. 25, the date Parliament was set to resume before Harper shut it down until March.

Ignatieff, speaking from Ottawa in his first public appearance since Harper prorogued Parliament on Dec. 30 until after the Vancouver Olympics, said his party plans to return to work because that's what Canadians have told him they want.

"We're going to be working right until the Olympics because I feel that this is in response to the needs and wishes of Canadians," he said.

Ignatieff said the suspension of Parliament reflects a tendency by the prime minister to shut down or muzzle the opposition and government watchdogs when they criticize the government.

"Each and every time he seems in difficulty, each and every time he feels the pressure of democracy, he tries to have the work of this House behind me stop," he said.

"We think this is a crazy way to run a democracy."

Liberals plan return to work

Ignatieff stopped short of threatening to bring the government down, saying Canadians don't want an opposition that operates with threats.

"I've gotten a very clear message from Canadians: do your darn job, lower the volume, do what you are elected to do," he said.

Ignatieff said his party plans to hold roundtables and public consultations on the environment, democratic governance and the economy. He said the Liberals would be willing to work with other opposition parties should they decide to return to Parliament as well.

Harper's move to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament drew criticism from opposition parties. They suggested it is an attempt to muzzle parliamentarians and avoid the controversy sparked by hearings into Canada's role in Afghanistan — specifically, the treatment of detainees transferred to Afghan authorities by the Canadian Forces.

The Conservative government said it sought the suspension to have time to consult with Canadians, stakeholders and businesses as it moved into the "next phase" of its economic action plan amid signs of economic recovery.

On Tuesday, the prime minister told Peter Mansbridge of CBC News that the decision to prorogue government was a "fairly standard procedure" and a "routine constitutional matter."

"I don't think it makes sense for a session of Parliament to go on and on without the government periodically examining its overall agenda," Harper said.

Speaking at an event in New Brunswick on Friday, the prime minister hit back at criticisms of his decision to invoke prorogation, insisting the government needs the time to work on the next phase of the economic stimulus package.

"It’s interesting to see, a week after we set the date for Parliament to return, that the opposition now says they are going to be really mad about this when they get back from vacation," Harper told reporters.

"The government is going to take advantage of this time … to continue to deliver the economic measures that are being delivered here and elsewhere across the country," he said.

Ignatieff said that Harper's decision to suspend Parliament until March 3 was a gamble on the cynicism of Canadians, and that the reaction of the public shows the gamble has failed.

A Facebook group against prorogation has attracted more than 100,000 members, while an EKOS poll released exclusively to CBC News on Thursday indicates Canadians, after the decision to prorogue Parliament, were nearly twice as likely to oppose the move as favour it.