Jack Harris was scheduled Wednesday to meet with members of the new NDP caucus. It will be a smaller group than the one that was in place before Monday's federal election, down from 39 members to 24.
Harris is among the most experienced members of that group, having already served as a representative in Ottawa for eight years prior to regaining his seat in Parliament Monday night, defeating Liberal incumbent Nick Whalen.
This new caucus will be the smallest he's ever been a part of federally. But with a Liberal minority government needing votes from parties like the NDP to stay in power, Harris has a good feeling about what this new caucus can do.
"The smallest caucus I was a part of (previously in Ottawa) was 33, and it does matter, because there's a lot of work to do," he told The Telegram Wednesday. "There's a lot of departments to cover and a lot of work that has to go on making sure we're able to participate fully in all of the committee work and things that are happening. But in terms of influence and being able to be effective, I think it's been suggested that the 24 members that we have now will have more influence than the (39) that we went into the election with, given that we hold the balance of power."
With the Liberals winning 157 seats, support from the NDP's 24 members would allow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his governing party to pass legislation in the House of Commons.
Political pundits have speculated the Liberals will look to the NDP for support.
Harris is optimistic this can work, as a minority government has no other option at its disposal.
"The voters of Canada rejected the notion of giving either the Liberals or Conservatives a majority government, and that's because the people didn't have sufficient confidence in either of them," he said. "So it means Mr. Trudeau, in order to continue governing, has to be able to have support within the house, and he has to co-operate with other parties to stay in government.
"That can mean many different things, but what it does mean is ultimately that, from our point of view, as a party that contested the election with a very strong platform for people, we would have a better opportunity to get some of those priorities considered."
The last time a federal election resulted in a minority government was in 2008 when the Conservatives did so under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Harris said minority governments have worked well in the past, and pointed out it was a minority government that introduced medicare for Canadians.
"I'm hoping it will lead to a better government and better decisions," he said. "We have a list, of course, of priorities as a party that (NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh) has talked about extensively. … We want to have a concrete and strong climate action plan. We want to have a pharmacare plan put in place and not just promises of one. We want to see a dental care program, which is pretty important to a lot of people in this province, and we want to see some action on the needs of young people on student debt, homelessness and housing. ... We are hoping this government that we have will be an opportunity to see some of those delivered in a way that's good for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and good for Canadians generally."
"Mr. Trudeau, in order to continue governing, has to be able to have support within the house, and he has to co-operate with other parties to stay in government." — Jack Harris
With considerable experience in politics both federally and provincially, Harris could be viewed as a key player in the new NDP caucus. He was the party's defence critic during his last stint in Ottawa prior to losing his seat in the 2015 election, and was the leader of the provincial NDP for 14 years.
"I guess I would be one of the more experienced people in caucus, and experience matters in politics. I'm hoping that I'll be able to play an effective role in that mix. Exactly what obviously remains to be seen. It's up to the leader what assignments people receive and there'll be discussions within caucus about what direction we'll be taking, and I'll certainly have my opinions on that."