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Here's why Trudeau has a new House leader, temporarily


Liberal MP Steven MacKinnon was sworn in as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government House leader on Monday, taking on the position temporarily, as Karina Gould begins her maternity leave.

Speaking to reporters outside of Rideau Hall where his private swearing-in ceremony occurred, MacKinnon said under his leadership, Liberals in Ottawa will work with the opposition parties to advance key bills through trying to find "common ground," in what he sees as being a "consequential session of Parliament."

Trudeau had announced last summer, when he shuffled Gould into the role, that MacKinnon—who had been the chief government whip—would be taking over as the Liberals' lead in the House of Commons chamber.

MacKinnon will now be the government's point-person when it comes to stickhandling legislation, organizing the government's House of Commons agenda, and helping co-ordinate question period.

After an at-times acrimonious 2023 sitting, the 57-year-old Gatineau, Que. MP said he'll have more to say about what bills and issues the Liberals will be prioritizing in 2024, as the Jan. 29 kick-off to the next sitting of Parliament nears.

"What we won't tolerate though, is opposition without alternative. Opposition without alternative is just obstruction, and obstruction leads to 30-hour vote marathons," MacKinnon said, referring to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's carbon-tax filibuster in the final days of the December sitting. 

"I think Canadians quite rightly throw up their hands at these kinds of tactics," he added. "We're very determined, and we have a lot of important things to accomplish for Canadians and we only ask that our friends across the way come to this with the same sense of importance."

MacKinnon said he will be contacting his opposition House leader counterparts on Monday to let them know he has an "open door policy," when it comes to discussing House businesses.

Gould, who is expecting her second child this month, announced on social media Monday that she was officially starting her maternity leave from her House leader duties, with plans to resume her role on July 31. 

"I will continue my MP work remotely, voting and participating in caucus and cabinet meetings, though on a reduced schedule," the 36-year-old Burlington, Ont. MP said, expressing pride that the federal government under Trudeau is supporting her in taking this time away from Ottawa.

"She is an unbelievable colleague, and obviously I join with all of us in wishing her well with her new arrival," MacKinnon said.

Speaking to shortly after coming into the House leadership role, Gould said that during her first parental leave in 2018—in which she made history as the first federal cabinet minister to give birth while in office— she put a "a tremendous pressure" on herself to be back in the House as soon as possible. 

This time around, she will be doing things differently, thanks in part to the now-permanent hybrid sitting structure and the 2019 introduction of a parental leave program for MPs, allowing them to be absent from the chamber for up to a year after giving birth or welcoming home a new child without penalty. 

Gould had stated her goal in the role was to make the daily question period an hour of afternoon business in Ottawa that Canadians could be proud of, but the tone and tenor of debate has increasingly been described as toxic, both by those in the chamber and those observing.

Asked Monday what steps he plans to take to raise the standard of debate, MacKinnon said all parties need to follow the rules, "exercise restraint," and "be willing to compromise."

"There's no question we can do better," MacKinnon said. "It's a question of will, though." 

Brampton North, Ont. Liberal MP Ruby Sahota, who had been acting as his deputy, will fill in for MacKinnon as whip. MacKinnon said the pair will be working "in tandem" and that Sahota has the full support of "all of our colleagues in caucus."




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