NDP Leader Jack Layton announced his team of critics Thursday morning in Ottawa, mostly keeping his veteran MPs in their previous roles but giving 20 newcomers a chance to shine.
"In this shadow cabinet, I have struck a balance between the experience and the new energy of New Democrats elected on May 2," Layton said at a news conference. "It's an amazing group of Canadians."
He said the shadow cabinet is designed to match the ministerial portfolios in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet, which was announced last week. With 43 MPs, however, Layton's shadow cabinet is bigger than the 39-member Harper cabinet.
The NDP hived off some specific areas from larger departments such as Human Resources and Skills Development and Industry to create minor portfolios. Critic roles were created, for example, for post-secondary education, employment insurance, disabilities, housing, and skills, all falling under HRSDC.
Layton said his team of critics will lead the NDP's efforts to hold Harper's majority Conservative government to account.
NDP's Mulcair on P&P podcast
NDP leader Jack Layton names his shadow cabinet — what's the strategy behind the picks? And with a strong NDP Quebec contingent, the sovereignty question continues to simmer. We ask newly appointed House leader Thomas Mulcair about that.
Jaime Watt of Navigator Ltd, Cyrus Reporter of Fraser Milner Casgrain and former NDP Campaign Director Brian Topp are also in The War Room. Listen to the podcast.
"The mandate from me is to fulfil my commitment to Canadians to strike a new tone in Parliament and focus on practical results for Canadians, to not only serve as an effective opposition but also to be in the business of proposition," said Layton.
Mulcair, Davies add key roles
Layton's deputy leader, Tom Mulcair, was named the NDP's House leader, bumping Libby Davies out of a post she had held since 2003. She becomes the health critic, in turn, bouncing Halifax MP Megan Leslie over to environment.
Davies is also a deputy leader, and Layton said she will be pushing the NDP's campaign promise to get more doctors and nurses working in Canada. He said Davies will play a key role as the federal government begins to re-negotiate the health-care funding deal with the provinces, which expires in 2014.
Mulcair, elected the NDP's first MP in Quebec in a 2007 byelection, will manage the NDP's strategy in the House of Commons, said Layton. He'll be working with Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan on the planned business in the Commons on a weekly basis.
Joe Comartin keeps the justice portfolio, Jack Harris is in defence, Paul Dewar stays foreign affairs critic and Olivia Chow is charged with the transport and infrastructure file.
Charlie Angus is the ethics, access to information and privacy critic and will also keep his eye on copyright and digital issues. Malcolm Allen is the agriculture critic, Jean Crowder will handle human resources and skills development, Linda Duncan has aboriginal affairs, and Don Davies citizenship and immigration.
The new NDP finance critic is Peggy Nash, who is returning to Parliament Hill after winning her Toronto riding back from Liberal Gerard Kennedy, who took it in 2008.
"In total, 40 per cent of my shadow cabinet are women, playing leadership roles in such areas as finance, health, environment, human resources, transportation and infrastructure," Layton said.
The leader of the Official Opposition had 102 MPs to choose from when assigning the critic roles. Including Layton, the NDP won 103 ridings on May 2, nearly tripling its previous seat count of 35. Fifty-nine of the new MPs are from Quebec. Seventeen MPs from that province have roles in the shadow cabinet.
Layton's list of critics is split fairly evenly between his experienced MPs and his rookies. Some of the newcomers who were awarded critic roles include: Tyrone Benskin, as heritage critic; Alexandre Boulerice, Treasury Board; Robert Chisholm, international trade critic; Nycole Turmel, public works; and Jasbir Sandhu, public safety.
A number of young women are on the list. Christine Moore, 28, will face off against Julian Fantino, who was named associate defence minister responsible for procurement issues. Marie-Claude Morin, 26, is responsible for housing issues and Rathika Sitsabaiesan, 29, is responsible for post-secondary education.
Hélène Laverdière, the woman who defeated former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, is the new international co-operation critic.
Layton held off naming the critics until after Prime Minister Stephen Harper assembled a cabinet for his new majority government and until after the NDP held caucus meetings this week. The NDP met for the first time Tuesday and again on Wednesday.
Those with new critic portfolios will have a week to get up to speed before Parliament opens June 2. The first order of business will be to elect a new Speaker, with the throne speech coming the following day.
Nash takes on finance in House return
As finance critic, Nash will be in the spotlight June 6 when the federal budget is delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and as the spending plan moves through the House. The Treasury Board portfolio will also be a key one as the Conservatives move to slash millions of dollars in government spending to reduce the deficit.
The NDP leader promised to ask "tough questions" of the Conservatives on where those spending cuts are going to come from, and to "highlight the deficiencies of the budget, once we see it."
The NDP did not support the budget when it was initally presented in March and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Wednesday he will be delivering viturally the same one in two weeks. The revised budget, however, will include a measure to phase out the per-vote subsidy for political parties, a move the NDP opposes.
"We will raise our concerns about this budget in the debate as soon as it's unveiled, and we will call on Canadians to put pressure on the government where there are inadequacies, and we'll see whether there's any measures in there that are supportable. And then we'll make our decision about what to do accordingly," he said.
Layton said the number of rookies on his team shouldn't be viewed as a strike against the NDP when it sits down opposite the government benches in the House of Commons for the first time in history. He said they will in fact help change the tone and improve the behaviour in question period.
Some members of the NDP caucus who do not have critic roles will be assigned other important duties, Layton said, promising more announcements in the weeks to come. There are two parliamentary committees that are always chaired by opposition members — public accounts and scrutiny of regulations — and in the last session of Parliament, opposition MPs also chaired a number of other committees.
Pat Martin, one of the NDP's most outspoken members, could end up chairing a committee on top of his Canadian Wheat Board critic duties. According to him, he will stand as a candidate for chair of the government operations and estimates committee. The chair positions are elected by the committee members. Committee business begins only after Parliament begins sitting.
Nathan Cullen, Carol Hughes, Niki Ashton, and Brian Masse are other returning NDP MPs who could be assigned prominent roles.