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B.C. MLAs, including two new ones, gather for brief Leg sitting

The preliminary seating plan prepared for the sitting of the B.C. legislature that begins November 20 has the two newest New Democrats in prominent positions.

Spencer Herbert, elected in Vancouver-Burrard in one of two October 29 by-elections will be in the second row, three seats to leader Carole James' left, between seasoned MLAs Leonard Krog and Maurine Karagianis.

The winner of the other by-election, Jenn McGinn, who replaces Vancouver mayor-elect Gregor Robertson to represent Vancouver-Fairview, will be in the front row with just house leader Mike Farnworth between her and James.

“There'll be lots of opportunity for them to participate and remind the Liberals who won those by-elections,” said Farnworth.

Both new MLAs will have critic roles. Herbert picks up the arts and culture file, while McGinn will focus on Community Living B.C., the agency responsible for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Nicholas Simons will continue as the critic for the rest of the children and families ministry, which has been a source of much bad news for the government in the past.

The Liberals originally scheduled the Legislature to sit for six weeks this fall, but cancelled the sitting in September saying there was not enough work to do.

On October 22 premier Gordon Campbell announced he was recalling the Legislature for just five days to pass legislation needed to deal with the global financial crisis. The measures included moving up income tax cuts, halving corporate property taxes and reducing ferry fares for two months.

Campbell's plan, as announced, will take a $271 million bite out of this year's budget at a time when finance minister Colin Hansen has been saying the province's projected surplus is evaporating.

James said the government is irresponsible to introduce what is likely to be a money bill without providing a fiscal update.

While introducing McGinn and Herbert to the NDP caucus she suggested debate may be extended. “They actually did a 24 hour campaign day, so they're well prepared if we end up doing an all nighter in the Legislature.”

The campaign issues of homelessness, health care and an out-of-touch government resonated with voters in the by-elections, she said.

Government house leader Michael de Jong did not return calls by posting time.

The NDP is waiting to see what legislation the Liberals introduce to make the promised changes, said Farnworth. “We want to see exactly what they're going to do,” he said. “We're going to scrutinize very thoroughly any legislative changes they want to do.”

The Legislature's front lawn is currently fenced off, so housing and food security activists planned a 7 a.m. breakfast and 10 a.m. rally for the back steps to coincide with the opening.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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