No joke: The staying power of MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau

Dismissed as ‘Vegas girl’ when she was elected, Brosseau has defied expectations

by Aaron Wherry

Raising the bar

Graham Hughes/CP

Nearly two years into the Ruth Ellen Brosseau Experiment, she is still the unlikeliest of MPs—an assistant pub manager who was just a name on a ballot in the 2011 federal election, who had never set foot in her riding northeast of Montreal, and who famously spent several days of the campaign celebrating her 27th birthday in Las Vegas. But even if it is difficult to forget how she got here, she does not now seem entirely out of place. “I think, at first, I was kind of looked at as, ‘Hey, it’s Vegas!’ But I think I’ve kind of proven myself,” she says. “I’m tough. I could have just disappeared and kept my mouth shut and just taken this for a ride and not cared about getting re-elected or representing the people in my riding, but I take it really seriously and I take it to heart.”

On election night, she was an absurdity, the personification of what weird things can occur when democracy is involved. Had she subsequently failed spectacularly, she would have become an indictment of her party and its sudden success. “We owe her a lot,” says NDP MP Megan Leslie. “A lot of NDP-bashing after the election got taken out on her, and she represented us with smarts and grace.”

She likely benefited from the sort of low expectations that come with being a fill-in candidate not ever expected to actually win. “When I’m in my riding, we get a lot of positive feedback,” she says. “Even at the grocery store, I’ll have people stop me and say, ‘You’re doing a really good job, don’t give up.’ ” She figures the curiosity around her election at least boosted her name recognition. And she thinks maybe people see themselves in her.

Indeed, even if the career politician is too casually maligned, there is perhaps something to be said for the randomly elected neophyte. “One of the things I noticed about Ruth Ellen,” says Malcolm Allen, the NDP’s primary agriculture critic, “right from the get-go, from the very first moment I met her, was she was very keen about listening, and not talking—which is unusual for us as politicians, right?”

At this point, Brosseau is both un-politician and politician. When NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair announced his shadow cabinet, she was named the party’s deputy agriculture critic and in that role she has been a prominent presence in the House, particularly during last year’s tainted meat controversy involving XL Foods: Brosseau and Allen took turns challenging the credibility of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. “We are looking for answers,” she told the House one morning last fall, “and the minister has not been responsible. He needs to step up or step down.” One afternoon last month, with the New Democrats pressing the government about a possible trade deal with Europe and the Prime Minister apparently feeling it necessary to answer himself, Brosseau found herself standing immediately after one of Stephen Harper’s responses. “Mr. Speaker,” she ad libbed, “that is not reassuring.” It was not the perfect quip—Harper having just denounced the NDP’s trade policies—but this was how Brosseau, who hasn’t yet worked up the courage to introduce herself to him, came to casually dismiss the Prime Minister on the floor of the House of Commons.

Four days later, there was a different kind of moment. That afternoon, Brosseau stood to ask Human Resources Minister Diane Finley about the loss of personal data related to student-loan recipients, Brosseau telling the House that she was one of those whose privacy had been breached. Here was a rare case of an MP being able to speak to the personal impact of a current controversy.

She is renting a place in Berthier-Maskinongé, but planning to buy. She and her 12-year-old son currently live in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa. Sometimes, if evening votes are scheduled, she brings him to the Hill and he hangs out in the opposition lobby. She says it’s still a bit “dream-like” to be here. But she also says she now can’t imagine doing anything else. She’ll run again in 2015 and has started fundraising and preparing to seek re-election.

Asked if she feels she’s getting the respect of other MPs, she says she thinks it’s coming. The first time she stood to ask a question in the House, she was warmly applauded by MPs on all sides. For awhile after that, the House was quiet when she stood. Now, sometimes, there is a bit of noise. “I’m getting yelled at sometimes when I stand up, or heckled a bit in the House,” she notes. “So it’s kind of like, ‘Yes, they’re yelling at me. That’s good, right?’ ”




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No joke: The staying power of MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau

  1. If the bar’s set low enough, pretty well everyone can clear it. The author seems like a proud parent of a not very bright girl who’s just managed to get through a minor role in school play without knocking over all of the scenery. “Mr. Speaker,” she ad libbed, “that is not reassuring.” Devastating. I’m sure Harper’s still licking his wounds. Canadians need to aim higher. The same holds true of the presumptive leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Nice hair and dim-witted affability are not sufficient qualifications for running a country. Let’s grow up, people.

      • I agree with the lobbyist tag, but is “lego hair” really nice hair? I mean for what we (Canadian tax payers) paid for his personal stylist, you would think they could of come up with something a little more interesting than “lego hair”.

    • Harper’s hair.. like Harper is phony! At least JT has real hair, but alas is but another phony…

    • “Bravo” for what? For not “yet worked up the courage to introduce herself to” the PM? For a couple of ineffective quips? For taking up space? Perhaps that’s the beauty of low expectations.

    • Yes, bravo for escaping fraud charges.

  2. Sort of makes the point that inexperienced young people can bring a load of fresh air into a House filled with gray suits, big egos and stuffy attitudes. Let’s hope the next election will prove it.

    • Fresh air is always nice. How about ideas? Policies? Leadership? Effectiveness? Or do just we settle for big gusts of “fresh air” from time to time?

