It’s perfectly understandable that the national news media has focused so much attention on the plight of the newly elected NDP member of Parliament from a largely francophone riding in Quebec who spent part of the election campaign in Las Vegas, can’t speak French fluently, never set foot in the riding, and so on, and on, and on . . .
Ruth Ellen Brosseau made her first public appearance in the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge earlier this week. It wasn’t announced ahead of time, and she was accompanied by NDP deputy-leader Thomas Mulcair and his “protective eye,” as the National Post reported. Well, she impressed at least one prominent constituent her first time out.
“She is very composed and competent, and expresses herself very well in French,” said Guy Richard, the mayor of Louiseville, Quebec. “I think she wants to do well. We want to see her regularly in the region, but like any new candidate, she’ll have to get used to the job.”
Good for her. Now let’s give the little lady a big hand for an apparently successful public debut and start paying attention to other more important, if not more interesting, post-election stories that have so far been neglected.
They include taking a closer, analytical look at what the heck is going on in the minds of Quebec voters. I’ll get back to that.
But first, just as big, and even more neglected is the story about the apparently well-orchestrated dirty tricks campaign that was clearly aimed at disrupting the federal election vote, especially the votes of known Liberal supporters in ridings where close races were anticipated. On election day Elections Canada received numerous calls from people who complained they had received calls from people claiming they were calling from Elections Canada. They said they were told their designated polling booths were too full and were advised to go to other locations, which turned out to be bogus. Elections Canada has launched an investigation.
The non-partisan agency that regulates federal elections is also investigating complaints by various Liberal candidates in Ontario that people falsely claiming to be Liberal supporters made repeated calls during the campaign, sometimes in the middle of the night.
To its credit CBC News reported this week it has learned of complaints from local Liberal campaign offices across Ontario, including Oakville, St.
Catharines, Haldimand-Norfolk, Simcoe-Grey, Guelph, Eglinton- Lawrence, St. Paul’s and Mississauga East-Cooksville. The calls were also made in Egmont, P.E.I., and St. Boniface, Man.
CBC News, which so far appears to be the only news agency treating this story with the seriousness it deserves, has asked anyone who thinks they may have received such fraudulent calls to get in touch with it.
I predict the Harper government will use its Parliamentary majority to cut CBC funding, perhaps all of it. And if and when that happens Canada will lose its best public affairs watchdog.
In Quebec it appears after 20 years of the same old, same old from the Bloc Quebecois, and its untimely attempt to revive out-of- date separatist rhetoric to revive voter interest, most Francophone voters were searching desperately for an alternative. Not that long ago in Quebec’s political history that might have spelled a resurgence of the traditional Liberal Party strength in that province/nation. But those days have passed and may never return. Years ago Quebec used to be deeply small-c conservative in political attitude. But those days have also passed. The new Quebec appears to see itself as socially enlightened and progressive, more so than the rest of Canada. For the time being at least most Quebec voters do not condescend to cast a vote for a Conservative Party they figure still has its roots in its Reform Party predecessor and its regressive social policies. And they are not persuaded Stephen Harper has truly moved to the centre of the political spectrum, let alone to the left.
The election results in Quebec are not all good news for the NDP, as the Brosseau situation shows, as well as the other neophyte MPs elected with no previous political experience at all, including the youngest MP ever, at age 19. These people are going to have to be quick studies, to say the least, to avoid becoming four years of embarrassment for the NDP.
But worse, the results show a large number of Quebec voters cast their ballots impulsively for the NDP, on the basis of Jack Layton’s French-language debate performance, his likeable personality, and policies that gratify the new, Quebecois self-image of themselves as a more progressive society -or nation – than the rest of Canada. In a strange, round-about way, it could be one more step in the long process of Quebec growing toward independence, in whatever form that might take, within Canada, or without.
Ultimately, the hugely unprecedented vote for the NDP in Quebec may prove to be a momentary aberration, a brief flirtation. I suspect many voters, in the wake perhaps of the Brosseau revelations, might already have had second thoughts. As if they weren’t already confused enough. But they’ve got at least four years to sort that out.
Originally published in The Sun Times in 2011.