People and Places

POLITICS CHATTER: Ruth Ellen Brosseau discovers what it’s like to be in the spotlight

POLITICS CHATTER: In which Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie ponders the treatment of recently elected MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau at the hands of the media and her fellow politicians

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau recently posted this portrait of herself on her official website

Ottawa Magazine doesn’t run a picture of me on this blog page because I’m just too cute. At 6’ 4”, with the bronzed body of a god, an ass that I can bounce quarters off, perfect facial features, thick blond curls, piercing blue eyes, and an impish grin that bears a remarkable resemblance to George Clooney’s, I know that I would be singled out by the forces of greed and envy.

So many, many other beautiful people have already been chewed up.

Take Ruth Ellen Brosseau. Seems most people in the media want to. Ms. Brosseau, ex-assistant manager of Oliver’s pub at Carleton University, is quite easy on the eyes. Like me, she has lovely blond hair. Her doe-like eyes are a striking brown. I don’t know if, like me, she’s got a perfect body, but it’s certainly not for lack of interest from Ottawa’s news photographers.

Brosseau has something called “luck,” which, when it manifests itself in the offspring of billionaires or with lottery ticket buyers, is smiled upon by society. When it happens in politics, it seems to really piss some people off.

Brosseau is a single mom who lives in Gatineau. She rescues animals from shelters. And she has a vague interest in leftist politics, likely something she picked up from her father, who, judging from recent photographs, is an obvious hippy.

Otherwise, she has no known vices, problems, or closet skeletons. If she did, we’d have heard by now.

Brosseau let her name stand for the NDP in the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé, a place most political watchers in this country could not, until May 2, find on a map. Obviously the NDP nomination wasn’t worth much. The Bloc Québécois non-entity Guy André was expected to easily win a fourth term and return as an unknown, unproductive opposition backbencher.

But the political winds sometimes blow strangely, and now the illustrious Mr. André is suddenly unemployed, replaced with the far more photogenic and much younger Ms. Brosseau.

Brosseau is not the only NDP fluke winner in Quebec. Nor is she the youngest. But she is, as far as we know, the cutest, the single-mommest, and the least economically- and socially-advantaged. So the pile-on begins.

Because, of course, the last thing the House of Commons needs is a young single mom with recent experience in the service industry. Who does she represent? What possible expertise does she bring to the public discourse?

And what about the good people of — let me go back and find the name of that place again — oh, yes, Berthier-Maskinongé. Pundits have been crying all week about the lousy representation that place will have from a supposedly unilingual MP who has never lived there. But the voters of Berthier-Maskinongé were obviously none too beholden to Guy André, since they turfed him by a margin of some 6,000 votes, a quite respectable margin. Seems they, unlike the media, were willing to give the kid a chance.

Many people in politics and the media would like to frame Brosseau and the other NDP kids as the only MPs who were elected on the coat-tails of their leader. And they must be right. All those Alberta and Saskatchewan Tories were sent to Ottawa because of their sterling qualifications as deep thinkers and legislators. Their lack of single-momness and absence of recent work in the service industry makes them even more than qualified, I’m sure.

I have a suspicion. I suspect the NDP kids will work out just fine. That’s not because I’m a Dipper. Far from it. I’ll be very surprised if the biggest disappointment in this parliament isn’t Jack Layton, whose ego and venality have been well-concealed these past few weeks.

Having taught kids about the same age as Brosseau and her younger colleagues, I have a lot of faith in their determination. The fact that everyone expects them to fail will probably motivate them to give all of their energy to the job. In four or five years, they will either be extremely successful young politicians or they will be back at school with some very interesting stories to tell. Either way, they will do very little harm.

In the end, the treatment of Brosseau by the media and by the political parties that are digging up dirt on her and checking every name on her nomination papers says a lot about Canadian politics. Everyone talks a good fight about getting more young people, more women, and fewer privileged people into politics. But when they arrive — elected by voters who tried  to send a message about the status quo — one that no one wants to hear. Suddenly, all the talk simply becomes warm air, and the pack tries to drive out someone they see as weak.

Mark Bourrie posts his weekly Politics Chatter blog on Tuesday.