      • Let’s start with cleaning out the overly dusty attic of Conservative self-aggrandizing and let some sunshine into the dark corners of the paranoid minds at CPC (not the Communist Party of Canada, the other one) HQ.

      • Not everyone can be Dean Del Mastro.

      • If good ideas were a requirement to be in Ottawa … the place would be empty. She brings a different life experience to Ottawa and that adds an important voice to the table.

      • On those areas you cited, how have the Conservatives performed? Ideas – stale, recycled ones that you can pull from any right-wing party. Policies – protect the rich and con the masses. Leadership – what leadership? Ottawa is absent; no first minister meetings, dictate to provinces. The big fight is coming. Effectiveness – Canada Action Plan amounts to plain PR with no real tangible impact. Face reality, please.

    • This comment was deleted.

      • Seriously. “Filled with fecund females”! lol But I will give you that your little joke about giving the males a “hard time” spreads the sexism around.

        • C’mon Glenna, you have to admit she’s hot too.

    • True, although without all the grey-hairs guiding and mentoring the inexperienced new MPs things could get out of control. Always good to have a mix.

    • Agree. Not everyone who is not popularly known cannot make a difference. All they need is the opportunity and trust from people. I hope that the good will continue.

      ___________________________
      physical therapy EMR

    • She is just another fraud in a different outfit. She had fraudulent signatures on her nomination and lied about having a diploma. She is the very worst of the House of Commons – just as bad a Dean del Mastro.

  3. As hard as the media work to promote those young NDP MPs, it doesn’t make them better than they are. The country cannot be governed by a few experienced NDP people and a bunch of kids who haven’t finished university yet.

    • cough .. Poilièvre .. cough

    • Kelly Leitch is a doctor with an MBA and all she has been able to muster is repeating simplistic points.

  4. As a woman, I will give Ruth a HUGE high five, good for her to take her job seriously and being such an excellent role model to her son ( he, from this experience might be one day a great politician) as an MP and NDPer I have stronger opinions, not very kind, but I will save them and just wish her best of luck. You go girl!

  5. She has a 12-year old son? Was he at least born within wedlock? Doesn’t seem the NDP MP’s believe in having kids with someone they’re married to. They have another MP who is having a child outside of marriage with a man she just met a couple of years ago.

    • Why does it matter if he was born in wedlock. I’m sure his mom loves him and that is all that matters. Same goes for your other example

      • What decade are you in? Sanctimonious much?

        • Sorry JD Halfax, my comment was supposed to be direct at Rebecca Fine

    • How does this become your bidness? Is she your MP?

    • Vic Toews…babysitter…you were saying?

    • Reforma-Con Teows – had sex with his babysitter (while being married to his poor wife)

      “The Minister of Family Values had an affair with a young lady who worked for Conservative MP Joy Smith. Toews, still married to his wife and being the good Steinbach Christian that he is, impregnated the woman, who was rewarded by being turfed by Joy Smith and the Conservative Party.” -

  6. Maybe there should be more people running for election that are not lawyers or do not have a family history in politics. I hope she is taking her job as serious as she lets on.

    • Totally, I mean lawyers only had to be at the top of their classes and work their a$$ off – we think this represents who should be running the country? No, I want people who failed out of school, refused to work hard, and expect the world to be handed to them to lead our policy and write our budgets. Why stop here? If we’re really lucky we can get someone who is illiterate!

      • Well then some of our representatives should be a little more responsible spending the masses tax dollars. As opposed to spending it cancelling natural gas plants just to save a couple of ridings. This is what your EDUCATED lawyers are doing with public money. That particular instance should be considered a crime!
        The list goes on Lila!

  7. To all of you who dismiss her, how many of you have ever stood for anything? How many of you have ever SEEN the House of Commons, let alone speak in it? While I am not a New Democrat and agree with her very little, I commend her for having the courage to stand up and be heard. She ended up being unexpectedly thrust into something she had no expectation of or preparation for. She seems to have comported herself quite well – something that I am not sure many on this posting could manage. As for whether or not she is qualified due to having a child out of wedlock – this seems like more droolings of the little minds.

    • I have seen her speak, met her several times, and stand for many things. I will never vote NDP again because of people like her. She may be lovely. But the NDP party allowed many woefully under qualified people run for seats, too many of them won. The party showed that they do not believe that Canadian is worth their time or resources. They put a name on a ballot and thought it to be acceptable behaviour from a party that hopes to lead us some day.

  8. She does about five times as much at the Tory backbench old boys network who represent my home province of Alberta in the House. Any chance of a trade …?

  9. No matter her political stripe she has shown class and honesty. I hope we see more of her in the years to come. I see some Klein and Kormos in her.

    • Her nomination form had fraudulent signatures, she lied about having a diploma. She is just a horrible as Dean del Mastro. She committed FRAUD and should, at the very least, not hold this high office. She is a complete disgrace to all of the Canadians who believe in a free, fair, and democratic society.

  10. Drop Mulcair for her and I vote NDP all day, all night

    • Given the recent concerns regarding CPC election fraud, there might be more to the second clause then we guess at first!

  11. She listens because she has nothing to say. I am sure she is a nice person. But no business would hire her as an executive. She is unqualified with little innovation. So why are we so ok with having people like her be executives of our country?

  12. Let us not forget that she perpetrated a fraud to win an election.

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