As the Harper government keeps Parliament shuttered and silent for another month, word is Conservative ministers are being dispatched across the country with political messages of great joy, and money for all manner of popular local projects.

The prime minister got his proclamation from the Governor General to prorogue Parliament Friday, an arcane procedure that will keep the lights off in the Commons until Oct. 16 and otherwise matter little to most Canadians.

At the same time, ministerial goodwill tours will be staged across the land to convince Canadians that, even though Parliament is closed for no urgent reason, the Harper government is still hard at work.

While prorogation also wipes clean the government's legislative slate, truth is there wasn’t much left on it anyway when the Commons adjourned in June for the summer recess.

Finally, the inevitable much ado about not much surrounding prorogation will culminate with a throne speech on opening day of Parliament, setting out the Harper government's plan as it enters the second half of its four-year mandate.

Think of it as the beginning of the next election campaign.

For months, Conservative strategists have been talking about hitting the reset button, hoping to create at least the appearance of a fresh start for a government that increasingly seems long in the tooth, down in the polls and fully muddied by the Senate expenses scandal and other controversies.

Shuffling the deck

The reset button was supposedly hit in early July, starting with a major cabinet shuffle aimed at giving the Harper government a new face — younger, kinder, gentler and more female.

The PM also shook up his office over the summer, a move mainly triggered by the resignation of Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who quit after cutting the now infamous $90,000 personal cheque to Senator Mike Duffy.

Otherwise, the "reset" is not immediately evident.

The Harper government had been hoping to launch the new session of Parliament this fall with a free-trade agreement with the European Union, a deal in which the prime minister has invested a heap of political capital.


A speech from the throne on Oct. 16 will give Harper a chance to set new priorities heading into the 2015 election, but many will be familiar. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

But negotiations are stalled, and even Harper has admitted that major hurdles remain.

The Conservatives had also hoped that with the daily Commons fracas silenced for the summer — and now until well into October — the Senate expenses fiasco would fizzle.

But the opposite has happened: With little other political news in the summer doldrums, every new development in the Senate scandal has been magnified into front-page coverage.

The scandal has become so politically menacing to the Conservatives that the prime minister is now openly talking about abolishing the Senate if it can't be reformed.

Exactly how either Senate reform or abolition could happen is now before the Supreme Court of Canada with a ruling not expected anytime soon, guaranteeing the issue will remain at the forefront of federal politics for months, if not longer.

In the meantime, pollster Nik Nanos of Nanos Research says Canadians may not blame the government for the Senate scandal, "but they will want to know what the Conservatives are going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"This is especially important for the Conservative core," he says.

Otherwise, the Harper government's new agenda for the months ahead may look a lot like the old one.

Pipelines, employment and procurement

The prime minister has already stated the government’s priority will remain jobs and the economy.

The throne speech is guaranteed to focus heavily on both — specifically, creating jobs and keeping the economy moving forward with a promise of balancing the federal budget by 2016.


Harper is desperate to get U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude from Alberta to Texas refineries. (Eric Hylden/Associated Press)

On employment, the government has already announced plans for new programs and regulations affecting foreign workers, a federal scheme to provide grants for new hires, and a number of measures to use the Employment Insurance fund more effectively.

Pipelines will also dominate the next session of Parliament.

The Harper government is desperate to get U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude from the Alberta oilsands to the Texas refineries, a project long stalled by the White House.

The prime minister recently wrote directly to U.S. President Barack Obama to suggest the two countries pursue new North American environmental initiatives, a proposal widely seen as a Canadian attempt to help get Keystone approved.

Meanwhile, by the end of the year, federal regulators are expected to rule on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline between Alberta and the B.C. coast.

That decision is certain to cause problems for the Harper government, whether the project is approved or rejected.

Government insiders say this summer's rail catastrophe in Lac-Megantic guaranteed that all aspects of transportation safety will be a government preoccupation when Parliament returns.

The government is also expected to introduce changes to how Canada buys military equipment — sources say there is even talk of creating a whole new federal department specifically to handle major procurements.

The move comes as the government tries to come to grips with a disastrous attempt to buy helicopters, a scheme described by former defence minister Peter MacKay as the worst procurement program in Canada’s history.

MacKay became justice minister in the cabinet shuffle in July, and is expected to make his first big splash in the portfolio this fall with a new "victims’ bill of rights."

Finally, insiders say the prime minister wants to make progress on aboriginal education and resource development before the next election in 2015.

And so Parliament will reopen Oct. 16 with a throne speech focusing on the economy, employment, pipelines, victims of crime, fixing military procurement and helping Canada's aboriginal peoples.

The more things change…