New House ain’t like the old one

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Sun Media, Friday, June 17, 2011

What a difference a majority makes.

In March, the minority Conservative government was defeated on a contempt of Parliament motion without its budget ever even coming to a vote.

“As I was saying,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty quipped on re-introducing his budget last week. On Monday, the budget was adopted in a heartbeat.

Hardly anyone noticed, but it passed with the support of the Bloc Quebecois, since it provides $2.2 billion for Quebec for harmonizing the federal and provincial sales taxes.

The Bloc was reduced to issuing a statement criticizing the NDP for voting against the interests of Quebecers in the 59 ridings it now represents there.

And still no one paid any attention.

This is how profoundly the new House differs from the old one.

Having been a negative force in six Parliaments since 1993, the Bloc is reduced to a tiny deputation of just four MPs, with no standing as a party in the House and no time allocated in Question Period.

They sit huddled in the fifth row, together with Green Party leader Elizabeth May, just behind the Liberals at the very back of the House.

For the Liberals, Bob Rae is recognized by the Speaker not as the leader of the Opposition, but as “the Hon. Member from Toronto Centre,” as befitting his status as leader of the third party.

As for Jack Layton, it must be sinking in that he has much less power as Opposition Leader in a majority House than he did when he wielded the balance of power as the head of the fourth party in a minority House.

But there are compensations, including Stornoway, the gracious Rockcliffe residence of the Opposition Leader, which he and Olivia Chow were checking out Wednesday.

There’s public housing and then there’s public housing, with more than enough room for the two mothers-in-law who share their digs in Toronto’s Chinatown.

But in terms of making a difference in the House, Layton and the NDP are powerless to stop the government from introducing back-to-work legislation for Air Canada employees who hadn’t even hit the picket lines yet, and Canada Post workers, who’ve been on rotating strikes before being locked out this week.

Stephen Harper wouldn’t have dreamed of back-to-work bills in a minority House, at least at such an early stage, since both the NDP and Bloc would have opposed them.

In a majority House, Harper has the votes, thank you very much.

Which didn’t prevent Layton from doing a riff on the rights of workers in question period Wednesday.

“First, the government threatens back-to-work legislation mere hours after Air Canada workers used their legitimate right to strike,” he declared.

“Then, it turns around, takes a government corporation and locks out its own workers. Does the Prime Minister consider that this could in any way be interpreted as fair bargaining practice?”

Harper replied: “The two parties in both the Air Canada dispute and the Canada Post dispute have thus far been unable to reach a settlement. Due to their inability to reach a settlement, they are threatening greater damage on other parties in the Canadian economy. The government will act to ensure the Canadian economy and the wider interests of the Canadian public are protected.”

To be clear, the majority government.

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