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OP/ED: A Few Observations about the 41st Parliament
With Parliament back in full swing I would like to reflect a bit on the 2011 general election which for several reasons was quite historic. The 41st Parliament obviously changed our party by thrusting us into the role of Official Opposition for the first time, but it also changed the face of the House of Commons, by making it more representative of Canada’s population than ever before.
It is an obvious improvement that the number of women in the House is at an all-time high. At 24.6%, the 41st Parliament includes the largest percentage of women in Canadian history. I would like to note that the NDP broke the previous high-water marks in the 2011 federal election with the most women elected by one party in a single election (40) and the most female candidates (124). Of course, we still have a long way to go.
The 41st Parliament also benefits from the enthusiasm and energy of youthful MPs and records were broken in this area as well. My colleague, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, elected in the riding of Sherbrooke, Quebec at age 19, is the youngest MP ever elected to the House of Commons. He has shown that age is no barrier to success with his confident Chairing of the Ethics committee. And at 39 years old, Nathan Cullen is the youngest House Leader in the history of the NDP, and the second youngest of any party to hold the position for the Official Opposition. Also, a record number of MPs were aged 30 and under on Election Day (5.8%).
Of course, these significant and positive changes are in large part due to the NDP’s gains in the last election. Another major first for the party came in this Parliament. Because we now have a number of MPs serving as committee chairs, New Democrats have risen to answer questions in Question Period for the first time. Jean Crowder, MP (Nanaimo-Cowichan), had the honour of being the first by rising to answer a question about the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which she chaired at the time. NDP MPs David Christopherson and Pierre-Luc Dusseault have also risen to answer questions. In my opinion, the answers given by these MPs truly exemplify the transparency and professionalism that a New Democrat government would display during Question Period.
The current government has also set a significant record, but one of a different sort. The Conservative Cabinet, elected largely on a commitment to “Change Ottawa”, has 39 members. That equals the record for the largest Cabinet in Canadian history, showing once again that Ottawa has changed them, not the other way around. Since 1867, the average Cabinet has had 23 members.
Despite the excitement of having record numbers of women, young MPs, and of course NDP members, it is only by changing our first-past-the-post electoral system to a model of proportional representation (PR) that our Parliament will ever be truly representative of all Canadians. It does not make any sense that with just 39.4% of the vote in 2011 the Conservatives have 100% of the power to enact policies that the solid majority of Canadians voted against.
The way this government has pushed through its Omnibus Trojan Horse Budget Bill C-38 is a perfect example of how a majority government can enact policies and change fundamental legislation with a minimum amount of discussion and debate. A system of Proportional Representation cannot come soon enough.
Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.