MPs try to find way in temporary digs for last sitting before election - InfoNews

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MPs try to find way in temporary digs for last sitting before election

Snow covers the front gates to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on November 27, 2013. Federal politicians will be on election footing as they resume parliamentary business today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
January 28, 2019 - 3:19 PM

OTTAWA - Newly minted Treasury Board President Jane Philpott was just finishing a scrum with reporters in the foyer of the new House of Commons in Ottawa Monday. She told journalists to "enjoy the new building," turned and walked through the wrong door.

Instead of going into the legislative chamber, the minister set out for the exit.

This was a familiar sight Monday as MPs, staffers and media negotiated their way through the Commons' temporary new home in the refurbished West Block while Centre Block undergoes a major makeover, expected to take at least a decade.

Cabinet ministers, MPs and their staff had to elbow their way through a melee of reporters and cameras in a smaller-than-they're-used-to foyer outside the chamber. Some tried to get in through a locked door reserved for parliamentary officials. Staff were posted throughout the building to give directions. Inside, MPs joked about how they still felt lost in their new quarters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used his first answer in question period to note the work of designers and engineers who helped to make the temporary new chamber a reality.

"If we who serve Canadians in this place work even half as hard as they worked to build this place for us, we will be very well served as a country indeed," Trudeau said.

The change in location did not dilute the partisan vitriol of question period. Trudeau faced pointed questions from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on the firing of former Liberal MP John McCallum as Canada's ambassador to Beijing over the weekend.

Pointing also to the prime minister's troubled trip to India last year, which featured events attended by convicted attempted murderer Jaspal Atwal, Scheer accused the prime minister's foreign policy of being in a state of "disaster."

Trudeau batted away Conservative critiques on the China file, saying his government is working with "integrity and firmness" to ensure the liberation of two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — detained in there and is seeking clemency on a third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, who has been sentenced to death for smuggling drugs.

NDP MPs, meanwhile, focused their questions on housing shortages across Canada, asking Trudeau to commit funding in his upcoming budget to alleviate this "crisis."

Although question period did not lack for fireworks, one new feature did get a particularly loud standing ovation — when Winnipeg Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Oullette asked a question in Cree and it was translated simultaneously into English and French. Earlier in the day, he'd delivered a statement in Plains Cree, which was also translated and will be printed in Hansard.

This historic first came as a result of a committee report adopted by all parties in the House last fall that recommended interpretation services be made available on request for any MP who wishes to use one of more than 60 Indigenous languages in the Commons or in a Commons committee.

MPs also erupted into song at one point, singing "Happy Birthday" to Canadian hockey player Paul Henderson, who was in the Speaker's gallery to hear a number of statements calling for him to be inducted into Canada's Hockey Hall of Fame. Henderson is known for his winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

As question period came to a close Monday, Speaker Geoff Regan invited all members to a party for Henderson in a room behind the chamber.

"And where would that be?" Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale joked, eliciting laughs from members on all sides of the house.

It may be a while before the new House will feel like home for returning MPs in this final session before the election scheduled for October.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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