New tone on the Hill set by Liberals, followed by Conservatives

On the day that the federal cabinet was sworn in, as the hustle and bustle of the day wound down, an unfamiliar sight graced the hallways of Parliament Hill.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau left the building using the front door, bidding “good night” to the handful of reporters still meandering the hallways.

On the surface this may seem trivial, but its significance should not go unnoticed.

In the previous Parliament, sights of former prime minister Stephen Harper using the front door were non-existent, unless it was to welcome foreign dignitaries. Nor was it common to see the prime minister in the hallways, even briefly.

Much of this can be attributed to prime ministerial style. Trudeau is — and always has been — a people person, unafraid to wade into a crowd to shake hands and take selfies.

Harper, while said to be the life of the party in small circles, was more aloof, routinely keeping his distance from the day-to-day bustle of Centre Block.

Still, the tone on the Hill has changed.

In the days since the cabinet was sworn in, Parliament Hill has become awash with new faces as MPs return — or arrive — in Ottawa.

Nearly 200 rookie MPs were elected to Parliament Oct. 19, among them 136 Liberals. Only 14 of the 184 Liberals elected Oct. 19 are returnees.

On Nov. 5, their excitement, mixed with a bit of trepidation, was on full display as several asked security guards and reporters for directions to the caucus room, the parking lot or for the best way to leave the building.

Introductions between MPs, re-porters and Hill staff echoed throughout the foyer.

The change of pace, though, is not limited to the Liberals. The Conservatives, too, have opted to set a new tone of their own.

In their first caucus meeting Nov. 5, Conservative MPs and senators voted to name Edmonton-area MP and former health minister Rona Ambrose as their interim leader.

Ambrose, who was formerly tasked with overseeing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, is known among party insiders for her ability to clean up messes.

Since being elected in 2004, Ambrose has been responsible for several ministries, among them environment, labour, status of women, public works and health.

She’s now tasked with revamping the Conservative party, while also setting a new tone for the party going forward. It’s not an easy task, with Progressive Conservatives, Reformers, moderates and social conservatives already hinting at the various directions they think the party should take. These are differences that are likely to continue as the party sets about electing a permanent leader.

In the short time she’s held the post, Ambrose has already done a 180 degree turn on at least one policy plank. In an interview with CBC Radio’s The House Nov. 7, Ambrose said she would support a national inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women, a longstanding demand the Conservatives repeatedly refused to put in place while in government.

Ambrose has also pledged to avoid the self-described “nastiness” that often dominated the Conservatives’ actions while in government. That negativity, and the tone of the party’s attack ads, have repeatedly been raised by outgoing and returning MPs as the number one complaint about the campaign from the party’s rank and file.

Whether that promise to shy away from nasty politics will hold true in the coming months, only time will tell.

In the coming days, MPs of all stripes and experience will once again settle into their Ottawa routines. Apartments will be found, offices assigned and staff hired, and the faces in the hallways will become more familiar.

Still, the work has already begun. Several pressing policy issues, notably Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the United Nations climate change conference in Paris and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal await action.

On the agriculture front, the World Trade Organization is expected to release its final decision on the United States’ country-of-origin labelling law by the end of the year. The WTO was supposed to rule Nov. 27, but that announcement is now expected to be delayed.

Also on the table is the CTA review. Per the review’s mandate, chair David Emerson must present his final report and recommendations to transport minister Marc Garneau by the end of December.

Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc set Dec. 3 for a speech from the throne. The House will reconvene Dec. 4, when MPs will be tasked with electing a new speaker.

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