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Canada  

Scandal heads Parliament agenda

They're ba-a-a-ck.

MPs return to Parliament on Monday with the spectre of the Senate expenses scandal still hovering over the Harper government.

The government says it intends to remain focused on the economy, with next month's budget the centrepiece of the winter sitting.

But New Democrats and Liberals believe the ongoing RCMP investigation and potential charges against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff and four senators will keep the government firmly mired in the Senate scandal, as it was for most of last year.

Moreover, the opposition parties contend government efforts to redirect attention to the economy — the Conservatives' perceived strong suit — could backfire as sluggish growth and rising unemployment put paid to the government's mantra that Canada's economy is performing better than any other G7 country.

"They just came from one of the worst years they've ever had in 2013," says NDP House leader Nathan Cullen. "I only assume they're going to try to hit that magical reset button, whatever it is."

Bombshell RCMP documents filed in court indicate more than a dozen top players in the Prime Minister's Office, Senate leadership and Conservative party were involved in a deal to protect Duffy, interfere with an independent audit of his expenses and whitewash a Senate report on his conduct.

Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale predicts the government will be "as much mired in ethical issues as ever."

Rising unemployment, record household debt, ballooning trade deficit — "those are all bad indicators," says Cullen.

"We're under-performing the U.S. dramatically now ... We're not doing better than any other G7 country."

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