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seating plan

The House of Commons sits empty on Parliament Hill in 2006.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

The new-look House of Commons is overflowing with Conservative and NDP MPs, with Opposition Leader Jack Layton surrounded by women placed strategically on his front benches.

For the first time in history an NDP leader is facing the Prime Minister - two sword lengths directly across the chamber from him. The bank of opposition seats close to the Speaker's chair is heady space for the 103-strong New Democrats.

And the NDP is making the most of it, especially showing off their 40 women MPs. Indeed, while members are seated by seniority and alphabetically, there are some other determinations. Strategists always consider carefully the camera angles around a leader when he is up speaking in the House in a bid to reflect diversity in the caucus.

So, there's B.C. MP Libby Davies - co-deputy leader and health critic - sitting directly on Mr. Layton's left and sharing his desk. Finance critic Peggy Nash is to Ms. Davies's left and behind Mr. Layton are Meagan Leslie, Halifax MP and environment critic, Chris Charlton, who represents Hamilton Mountain and is the new Opposition Whip.

Thomas Mulcair, Mr. Layton's other deputy leader and the Opposition House Leader, is to his right on the front bench.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are squeezed into a small section of the chamber, occupying 34 seats way back at the doors to the entrance of the Commons and as far away from the Speaker's chair as one can be - with one exception.

Elizabeth May, the lone Green Party MP, is in the last seat of the last row on the opposition side of the Commons right against the curtains. She is jammed in between one of the four Bloc Québécois MPs and the translator's booth. Justin Trudeau, the Liberal MP from Papineau, has the seat in front of her.

On the government side, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has Christian Paradis, the new Industry Minister, sitting with him, reflecting the importance of ensuring Quebec doesn't feel left out.

The province only elected five Conservatives - four of whom are in the cabinet. Peter Van Loan, the Government House Leader, is to Mr. Harper's left, sharing a desk with Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

And the Prime Minister has women strategically placed as well. Cameras will see Diane Ablonczy, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Alice Wong, the Minister of State for Seniors, behind Mr. Harper. Lynne Yelich, the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification is beside them.

So large is the Tory majority - 166 seats - that's there even some overflow with 13 MPs having to sit on the opposition side.

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