First week back in the House

What a week! It flew by and here I am, at the end of the first week back in Parliament. The Speech From The Throne was the highlight of the week, but prior to that the new NDP caucus met and it was great to see 12 new members from across the country. I am just getting to know some of my new colleagues, like Megan Leslie from Halifax. She is a young and very dynamic anti-poverty activist, and will be a real spark in the new Parliament. Linda Duncan too, elected in Alberta! With a stellar environmental record that would take your breath away. And I am so happy that Don Davies, right next door in Vancouver-Kingsway is there. He is going to be a terrific MP for Kingsway who won’t forget who elected him.

My week, as NDP House Leader, was really busy – as there are all kinds of big and small items to take care of, and sort out with the other parties. This includes when House business is dealt with, how Question Period is formatted, setting up committee’s, and many small details concerning the operation of Parliament. The new Government House Leader, Jay Hill, says his government will be a kinder, more cooperative, sort…… We’ll see. The fact is 62% of Canadians voted for change, so Mr. Harper doesn’t exactly have any mandate for his right policies.

Right now the priority must be the economic situation. In fact, the NDP caucus had a very interesting panel presentation from 5 economists including Jim Stanford from the CAW and Armine Yalnizyan from the CCPA. They advised us that the impact of the financial credit meltdown is still to be fully felt in the “real” economy – impacting jobs, pensions, mortgages, and incomes. There is an opportunity, nevertheless, to create strong public investment in transit, housing, EI reform, childcare, and an energy retrofit, that can help maintain jobs, and stimulate the economy. Even the economist from the conference board of Canada argued that $40 Billion worth of public spending over the next few years is necessary.

In contrast, the Speech from the Throne, outlining the new Government’s direction, continued a course of ongoing cuts to corporate taxes, and offered little in the way of specifics that will help average Canadians. The Finance Minister will deliver what’s called an “Economic and Fiscal Update” next Thursday – and we will be watching carefully to see what specific measures the government proposes.

Do you know who The Speaker of the House of Commons is? We had to decide that on our first day back. It ended up with the re-election of the Speaker from the last Parliament, Peter Milliken. But not without about 7 hours of voting with 7 candidates over 4 ballots, I think it was. Joe Comartin from the NDP was one of the candidates. He received good support and ran on a ticket of wanting to bring better order and civility to the House, something that absolutely needs to be done. It is embarrassing to see the place mired in name-calling, heckling, and loutish behaviour. Most MPs claim they want Parliament to act in a more respectful and honourable way – and I certainly subscribe to that. But it seems to elude us. Maybe it will be different this time……

One surprise though, was the fact that we now have a woman Assistant Deputy Speaker, MP Denise Savoie from Victoria. This will be a new experience for Denise and I’m hoping that a strong female presence in the Chair, will reign in some of the aggressive guys who think Parliament is a place to act out with a loud voice. Way to go Denise!