New MPs arrive on Hill to learn the ropes

Canada's newest MPs arrive on Parliament Hill for their first day of "rookie school," feeling excited and eager to learn the job.

Canada's newest MPs arrived on Parliament Hill on Thursday for their first day of "rookie school," feeling excited and eager to learn the job.

Bryan Hayes, the Conservative who defeated the NDP's Tony Martin in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., said it felt "surreal" walking up to the Parliament Buildings for the first time this week.

"I had a permanent grin on my face," he said. "It's very exciting, a little overwhelming — there's an awful lot that they're trying to teach you in a short amount of time."

Hayes is one of 111 new faces that will be in the House of Commons starting June 2. Three members of this class, however, have been MPs before, which means 108 are starting from scratch.

Name tags for new MPs await pickup at an orientation session on Parliament Hill on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The training session, hosted by staff from the House of Commons and the Speaker's office, gives newcomers an overview of the jobs they were elected to do on May 2.

On Thursday, the focus was on logistical matters, including legal obligations when hiring staff, and on practical tips for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The new MPs are getting advice from experienced ones at Thursday's session on how to adapt to their new lives.

NDP MP Joe Comartin spoke to the group and said afterwards that he tried to impress upon them how crucial it is to maintain that balance.

"This is a great job but it's not worth your personal relationship with your family and your partners and it's not worth your health," he said.

Before the House sits, a second day of training will be held to teach the specifics of parliamentary procedure, including how question period and committees work.

The newcomers have been arriving in Ottawa all week, and the House of Commons has been helping them set up their BlackBerrys and providing them with temporary offices. Some of them were being sworn in Thursday.

'A privilege' to be elected

Kellie Leitch, the Conservative who now represents the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey, said she's looking forward to being able to influence public policy.

"I'm just delighted," she said. "It's such a privilege to become a member of Parliament."

Leitch, an orthopedic surgeon who is putting her medical practice on hold, was considered a possible contender for a cabinet position. But Leitch said she had no expectations and wasn't disappointed not to be on the list announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"I spent seven years in residency," she said. "I didn't get to do a hip replacement on my first day of work. I'm looking forward to this fabulous experience and learning how Parliament works and making sure that I do the best job for the people of Simcoe-Grey that I can."

Peter Penashue of Labrador, a rookie who did make it into cabinet, was also in a good mood Thursday and said he has a lot to learn.

"I'm very proud to be a part of the national government and I think it gives me a new perspective on things," Penashue, the intergovernmental affairs minister, said as he headed into the registration room to pick up his name tag.

"Right now I'm just very proud to be Canadian. There's no question it's going to be a challenging job and I'm new at this and I'm going to learn."

The bulk of the rookie MP group is made up of NDP MPs, 68 of them, and many are young.

Ruth Ellen Brosseau, a rookie NDP MP, attends an orientation session on Parliament Hill on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Pierre-Luc Dusseault is Canada's youngest MP ever at age 19, and he said Thursday he intends to represent his age group in Parliament and work on the issues they care about.

Dusseault was a student at the Université de Sherbrooke, studying politics, and was set to work at a golf course this summer. He's keen to do this job instead, he said.

"Sherbrooke has given me this chance, they have given me their confidence, so I will work for that," he said.

Another young NDP MP, Dan Harris, said he's looking forward to working with his new colleagues.

"We've got a lot of young people and I think it's going to be a more representative Parliament," the 31-year-old said.

Being an MP is a goal he set back in grade school, the Scarborough Southwest MP said.

"Ever since I ran for class president in Grade 6 it has been something I've been working towards," said Harris. "I joined the NDP the day after Mike Harris was elected in 1995 and I've been working hard ever since," he said, referring to the former Ontario premier. "So this is really exciting."

One of the NDP's young rookies who has been the subject of controversy throughout the campaign and since her victory, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, was at rookie school Thursday, but wouldn't answer questions from the media.

She gained a high profile because of a trip she took to Las Vegas during the campaign and because she had never set foot in the Quebec riding she was elected to represent. Brosseau's first language is English and the riding is mostly French-speaking, so she's working on improving her second language.

Brosseau was working at a bar and restaurant in Ottawa before she was elected. Soon after May 2, it was discovered her biography on the NDP website said she had a college diploma when in fact she does not. The NDP said a party staffer made the error.