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Trudeau's new House leader wants question period to become an hour Canadians watching can be proud of

If you've tuned in to question period and wondered if that is really how the elected member of Parliament representing you in Ottawa should be acting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new House leader is trying to change that.

"For me, my objective is that when school groups come into question period and watch question period, they're going to be proud of what they see," new Government House Leader Karina Gould told CTV News in an interview.

While opinion differs on when question period became the kind of spectacle and display of partisan furor that's become perfectly clip-able for social media, every year it seems to be remarked that it's only getting worse. 

All sides share some blame, from what can sometimes be inflammatory questions lobbed across the aisle, to the string of buzzwords and vague phrases often offered back in the place of answers.

In the last few months of the spring sitting, House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota has interjected numerous times during the raucous hour-long mid-afternoon exercise, meant to be about accountability, to remind MPs about how they should comport themselves.

"What part of 'while somebody is speaking, we sit quietly and listen' do we not understand?" he asked on May 31. 

Now, newly-minted in the key legislative management role, Gould is pledging to ensure that Liberal MPs and ministers follow through on presenting a "reasonableness" in the chamber.

"I can't speak for the opposition parties and how they're going to manage themselves," Gould said. "But, at least on the government side, they're going to, you know, be proud of the work that we're doing in the seat of Canada's democracy. And that's what I hope that they'll take away from their experience."

Gould was shuffled into her this position in Trudeau's July 26 mega cabinet reconfiguration, replacing Mark Holland who had been responsible for moving bills through the House since 2021. In the few weeks since, Gould has sought guidance and advice from previous Liberal House leaders, including Holland and his predecessor Pablo Rodriguez who have helped steer the ship through minority waters.

"The role of House leader takes on a whole new level of responsibility when you don't have a majority in Parliament… I'm going to continue to rely on their counsel," Gould said.

Asked why she thinks Trudeau tapped her to take on this job, Gould said it was a good question.

"I was a little surprised to be chosen," she said. "The prime minister when he asked me to take on this role, it's very much about setting the tone in the House of Commons. And I think bringing the approach that I brought to question period in terms of being calm but firm, pushing back when needing to do that, but also as someone who has been able to work across party lines."

While she didn't point directly to it, some of her cabinet colleagues likely weren't surprised to see Trudeau pick her as House leader, given the role she was already playing by instinct in the chamber.

During question period, the role of House leader can start to seem like air traffic control, helping direct which minister or parliamentary secretary should be rising to respond.

Gould, a self-described back-seat driver in question period — her chair was literally behind Holland prior to the shuffle — had grown accustomed to leaning over and whispering, as an opposition question came in, who she thought should be answering it and how they should respond.

"My staff were actually telling me that sometimes when they were watching question period, they could see me leaning over and talking about it. I thought I was being discreet," she said. "I always have a lot of thoughts and opinions on these things, and I make them known."

On the procedure side of the role, Gould said she's absorbed a lot through osmosis since she was first elected to represent Burlington, Ont., in 2015.

But she plans to do a bit of a parliamentary "boot camp" over the summer and lean on the "process nerds" that make up the rest of her team, including deputy Government House Leader Sherry Romanado, and parliamentary secretaries Kevin Lamoureux and Mark Gerretsen.

Heading into the fall sitting with a shortening legislative runway to see the Liberals move on and pass key pieces of legislation to fulfill their commitments both to Canadians and to the New Democrats, Gould is bracing for some hard conversations with her cabinet colleagues about whose bills will take priority.

"That discussion is going to happen over the coming weeks, and we're going to have to prioritize and pick and choose what are the things that are most important," Gould said. "I have no doubt that there are going to be tough conversations with some colleagues, but at the end of the day, we have to focus on what's important for Canadians now and into the future. And I think that's going to have a big impact in terms of what we're advancing in the fall."

She's already spoken with her opposition House leader colleagues – Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer, Bloc Quebecois House Leader Alain Therrien and NDP House Leader Peter Julian, as well as Green MP Mike Morrice – in an effort to build "collaborative" and "collegial" relationships ahead of the House getting back in session in September, where they'll inevitably lock horns as issues arise.

"We've been in a regular dialogue, which is important," said Julian in an interview. He said trying to uphold a respectful tone in the House is always a challenge for the government's House leader, but he has no doubt in Gould's ability to build a sense of co-operation but also "frankness."

Scheer, responding to CTV News' request for comment on his new House leader counterpart, said he plans to "keep the Liberals' feet to the fire," in Parliament.

"The most important changes that we need to see in the House of Commons are changes to the Liberal policies that have made life more difficult for Canadians," he said in an emailed statement. 

The last time the Liberals had a female House leader was during majority government days, with Liberal MP Bardish Chagger stickhandling the legislative agenda between 2016 and 2019.

One of the other items Chagger was mandated to do beyond stickhandle the legislative agenda, was to fulfil a Liberal election platform promise: a first-ever 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.

It's a program Gould pushed hard for, as the then-democratic institutions minister had experienced first-hand administrative issues with the House of Commons, after becoming the first federal cabinet minister to give birth while in office in 2018.

The policy passed by unanimous consent in 2019, and now Gould, who is expecting her second child in January, is gearing up to use the leave provisions to take more time with her expanded family than she did following the birth of her son.

Gould said she put "a tremendous pressure" on herself to be back in the House as soon as possible the first time around because she didn't have a way to vote if she wasn't in her seat.

But now that MPs have agreed to make the hybrid sitting provisions permanent — allowing for continued virtual participation in the House and electronic voting — Gould and others don't have to make that choice.

"I think that's important because it gives MPs the permission to take the time that they need," Gould said. "And I think it is really positive for getting more women, and particularly young women into Parliament, and not just getting them there but enabling them to stay."

When Gould takes parental leave, Chief Government Whip Steven MacKinnon will take over as House leader until she returns. 



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