Whirlwind week for first and only 2015 session of 42nd Parliament
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Dec. 9, 2015. (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Bruce Cheadle, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, December 11, 2015 5:59PM EST
OTTAWA -- The 2015 version of Canada's 42nd Parliament came and went this week in a five-day blur.
The 338 MPs are headed for home and a six-week break after a whirlwind debut in the House of Commons, but the frenetic pace appears likely to continue as an activist new Liberal government seeks to stamp its mark on the country.
The pending arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees in coming weeks ensures ongoing attention for a key government priority, while the Liberal's 2016 budget-building process -- already buffeted by world oil prices that continue to plumb new lows -- will continue to raise questions, whether Parliament is sitting or not.
Still, these five days in December provided more than a glimpse of the elements that could define the Liberal return to power after almost 10 years in the wilderness.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison, a veteran MP who began his career as a Progressive Conservative and is getting his second shot at serving in a Liberal cabinet, called it "a more civil Parliament" as he left the House on Friday afternoon.
"We're doing things differently and I think people can sense that."
Brison, known in opposition for his sharp partisan quips, wasn't just mouthing ministerial boilerplate.
"A very solid week," observed Conservative MP Peter Kent.
"It's definitely an improvement from the last Parliament, particularly at the end," said Peter Julian, the NDP House leader. "I think everyone is endeavouring to work constructively."
There was certainly plenty of news:
-- The Commons passed a motion to enact a package of tax changes (cuts for many, hikes for a few) that will ultimately increase deficits by $1.2 billion annually, an uncomfortable admission for Liberals who'd promised a revenue-neutral tax shift.
"We always targeted modest deficits, we had hoped it would be around $10 billion. We will see if we will be able to hold at that level," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters -- at a news conference in the National Press Theatre -- after the tax motion passed.
The previous prime minister hadn't visited the press theatre since 2009.
-- An inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was launched, an opening gesture in addressing a long-standing grievance.
-- Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced changes tightening up mortgage rules for homes priced at more than $500,000.
-- The House voted down a Conservative motion to continue the military bombing campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria.
"Why is the Prime Minister stepping back from the fight, when our allies are stepping up?" Conservative interim Leader Rona Ambrose had demanded to know in the Commons.
-- When the first military plane-load of 163 of a promised 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Toronto after midnight Thursday, Trudeau was there to greet them, a gesture that garnered international attention.
On Friday, the House unanimously passed a motion welcoming the newcomers.
Amidst this maelstrom of activity, 197 new members of Parliament were still finding the washrooms and cafeterias on Parliament Hill, while new Speaker Geoff Regan made a valiant effort at establishing a new baseline of decorum.
Regan had a running skirmish going with a number of the loudest hecklers, notably Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, who found himself seated directly in Regan's sight lines where he was so often singled out that Warkentin was soon feigning wounded innocence like a wrongly accused schoolboy.
At the opposite end of the attention spectrum, former prime minister Stephen Harper made a stealth appearance to vote on several measures before discreetly exiting through a back door.
Both Conservatives and New Democrats felt they put some dents in the Liberal post-election halo.
Tory MP Andrew Scheer, the former Commons Speaker, confessed to feeling the urge to heckle now that's he's no longer refereeing. More substantively, he said the daily question period began to establish some gaps in the government's fiscal plan and in the particulars of Syrian refugee resettlement.
He questioned why the Liberals were so eager to have the House sit before Christmas, given what Scheer complained was their lack of key details on several files.
At least part of the Liberal thinking revolved around grounding the new government on Canadian soil after Trudeau spent 14 of his first 30 days in office traversing the globe on a circuit of international summits.
Adding to the party chaos was party chaos -- multiple seasonal soirees for MPs and media, including those hosted by the Senate Speaker and by Ambrose at the official Opposition leader's residence, Stornoway.
There was also the kind of genuine compassion that occasionally intrudes on the House, reminding all of the basic decency of Canada's elected representatives.
Veteran Liberal MP Mauril Belanger, who last week announced he's suffering from the incurable neurological disease ALS, was unanimously voted to be honorary Speaker of the House for a day. Belanger had dropped out of the running for Speaker after he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Toss in questions about this month's mini-scandal over the Trudeaus' two, publicly paid staff nannies and the first full week of the 42nd Parliament -- and the only week of 2015 -- pretty much covered the political waterfront.