New reality facing next Parliament

With the May 2 election now behind us, it is time to look forward to Canada’s new majority government.
I would like to use this space over the next two weeks to inform you of some of the impacts the election results will have on the functioning of Parliament, and how it may affect our lives over the next four years.
This week, I’d like to briefly recap the election results, address the new powers of the Harper government, and speculate as to the impact it will have on our daily Question Period.
The election of May 2 resulted in the first Conservative majority government under Stephen Harper, with the NDP forming the Official Opposition for the first time under the leadership of Jack Layton.
The first major difference in this Parliament will be the institutional transition from a minority government to a majority one. If you don’t follow politics on a daily basis, then this difference could sound somewhat insignificant, but the actual impact will be quite dramatic.
It is true that Stephen Harper is still prime minister and the Conservatives still are the governing party, but their power in Ottawa has increased dramatically.
With a majority of seats in the House of Commons now being occupied by Conservative MPs, the prime minister has the ability to introduce and pass any legislation he chooses and whenever he chooses.
For confidence votes such as the throne speech and budget, it means there is little to no threat of the defeat of this government barring a revolt among at least 13 Conservative MPs.
It also means the Conservatives can, for the most part and aside from established parliamentary traditions, dictate the schedule and business of the House of Commons. It can introduce bills, schedule debates on those bills, and choose the sitting hours of Parliament on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.
On a daily basis, the big changes will be noticeable during Question Period since the order and quantity of questions and statements are based upon the partisan make-up of the House of Commons. In the last Parliament, the Liberals (as the Official Opposition) asked the first set of questions, and received up to seven questions in each of the three rounds over the roughly one-hour period.
The Bloc were next, and had between three and five questions per round, while my NDP colleagues and I had the remainder–between one and three per round.
In this Parliament, the election results mean that New Democrats will lead off Question Period, and have six-eight questions per round, followed by the Liberals with two-three questions, with one question set aside for the Bloc, Green, or independent MPs and another for a backbench Conservative.
This will dramatically affect what issues are discussed in Ottawa, and I would offer that New Democrats plan to hold the government to a much higher standard on issues ranging from job creation and the economy to health care and the soaring cost of living for families than the last Official Opposition.
So this is the new reality in the House of Commons. The Conservatives will have more power, but the New Democrats also will have a much stronger voice to hold them to account.
The Liberals also still will have a voice in Parliament, but I can assure you that they will face an uphill battle with fewer questions and statements each day in the House.
Next week, I would like to explain how the new majority government also will result in significant changes in our other democratic institutions, in particular to our parliamentary committees, the civil service, and the judiciary.
Until then, take care.

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