Parliament is made up of the House of Commons (338 Members — 184 Liberal, 99 Conservative, 44 NDP, 10 Bloc Québécois, one Green), the Senate (105 Senators — currently 47 Conservative, 29 Liberal, six independent, one independent Conservative and 22 vacant seats), Queen Elizabeth and Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.
The House of Commons is an interesting mix of history, law making and theatre. When we took our seats on Dec. 3 for the opening of Canada’s 42nd Parliament, I couldn’t help but stop and think of Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister in 1867, and the fact that here in the House is where Canada was “made” over the last 148 years! What a humbling experience it is, and what an honour it is to be there representing the 107,589 people who live within the 64,000-square-kilometre Kootenay-Columbia riding. My sincere thanks to the 74 per cent of eligible voters who took the time to vote on Oct. 19 — it truly is the best way to demonstrate that you care about democracy and the kind of country that you want Canada to be!
The sitting of Parliament begins with tradition, from the knock on the door of the House by the Usher of the Black Rod with an invitation to walk to the Senate to meet with the governor-general to officially open the session, to the election of the Speaker of the House (Geoff Regan) who gets reluctantly dragged to the Speaker’s chair by the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition. The staged reluctance comes from history where legend has it that in jolly old England if the reigning monarch didn’t like the speaker’s decisions, it was off with his head!
The next day it was down to business with the reading of the Liberal government’s speech from the throne by the governor-general in the Senate chamber, which was then voted on in the House of Commons. While the speech included hopeful initiatives that will be good for Canada (as I said during the campaign, there are many similarities between the NDP and the Liberal Party platforms) it also led to the first disappointment.
As part of the debate on the speech from the throne we proposed a sub-amendment whose purpose was to benefit “some of Canada’s most vulnerable citizens, including: seniors through an increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement; middle class families through reducing taxes on the first income bracket (the approved Liberal’s tax cut for the middle class benefits people making from $45,000-$90,000-plus — nothing for the lowest income earners); low income earners by introducing a $15 per hour minimum wage for federally regulated jobs; and support to those struggling to enter the workforce with a robust and reliable Employment Insurance program.” Our proposal was voted down by both the Liberal and Conservative parties.
While Parliament only sat for seven days in December it was a very busy time with one session finishing just before 8 p.m. I was privileged to be one of the first members of Parliament to give their maiden speech (Hansard Volume 148, Number 003, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, Monday, December 7, 2015, Page 76 or on YouTube at youtu.be/1uo9wkxKCDI). We are required to be in our seats in the House for our assigned duty days, for all votes and for question period. The House resumes sitting on Jan. 25 and goes through until June 23, with a total of six weeks off during that period.
I plan on providing you with regular updates but also want to give you an opportunity to be a part of what happens in Parliament. While being the third party (we refer to ourselves as the progressive opposition — because it’s true!) limits the number of questions we are able to ask in question period, is there a specific question you would like me to ask the Liberal government? If yes, please describe the issue and its significance to the riding and/or Canada, including references and sources, and what the specific question is. I will do my best to get it on to the floor.
The second opportunity is longer term. Government ministers introduce legislation as they see fit; for the rest of us, our names go into a “hat” for the opportunity to put forward a private member’s bill for consideration by the House. I was drawn 111th, which means I will be able to table a bill in 2017 or 2018, as they are done sequentially. While this does seem to be a long way away, it does take time to draft good legislation and there are many members of Parliament who won’t get any opportunity to put forward a bill during the four years of this session of Parliament. What do you think the priority should be for our riding?
To provide your input or for any other concerns, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 250-919-9104. My next update will provide a complete listing of constituency office locations and contact information in Ottawa, Nelson and Cranbrook. In the interim I am continuing my visits to communities around the riding along with an opportunity for you to book one-on-one meetings. Prior to Christmas I met with constituents in Elkford, Sparwood, Fernie, Kimberley, Cranbrook and Nelson, with more to come.
Happy New Year to all! I do hope that 2016 is a great year for you.
Wayne Stetski is the New Democratic Party member of Parliament for the Kootenay-Columbia federal riding.