The Commons: Tom’s first day at school

Thomas Mulcair rose and so did the entirety of his caucus, his colleagues sounding his arrival with a great ’Woooo!’

The Scene. Olivia Chow stood and bestowed her blessing upon him. A Conservative backbencher, Jeff Watson, stood and recited the talking points. And then the Speaker pronounced the time for oral questions and called on the honourable leader of the opposition to stand.

Thomas Mulcair rose and so did the entirety of his caucus, his colleagues sounding his arrival with a great “Woooo!” The Liberals and, eventually, the Conservatives stood too, the House of Commons offering its unanimous regards to the newly delivered leader of the NDP.

The press gallery was filled nearly to capacity. Sitting in the opposition leader’s gallery across from him watched his wife, a few of his aides, former MP Bill Blaikie, newly elected MP Craig Scott, Jack Layton’s former chief of staff, Anne McGrath, and Paul Dewar’s wife and two teenage sons. And also, apparently by some mistake, Arlene Perly Rae, wife of the interim Liberal leader.

When the House had quieted, Mr. Mulcair began.

“Mr. Speaker, since the Conservatives came to power, Canada haslost hundreds of thousands of good jobs in manufacturing,” he said. He recalled the Prime Minister’s unfortunate trip to the Electro-Motive plant in London. “The plant is now closed and all jobs have been exported to another country,” he reminded.

Today it is the turn of Aveos workers, he continued. “In Winnipeg, Montreal, Toronto, thousands of families in distress,” he reported, ticking off the scenes on his fingers. “Why do they do nothing?” he finally asked of the government.

This was a good enough start—even if Mr. Mulcair spent much of his 30 seconds with his head down, reading from a piece of paper on his desk, just as he had read aloud Saturday night’s victory speech. (Is it possible Mr. Mulcair is finding himself a bit nervous about this new job?) Nonetheless, the New Democrats sprang up to cheer their new leader.

With the Prime Minister away on business, it was James Moore’s turn to stand and offer the government’s response. He began by congratulating Mr. Mulcair.  “It’s certainly impressive what he accomplished,” the Heritage Minister remarked.

Then, of course, Mr. Moore dismissed the question entirely. The government, he noted, had created over 600,000 jobs, more than any other G20 country. “And we will continue in this direction in our next budget,” he promised.

Mr. Mulcair sat back and listened, then stood, buttoned his jacket and started in again. “Mr. Speaker, they’re leaving the most important ecological, economic and social debt in our history in the backpack of future generations,” he declared. The balanced economy was balanced no more. The youth unemployment rate was quite dreadful. “Will the Conservatives take advantage of the budget to rectify the situation and provide jobs and hope to our youth?” he wondered. The NDP leapt up once more.

There was a fist pump in here and indeed Mr. Mulcair seemed to picking up some steam.

Mr. Moore rose and repeated his impressive-sounding number. With left hand in pocket and right finger wagging, he chastised the opposition side. “We are putting more power and money and influence into the pockets of individual Canadians so they can choose how they want to live their lives,” he ventured, “rather than the big government, central control approach that is the hallmark of the NDP.”

Switching to English, Mr. Mulcair took his final turn, returning to the matter of Aveos. “Mr. Speaker, let us talk about how Canadians are going to live their lives when thousands of families are about to lose their livelihood with the shutdown of Aveos. These jobs are about to be exported. That is the only direction that they know,” he charged. “The government is throwing up its hands and saying there is nothing it can do. There is something it could do and it could do it now. The government could enforce the act, save these jobs, and do something for a change. Why will the government not act?”

Perhaps now properly warmed up, the NDP leader managed to shake both fists in Mr. Moore’s direction.

The Heritage Minister stood and chided that Mr. Mulcair had apparently missed the Transport Minister’s earlier statement on the matter. Apparently the issue would be referred to committee. Where upon most of the world’s problems have already been settled.

A moment later, it was Bob Rae’s turn, the interim Liberal leader up to ask the government about Aveos. Mr. Mulcair looked down the opposition front row and held his piece of paper aloft, apparently to taunt Mr. Rae about who had asked first.

On his second try, Mr. Rae carried on quite loudly. Mr. Moore took note.

“Mr. Speaker, I see with the energy of the leader of the Liberal Party’s question that it is pretty clear, given what we saw over the weekend, the job he is most concerned about is his own,” he quipped.

In his seat, Mr. Mulcair giggled his appreciation. Turning to look up at his guests in the gallery he raised his eyebrows.

The Stats. Employment, 13 questions. Ethics, six questions. Health care, three questions. Seniors, military procurement, agriculture, fisheries, science and search-and-rescue, two questions each. Mali, banking, trade, immigration and bilingualism, one question each.

James Moore, six answers. Christian Paradis, five answers. Denis Lebel, four answers. Leona Aglukkaq, Kellie Leitch and Keith Ashfield, three answers each. Jim Flaherty, Julian Fantino and Dave Anderson, two answers each. Lisa Raitt, Pierre Poilievre, Dean Del Mastro, Deepak Obhrai, Peter Kent, Gary Goodyear, Peter MacKay, Gerald Keddy and Vic Toews, one answer each.