Opposition MPs in no rush to defeat
[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:30 p.m. April 3, 2006]
OTTAWA — As the new Parliament came to order on Monday, opposition MPs are predicting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government will have at least one year in power before they are defeated.
Interim Liberal leader Bill Graham has promised not to alter Liberal principles to prop up the new government.
But a veteran Liberal MP said Monday his party is in no rush to send Canadians back to the polls.
"I think they've got at least one budget cycle," said Liberal MP John McKay. "And I don't think there's any impetus on the part of our party to push them off the edge."
The Liberals currently are in search of a new party leader and will select one at a leadership convention in Montreal in December.
McKay said that is one of many factors that will give the Tories time to implement their agenda.
"It's quite significant. I mean, who wants to go into an election without a leader? That doesn't make any sense at all."
Meanwhile, NDP MP Pat Martin estimates the Tories will have 18 months in power before they are defeated.
"(Because of) Election finances and party finances … all the stars and all the planets line up for June 2007," he said.
While much of the media attention since Harper came to power has been focused on the floor-crossing of former Liberal David Emerson and Harper's turf war with the Parliamentary Press Gallery, behind the scenes there is said to be a greater degree of cooperation between Harper and the opposition leaders than there was with the former Liberal government.
NDP House leader Libby Davies said the Liberals displayed "unbelievable arrogance in the last Parliament," behaving as if they had a majority.
In recent weeks, Harper has held meetings with the three opposition leaders to discuss the new session of Parliament and the throne speech, something his predecessor didn't do.
"I think they could have done more level of consultation, but we've had some," said Davies.
Government House Leader Rob Nicholson is promising that his government will work with the opposition parties as the Tories try to put in place their five election priorities and introduce a throne speech on Tuesday.
The government could face as many as three votes on the throne speech in the coming weeks, with the first vote on the sub amendment expected as early as Thursday evening.
"I don't think you're going to see the drama that you saw in the fall of 2004," he said in reference to the game of Parliamentary chicken between then prime minister Paul Martin and the opposition parties.
"We want to reach out to the other parties. I think when people see the speech from the throne, this will be a good basis upon which this parliament can proceed."
"We're not going to govern as if we have a majority."
Nicholson said he was optimistic about the coming session of Parliament and cooperation with the other parties, saying, "the vibes so far are good."
Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale said his party would be looking both at what is in the throne speech and what is not in it.
He specifically mentioned wanting to see a commitment to the Kelowna Accord reached with aboriginal leaders in the days before the election and a compensation package for Indian residential schools.
The Conservatives are expected to focus on their five priorities of cleaning up government, cutting the GST, getting tough on crime, reducing health care wait times and providing a monthly cheque to parents with children under six in the throne speech
Meanwhile the Bloc Quebecois said its support of the Conservative government would be on a case-by-case basis.
"If (Harper) wants to do something with the fiscal imbalance or recognizing Quebec at the international level and so on, we'll support those measures.
"If he decides to go into Iraq, we'll go to an election. Period."
MPs spent their first day familiarizing themselves with the new seating arrangements and meeting some of the 67 new MPs.
Former prime minister Paul Martin has been assigned a corner seat near the Speaker's chair in the front row of the Liberal party's opposition benches.
MPs also elected a speaker. Liberal Peter Milliken was re-elected on the first ballot, defeating fellow Liberals Marcel Proulx and Diane Marleau.
Also on the minds of MPs is an informal commitment to improve the decorum of the House.
Fiery exchanges and heckling had become commonplace during question period in the last sitting.
MPs said they heard complaints about it at the door during the election campaign.
"My constituents are very clear," said rookie Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff. "We've got to behave ourselves. We've got to raise our game. They want civil debate, I'm going to try to do my best to give it to them."
Immigration Minister Monte Solberg said that he plans to be "more restrained."
"I think we do have an obligation to act in a responsible way that flatters Parliament and gives the public some confidence in their Parliament."
On Tuesday afternoon Governor General Michaelle Jean will deliver the government's throne speech in the Senate chamber.
Then on Wednesday, the first question period of the new government will be held and the first session of the Conservative government and formal debates in the House will be under way.
The throne speech debate is expected to take up the first six sitting days of the House. After that is completed, Harper is expected to introduce his first piece of legislation, the Federal Accountability Act.
MPs are schedule to sit until June 9 before the next recess.
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