Jack Layton, NDP, Leads Question Period For The First Time
CBC -- MPs returned to the House of Commons Monday with a very different set of faces on the opposition benches during the first question period in more than two months.
The change from a Liberal to NDP Official Opposition means NDP Leader Jack Layton led off question period for the first time, while the Bloc, who lost official party status when they dropped to four MPs, won't get any questions Monday. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, the party's sole MP, was also not on the list.
There may be time at the end of the approximately 45 minutes set aside for one independent MP to ask a question, but that's at the discretion of the Speaker and not guaranteed.
The NDP used their first questions to focus on decorum in the House of Commons and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.
In a question period that seemed much calmer than more recent episodes, MPs had a cordial exchange of questions and answers. Many even congratulated each other on their re-elections or new postings since the May 2 election.
But it wasn't all friendly. Longtime Liberal MP Dénis Coderre seemed to be the most aggressive questioner of the first half of question period, demanding to know why Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn't letting the military help with the cleanup in Quebec's flood-ravaged Richelieu region.
"We're hearing all these nice things, but the prime minister has show as much empathy as someone having a tooth pulled without anesthetic," Coderre told the House.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay replied by congratulating the Canadian Forces for their work so far on the flooding.
"They continue to work with the province to the best of their ability to help mitigate the damage.They are continuing their efforts as we speak. There are 500 soldiers there currently," MacKay said.
The prime minister was in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., Monday morning to tour areas damaged by extended flooding. Harper isn't expected to be back for Question Period, although he is expected to be in the House in time for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to table the federal budget at 4 p.m. ET.
It will also be the first question period refereed by Andrew Scheer since he was elected last week as the youngest Speaker in Canadian history.
Scheer served as deputy speaker in the last Parliament, but he'll now be in charge of navigating procedure in what can be an unruly House. All of the candidates for speaker focused on improving decorum in the chamber, so MPs will be watching to see whether Scheer cracks down on heckling and other disruptive behaviour.
With the new makeup of the House, the number, not just the order, of questions is recalculated.
The NDP now kicks off question period with five questions, to be divided among their MPs however they choose. The Liberals get the next round as the next biggest opposition party, with three questions, led by Interim Leader Bob Rae. The NDP then have another set of nine, followed with three more from the Liberals, four more from the NDP and one for the Conservatives.
After that, there are a few more individual questions for the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives, often along with one question for an independent MP at the end of the session, time permitting. Parties may choose to allocate their time to one of the independent MPs.
With the budget coming later in Monday afternoon, some of the questions could focus on how the government plans to bring the country out of deficit by 2014, as Flaherty has promised. There are likely to be questions on flood relief for Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as well as on Canada Post's rotating strikes.