A breather for PM Harper during the holidays; Commons recesses

A fall parliamentary session that got off to a late start but then produced some raucous moments, as the Conservatives were grilled over the Senate scandal, has gone out with a whimper.

Members of Parliament agreed to rise Tuesday evening, and they will not sit again until late January.

The extended break gives Prime Minister Stephen Harper's side some respite from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's near-daily interrogations during question period.

Mulcair kept up the prosecutorial approach he first adopted this spring in the wake of revelations that Harper's former chief of staff wrote a $90,000 cheque to cover Sen. Mike Duffy's ineligible expenses.

Last month, the opposition parties got fresh ammunition with the release of new court documents showing Nigel Wright, Harper's former top aide, is being investigated by the RCMP for bribery, fraud and breach of trust and the Mounties have widened their probe to include the Prime Minister's Office.

The RCMP also alleged an influential Conservative senator and fundraiser was a central figure in the scheme to reimburse Duffy for his invalid expense claims and to interfere in an independent audit of Duffy's expenses.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Then there was a cache of emails belonging to Benjamin Perrin, former counsel for the Prime Minister's Office, which at first were thought to have been deleted before they were finally found.

It all made for tempestuous times in and out of the Commons.

When Harper himself wasn't standing in the Commons, his parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra made a name for himself by offering responses that steered a wide berth from the nature of the actual questions.

But without Harper or Mulcair, who are in South Africa this week to pay their respects to the late Nelson Mandela, much of the oxygen was sucked out of the Commons in the last two days of the session.

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