Few politicians could be smiling more these days than Manitoba's Environment Minister Bill Blaikie. The source of his amusement is the current round of moaning and whining in Ottawa over the eviction of veteran Liberal MPs from their coveted Parliament Hill offices to make way for a C-Note of NDP MPs, elected in the Orange Wave in the most recent federal election.
Veteran Grits such as Ralph Goodale, who has served more than two decades in Ottawa, and even interim leader Bob Rae, have been told to vacate their offices, sparking howls of protest from the vanquished Liberal Party. Goodale and Rae are not making much noise themselves, but other Liberals and the few remaining Bloc MPs are howling mad. "Since the start of this session, beyond their public comments on collaboration and doing things differently, the NDP has had a deplorable attitude toward the Bloc," Bloc MP Jean-François Fortin told The Globe and Mail.
The focus of the battle is the Centre Block, considered to be the most prestigious place for an MP to hang his or her hat. Never mind that many of the offices outside the Centre, East and West Blocks like Rae's suite in the Confederation Building are often nicer and more modern. A Centre Block office is a sign you've arrived in Ottawa. The NDP, with 37 MPs in the previous parliament, had only one MP in Centre Block. And that is apparently going to change.
You see, Blaikie has seen the other side of this equation. In 1993, when the Liberals swept to power with a massive majority and the Bloc Quebecois arrived on the federal political scene, it was the NDP that was sent packing. The Bloc won 54 seats and thanks to some fortuitous vote splitting, became the official opposition, giving their MPs claim to some coveted Centre Block offices. Blaikie was one of only nine NDP MPs to survive that vote, a result that stripped the party of official status in the House of Commons and put veterans like Blaikie at the mercy of the up and coming parties.
It was shortly after the election that Blaikie, already a 14-year veteran of the House of Commons, returned to his Centre Block office to find a new Bloc Quebecois MP and his staff measuring doorways and furniture. Blaikie was incredulous; how could he, one of the most respected parliamentarians, simply get the boot? He protested the decision to award his office to a Bloc MP, but was given no audience with the all-party parliamentary committee that decides such matters. The Liberals, adopting a posture nearly identical to the NDP now, merely shrugged.
Now, it's payback time, and the new NDP official opposition is showing the same lack of mercy for the Liberals as was shown to them back in the early 1990s. Is this a constructive process, one that shows a desire by all parliamentarians to conduct politics in a new and more positive manner? Nope. But it's the law of the parliamentary jungle.