With the House of Commons set to start back up again on June 2, Canadians will get their fist glimpses of the 41st Parliament. Given that the tumultuous campaign period, dramatic results, and overload of post-poll dissection nearly a month behind us, it may seem as though all the excitement in Ottawa has died down. But fear not, diligent politicos, there is no shortage of gripping storylines to follow as MPs new and old take their seats. With that in mind, here are five new trends to watch for as Parliament returns.
The re-opening of Parliament will also mark the debut of 108 rookie MPs. While some of them have already received a glut of press, others will be looking to make a good first impression with their constituents. With some of the youngest candidates ever to have been elected, this edition of Parliament could have a very different atmosphere. While the class of first-timers may bring a fresh new face to governance, they will also carry the mistrust that stigmatizes youth and inexperience. Prepare for a generational gap in the house.
For five years, Stephen Harper has had to walk a tightrope over legislation, always wary that his tenuous minority government might be brought down by a non-confidence vote. While this approach helped keep Harper in office, it frustrated many of the Conservatives’ old boys. But now that he’s got his long-desired majority, the PM will be safe to push the party agenda as never could in the past. How far will the Tories go in exploiting their majority? Hard to tell, though it’s a safe bet that Harper will be a lot more willing to let his Neo-Con roots show and play to his base now that he doesn’t have to placate opposition MPs or left-of-centre voters.
On one hand, the NDP’s new status as Official Opposition gives leader Jack Layton some moral clout and a more prominent soapbox from which to speak. On the other hand, with a Conservative majority in place, Layton has less power on Parliament Hill than ever. Whereas under the Harper minority, he often served as lynchpin for the government, Layton no longer has any leverage over the Tories. Will success and Stornoway change Jack Layton? Perhaps. But the 30.6 per cent of voters who backed the NDP will be looking for the same old Jack to bring more of that old stubborn idealism to a new Parliament.
After enduring their worst-ever showing at the polls, the Liberals will return to the House in a much different state than the one in which they left. The Grits will be in major rebuilding mode but, with a decidedly short-term leader, and without old pillars like Gerard Kennedy and Ken Dryden, it remains to be seen how easily or quickly a rejuvenated Liberal party can be established. In the interim, their main challenge will be to stay organized and maintain a noticeable presence in Parliament as they adapt to their new role as Canada’s third party. Watch for new chief Bob Rae to make a big splash as he takes advantage of his long-awaited leadership role, and tries to claw back some clout for his maligned Liberals. He will be eager to get the party back into the headlines for reasons other than their historic loss.
At times in the past few years there was a cooperative all-against-one atmosphere amongst Canada’s opposition parties. There was even talk, though not as much as the Conservatives would have voters believe, that the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, and Liberals might unite under a coalition banner to take down the Conservative minority. The Conservative majority means that a coalition would do little good now but, with the Liberals having been decimated, and the Bloc virtually out of politics, a party merger isn’t out of the question. It’s happened before, as Harper can attest to. Even without a merger, we may, at the very least, see some Liberal and Bloc MPs jumping ship to join the bigger parties. Though often scorned, crossing the floor has become a post-election tradition in Canada’s Parliament.