On the face of it, finding office space for Canada's 301 MPs should not be that difficult. After all, there is enough room-—if only just—-in the six buildings in downtown Ottawa that make up the parliamentary precinct. But if past experience is any guide, there are likely to be some bruised egos when members from the five parties finally find out who gets which offices. Following the 1993 election, a turf battle raged for weeks. A raft of Reform MPs, newly arrived in Ottawa, demanded better locations and the same amount of space as the Bloc Québécois, who were then the official Opposition. In reality, however, Reform’s anger was aimed more at the governing Liberals, whom they believed were favoring the separatists. This time, government whip Bob Kilger has been charged with keeping order among those jockeying for a prime spot in a status-conscious place. “Of course we’d all like to be in the Centre Block,” he says. “But what’s important is the job you do, not where your office is.”
With 60 members, Reform now enjoys the perks and extra funding that go with being the official Opposition. But party whip Chuck Strahl remains wary of government manoeuvring. “Last time, all we got were the guts and feathers and we
were spread all over God’s green acre,” he recalls, referring to the unseemly scramble in 1993. In this go-round, the Liberals again get first crack, and as usual all the party leaders and whips have been assured places in the Centre Block—Parliament’s top accommodation. Incumbent members are also favored: they are permitted to trade up to the vacant offices of former MPs, which means that the best spots are quickly claimed. As Strahl concedes: “To the victor go the spoils.”
In addition to the Bloc Québécois, which is now the third party with 44 seats, the New Democrats with 21 and the Tories with 20 are both cruising for docking space. NDP whip John Solomon, while bitter about the treatment of the party's nine MPs in 1993, said last week he does not sense the same petty vindictiveness. “Kilger seems to be listening,” Solomon says. “I’m sure he wants to avoid opposition hostility before the new Parliament even sits.” If the antics over office-space bode ill for the ability of MPs to deal with matters of substance, there is more ahead: decisions will soon be made about where each MP will actually sit in the House of Commons. Now that will require diplomacy.
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