PM Harper may call Parliament back 'mid-May,' but NDP MPs say it's too early
With 68 new MPs to swear in, the NDP needs time for training, establishing new offices, constituency offices, hiring and swearing in, among other issues.
By TIM NAUMETZ
Published May 4, 2011 5:49 PM
The Hill Times
[Back to work: NDP leader Jack Layton, pictured in the House in March. The government has not said when Parliament will return this spring.]
The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
Back to work: NDP leader Jack Layton, pictured in the House in March. The government has not said when Parliament will return this spring.
PARLIAMENT HILL—The first tussle between the new official opposition NDP and the majority Conservative government may be on the close horizon—not over legislation but timing of the new Parliamentary session.
NDP whip Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathurst, N.B.) told The Hill Times on Wednesday he understood—apparently from something Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) said—that the government may intend to call the 41st Parliament to begin sometime in mid-May.
With 68 new MPs to swear in, all but two of them newcomers to Parliament and some not even familiar with politics, let alone federal politics, the NDP needs time for training, establishing new offices, constituency offices, hiring and swearing in, among other issues.
“I think it’s too early,” said Mr. Godin. “The House is not on fire there. To be fair to the democracy, to be fair with the process, leave people to take breathe a little bit. I know what it is, when I got elected in 1997, you want to be fair to your constituents, you want to open an office, people are looking for you.”
But, though the official proclamation from Governor General David Johnston dissolving the last Parliament set May 30 as the date to “summon and call together” the new one, it can be changed at Mr. Harper’s direction. House Speaker Peter Milliken’s office said the pro forma date always set at the dissolution of a Parliament is usually changed by the prime minister following an election, and it can be pushed either back or ahead.
But, other than Mr. Harper’s statement that it will be “soon,” the Prime Minister’s office as of Wednesday said no decision had yet been made.
Andrew MacDougall, Mr. Harper’s press secretary, told The Hill Times in an email, “We will have a spring session. The budget will be front and centre in that session.”
The proclamation dissolving the last Parliament set May 23 as the final date for the return of all 308 election writs from ridings across Canada, but that was only the final deadline.
NDP MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh, Ont.) also acknowledged the New Democrats, with 56 of their rookie MPs from Quebec, have a formidable training period ahead of them, as the new caucus band engages Parliament Hill. Mr. Comartin said the party’s normal trainee programs are being expanded.
The first step, Mr. Godin told The Hill Times, is a caucus meeting by telephone on Thursday with the entire caucus, and a full caucus meeting likely sometime shortly before the new Parliament begins. The Liberals hold their first caucus meeting next week.
As Mr. Godin and other veteran MPs fended off criticism Wednesday about the inexperience of many of their new Quebec MPs, some of whom lived in Ottawa and were just names on ballots as far as their new constituents were concerned, the party also absorbed its first round of sniping from the Liberals, now occupying the third party range at the far end of the Commons where the NDP sat until now, for five decades.
Wayne Easter, the feisty Liberal MP from Prince Edward Island, told The Hill Times NDP Leader Jack Layton (Toronto Danforth, Ont.) might regret giving up his influential spot as leader of the third party in a minority Parliament—where he often wrested legislation or other measures from Liberal and Conservative governments—in exchange for opposition leader status where a majority government needs no support, in raw balance of power terms, to pass bills.
Mr. Easter said Mr. Layton is going to learn “you had a hell of a lot more power before this election as a third party than you do as the official opposition. All Stephen Harper needs to say to him is ‘Jack, what are you talking about man, I have 167 seats, I don’t need to talk to you.’”
Mr. Godin, NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.), and House Leader Libby Davies (Vancouver East, B.C.) brushed the Liberal poke off as “sour grapes.”
“The facts speak for themselves. The Conservatives have a majority so it’s obvious that if they want to jam something through, they’ve got the votes to do that,” said Ms. Davies. “What it does mean though is we will have to be creative, we will have to be tough in being the official opposition, and think of what we do in a variety of ways to keep accountability and transparency and keep pressure on the government.”
Ms. Davies said she feels “tremendous” about the new caucus, especially the young MPs who she said will “learn the ropes” quickly. “New Democrats, we’re political animals, we get into this fast. This is going to change so many things,” she said. “I think it’s a whole new ball game. It’s going to be a whole new kind of politics.”
The Hill Times
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Posted by Brent Fullard at 8:20 AM