OTTAWA – With the May 2nd 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 that 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 would like to briefly recap the election results, address the new powers of the Harper government, and speculate as to the impact that the May 2nd will have on our daily Question Period.
The federal election of May 2nd resulted in the first Conservative majority government under Stephen Harper with the New Democratic Party forming Her Majesty’s Official Opposition under the leadership of Jack Layton. The final seat total from this election as well as the percentage of the vote nationally and the change in that vote from the 2008 election are as follows; Conservatives 166 seats (39.62%, up 1.97% from 2008), New Democrats 103 seats (30.63%, up 12.4% from), Liberals, 34 seats (18.91%, down 7.36% from 2008), Bloc Quebecois 4 seats (6.04%, down 3.93% from 2008) and 1 seat for the Greens (3.91%, down 2.86% from 2008).
The first major difference in this parliament will be the institutional transition from a minority government to a majority government. 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 are still the governing party, but their power in Ottawa has increased dramatically.
With a majority of seats in parliament now being occupied by Conservative MPs, the Prime Minister has the ability to introduce and pass any legislation that he chooses and whenever he chooses. For confidence votes such as the Throne Speech and Budget it means that there is little to no threat of the defeat of this government barring a revolt among at least 13 Conservative MPs. It also means that 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 in the House of Commons 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. In the last parliament, the Liberals (as the Official Opposition) asked the first set of questions and received up to 7 questions in each of the three rounds over the roughly one hour period. The Bloc were next and had between 3 and 5 questions per round, while my New Democrat colleagues and I had the remainder – between 1 and 3 per round. In this parliament, the new results mean that New Democrats will lead off Question Period and have 6-8 questions per round, followed by the Liberals with 2-3 questions with one question set aside for the Bloc, Green, or independent MP’s 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 job creation, the economy, healthcare, 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 will also have a much stronger voice to hold them to account. The Liberals will also still have a voice in parliament, but I can assure you and them 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 will also 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.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River