Maintenance worker Andre Dube uses a vacuum to clean and prepare the House of Commons at Parliament Hill Ottawa Wed Sept 14, 2012. Canadian politicians are back to work Sept 17 for the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.
Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA - Unlike the new fall TV lineup, the return of Parliament on Monday will be a rerun of the last combative session -- with a couple of plot twists.
After spending the summer ducking the national glare, Thomas Mulcair will face his toughest challenge yet as NDP leader, trying to convince Canadians he's not a lackey to the new separatist government in Quebec.
With the election of the Parti Quebecois in a province where the NDP have 58 MPs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be remiss not to draw Mulcair out on issues that may play well in Quebec but not in English Canada.
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen says his party won't be button-holed.
"The NDP will work foremost in the interest of all Canadians," he said. "We will continue to hold Stephen Harper and his Conservatives to account for their ethical failures, mismanagement and cuts to services Canadians rely on."
With polls showing NDP support softening, New Democrats will try to score points by highlighting a list of grievances to define and broaden the ideological divide between themselves and the Conservatives.
Oilsands development, pipelines, China's $15-billion bid for Calgary oil and gas giant Nexen, environmental reviews, immigration and employment reforms, F-35 fighter jets are among issues the opposition sees as Tory vulnerabilities.
And battle lines deepened this summer over rising Conservative chatter to strip unions of power.
The latter has caused considerable angst among labour leaders - revved up by an Ottawa Tory MP who led a chorus of boos against the largest government union for endorsing separatists in the Quebec election.
That decision by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) spurred Pierre Poilievre to call for legislation that would allow workers to opt out of paying union dues. That's on top of a private member's bill already before Parliament that calls on unions to open their books to show how dues are spent.
For the Conservatives, the economy will be front and centre, and a budget implementation bill will be the cornerstone of the government's priorities. That bill will rile unions and others - especially provisions that change public sector pensions, recalibrate research funding and other surprises the government is likely to sneak through like it did in the spring in a similar bill.
On the economy, world events have caused the government to lower expectations about when the $25-billion deficit will be tamed.
Economic uncertainty can be found in lower commodity prices, a slumping manufacturing sector, rising gas prices, crushing household debt and the worst trade deficit on record.
Harper said the most important issue facing the country is the economy. "That's what my focus is," he said last week.
It's an easy bet Harper will use many of the things the opposition opposes to paint those across the aisle as tax-and-spend job killers more interested in saving union jobs than creating new ones.
As for the Liberals, they'll try to be heard above the din and use a leadership race to convince Canadians the party is not washed up.
So put your feet up folks, grab the remote and sink into your favourite chair. Oh, and keep your thumb near the volume control, because things are going to get loud -- painfully loud.