It sounds like the plot of an Anna Faris comedy: a pretty, blond single mom returns from a discount trip to Las Vegas and discovers that she’s leading in the federal election race she supposedly didn’t have a chance in. Before she can even visit the riding, she’s swept into power along with a tidal wave of support for her party. Now she must quit her job as the co-manager of a pub, move to Ottawa and frantically learn enough French to communicate with her mostly-Francophone constituents.But that’s the way it happened for Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the 27-year-old who is set to represent the Quebec riding of Berthier-Maskinonge. Brosseau is one of the 57 rookie politicians the NDP elected in that province, which also includes four undergraduate students from McGill University and Canada’s youngest Member of Parliament ever, 19-year-old Pierre-Luc Dusseault.
I’m actually a little jealous, because I have a suspicion that if I had been in Quebec and thrown my hat into the ring, I could be on my way to sitting in the House of Commons.
How to explain the win of a candidate who famously left the campaign trail to fly to Nevada? It seems that Quebec voters didn’t just sour on the Bloc Quebecois; they broke up with them. And it was a nasty break up. They burned love letters. They threw clothes out the window. They reduced the party to four members, denied Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe a seat and elected a candidate who may not have even visited the riding.
Even though a recent poll found that Berthier-Maskinonge voters were aware of her shortcomings but wanted to support the NDP and Jack Layton regardless, there has been grumbles from the media that Brosseau and her young colleagues are too inexperienced and too green behind the ears to be trusted with federal office. (These are some of the same pundits who were spectacularly wrong when they said this election would be boring and nobody would care.)
The NDP, who’s chief priority for the next four years will be to look like a responsible, electable opposition to the Conservatives, does need to watch out for its new caucus members. As The Toronto Star
wrote, “Hundreds of staffers must be hired to work in the Parliament Hill offices, hours of training must be scheduled for dealing with the media, playing by parliamentary rules and taxpayers’ money.” NDP spokesman Marc-Andre Viau hasn’t gotten much sleep in the last two days, fielding endless calls from reporters about the new
Brosseau has attracted a lot of the attention (someone has already created a joke Twitter account for her) and the fact that she has been hiding from the media has made it worse. She has not done a single interview, there’s only one photograph of her in circulation and, after collecting her newspaper clippings, I’ve discovered there’s even confusion about whether she has one kid or two.
But as NDP MP Libby Davies said on the CBC, there’s something disturbing about the idea that just because a candidate doesn’t fit the tradition idea of what a Member of Parliament looks like, they shouldn’t be elected or respected. Don’t we whine about how young people aren’t involved in politics and don’t vote? Don’t we turn them off when we patronize young members, already elected by their ridings?
Along with more young people, the upcoming parliament will have the greatest about of women and First Nations representatives ever. This is a very good thing. The next four years could be a transformative time in Canadian politics. As NDP MP Pat Martin said, “The nation’s problems through the eyes of young people are maybe not so insurmountable.”Then today the news broke that Brosseau’s nomination papers may not be all in order. Four people whose names are on her endorsement list claim to have never signed it, while allegations have been raised that other signers don’t live in the riding or didn’t know who they were endorsing. I should add that the effort to delegitimize Brosseau is being spear-headed by her defeated Liberal opponent. You need 100 signatures in order to run, and Brosseau collected 128. So yes, if it turns out there’s reasonably cause to discount 29 of those, even I will have to agree with a by-election.
But I hope that doesn’t happen. Brosseau has my best wishes. She may end up being an embarrassment to the party. She could also be its future. We now know that anything’s possible in Canadian politics.