Nearly seven years of dramatic and highly charged minority Parliaments officially come to an end Thursday, as Stephen Harper meets Parliament for the first time as Prime Minister of a majority government.
That isn’t the only big change. Staring at him across the aisle will be Jack Layton. His New Democratic Party won more seats this year than at any point in its 50-year history. Off to the side will be 34 Liberal MPs, reduced to a small rump after their worst showing ever. Even further damaged is the Bloc Québécois, perceived as a dominant political force earlier this year, but now reduced to just four MPs. And this time around, there is Elizabeth May, Canada’s first elected Green Party MP.
What to expect?
On Thursday, as their first order of business, the MPs of Canada’s 41st Parliament will gather to elect a Speaker. Several MPs are openly campaigning for the job. Every MP is a candidate unless they take their name off the list, meaning the voting process – which involves secret ballots – can be quite lengthy.
Peter Milliken, the former Liberal MP who was first elected Speaker in 2001 and presided in the chair ever since – even under the Conservatives – did not seek re-election. This time it is far more likely that a Conservative MP will win, though at least one NDP MP is putting her name forward.
Other than the Speaker? Several candidates are promising improved decorum in the House and the NDP claims they will not heckle during Question Period. Committees will take some time to get set up and will be dramatically more tame in a majority context. The House rules allow the opposition to chair four committees, however. Government Operations, which will review cabinet’s efforts to cut costs, will be chaired by outspoken NDP MP Pat Martin.
The session is also expected to be short. The House of Commons is scheduled to rise June 23 and the parties will likely take two Fridays off because of Conservative and NDP conventions in June.
What to expect?
Shortly after winning his long-coveted majority, the Prime Minister forecasted his governing style by saying Canadians don’t like surprises. The Throne Speech will be the first test of that. His office says there will not be surprises in the speech and that it will largely draw from Conservative promises made during the election campaign.
While familiar measures like tougher crime sentencing bills, Senate reform and repealing the gun registry will return, the difference is that these measures now have smooth sailing into law. A priority will be to package several crime bills from the previous Parliament into one piece of legislation and pass it within the first 100 sitting days.
Some of the democratic reform promises in the platform are sure to stir up wrangling amongst the provinces. There is no provincial consensus on term limits for Senators, electing Senators nor on expanding the size of the House of Commons.
What to expect?
Normally a budget lockup is an all day-affair, giving media plenty of time to digest the content of budgets that are often about 400 pages. The June 6 lock-up will be two hours. That alone gives a pretty clear indication that there will not be major new measures that require deep explanations by Finance Canada officials.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty laid out the main differences last week.
“Basically this is the March 22 budget with a couple of additions from the platform,” he told reporters, in reference to the 2011 budget that was introduced but not approved before the election. The two main additions from the platform will be the launch of a four-year phase out of the federal subsidies for political parties and setting aside $2.2-billion toward a future deal with Quebec to harmonize sales taxes.
The government wants MPs to get at least the first budget vote out of the way before summer, but indications are that final approval of budget legislation – a foregone conclusion in a majority Parliament – won’t happen until fall.