Parliament's back: A guide to the big changes
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses his national caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, January 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Published Friday, January 25, 2019 3:22PM EST
OTTAWA – MPs are returning to Parliament on Monday, but their days in Ottawa will look at lot different than when they departed in December. Here's a rundown of why that is and what's new for the New Year on the Hill.
MPs will be filing in to their new digs: West Block. That's where the House of Commons is, and where the 338 members will be debating key issues and creating laws for the next decade, at least, as Centre Block undergoes major renovations.
This new scenery will be a big change for all who work and visit Parliament Hill, not just those elected to serve there.
For the staff and MPs it means new views inside the glass-ceilinged and forest-inspired Chamber, but also getting used to new locations for key press conferences and media scrums.
As for visitors, the tour schedule has changed. The public viewing gallery has 346 seats, about 40 per cent fewer spots than in the Centre Block gallery. Tours won't be running when the House is in session, but more tours will be added on evenings, weekends and break times instead.
The new Commons space was created in what used to be the West Block courtyard, and the entire West Block building got a facelift as well. This cost nearly $1 billion.
Senators are also transitioning into their new abode. The Senate, which has historically sat down the hall from the House of Commons in Centre Block, has moved down the street to the Government Conference Centre, once a train station.
There, cameras will capture senators in action daily, for the first time ever. Until now, Senate proceedings have only been available via audio, except in special circumstances. The streams will begin on Feb. 19 when the Senate resumes sitting. Until then, it’ll just be Senate committees that are meeting in Ottawa due to an audio issue in the main Senate chamber that's being worked out.
New ministers, MPs
Also new is the makeup of Trudeau's front bench following the Jan. 14 shuffle that was prompted by Scott Brison's resignation from cabinet following his decision not to run for re-election.
In that reshuffling, Trudeau promoted Quebec MP David Lametti to be the federal justice minister; Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan to a new rural development role; and bumped Jody Wilson-Raybould to Veterans Affairs, Seamus O'Regan to Indigenous Services, and Jane Philpott to fill Brison's Treasury Board President spot.
Unveiling the changes, Trudeau said the shuffle -- likely the last of this majority mandate -- was "an illustration of the depth of bench strength" that Canadians sent to Ottawa in 2015.
In an interview with CTV News, strategic communications consultant and principal at Earnscliffe Greg Weston spoke about the limited runway of sitting days left — 69 between Jan. 28 and June 21 — and how that ties in to the cabinet shuffle. He said it may have more to do with the coming campaign than Commons work.
"It's barely enough time for these members to find their way to the executive washrooms and figure out what their portfolios are and then the election will be on," Weston said. "This is a cabinet that was not built for running the country; it was built for running the Liberal Party in the next election."
One minister is already publicly acknowledging the limited amount of House time left to pass the remaining legislative priorities while also being able to propose new ideas.
"I'd like to get the legislative agenda that’s already been begun through Parliament before we finish. I think that's my main priority," Lametti said. "We want to continue finishing what we started and we also want to have a vision moving forward for the upcoming elections."
Because Trudeau bumped up two ministers who were part of the parliamentary secretary roster, it's expected there will also be a shuffle of the parliamentary secretary ranks in the coming days.
Parliamentary secretaries are MPs, from the governing caucus, who act as liaisons between cabinet ministers and the House of Commons. These positions offer the chosen backbenchers a heightened role, which includes making announcements on behalf of their ministers and helping stickhandle bills through the various stages of debate and committee study.
With changes to the Liberal roster, it is possible that the opposition parties will to move around their critics in response.
Lastly, expect to soon see some new MPs on the Hill. Trudeau has called three federal byelections for Feb. 25. These campaigns will decide who will be headed to Parliament Hill to fill the vacancies in three ridings:
- Burnaby South, B.C.
- Outremont, Que.
- York–Simcoe, Ont.
In the case of Burnaby South, the outcome of that vote could also bring another big change to a key part of every day on the Hill: the House of Commons daily Question Period. If NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wins that race, he’ll finally have a seat in the Commons and be able to face off against the prime minister.
The rearranging comes as all sides have an eye to the next federal election, now just nine months away.