Friday, May 6, 2011

Foofaraw About Quebec NDP Candidate Is Sour Grapes & Bigotry

First of all, I looked up the word foofaraw and can confirm that's the spelling for the word to describe when a big deal is made out of something insignificant. And that precisely applies to all the ridiculous media coverage about Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the NDP's newly elected MP in Berthier-Maskinongé. Brosseau, a single mother who works as a manager in a campus pub in Ottawa was a pylon candidate for the NDP in the riding - where other than a brief stint with a Conservative MP in the 1930s it has held by the Liberals until the Mulroney wave in the 1980s and then by the Bloc since 2004. In case you don't know, every party runs "pylon" candidates in ridings where they haven't a hope in hell but want a name on the ballot. In my downtown Toronto riding there is a Conservative candidate who runs every election but who often doesn't respond to questionnaires - except sometimes with obviously boilerplate stuff Рand doesn't show up to all-candidates meetings such as this one and this one. It's not too surprising, she barely breaks ten percent in support.
Prior to this election the NDP had one MP in Quebec and had only recently broken into double digit support in the polls. There is barely any party machine throughout the province. Layton has to be given credit for putting a lot of effort into building up support for the NDP in Quebec, connecting with a real thirst for change. But there's no doubt that the NDP was as surprised as anyone that their numbers shot up so high, so fast. That's all fair play - the only previous example of this kind of explosive growth in support was the ADQ in Quebec's provincial election and the Reform Party in the rest of Canada after the collapse of the Mulroney "new deal for Canada" in the early 90s. But in both of those cases, they were splits from already existing parties - the ADQ was a split from the Quebec Liberal Party and the Reform Party was a split from the Progressive Conservatives. They had a party machine to a significant extent and Preston Manning had spent a couple of years prior to the election that saw them launched as a parliamentary party touring the country to build up the strength of constituency associations.
I can't speak to the reception of the ADQ in Quebec but certainly in English Canada the Reform Party was given a free ride. If it weren't for some pickets and protests organized by grassroots activists Manning would have been able to cover-up the obvious warts of his right wing populist party - like the involvement of members of the far-right Heritage Front who organized security at a number of early events, and the underlying social conservatism of the Reform "movement."
So, why all this focus on one new MP who was caught completely unaware by her victory? Certainly if Theresa Rodrigues won in Davenport the media wouldn't have been all over the fact that she doesn't live in the riding and didn't appear during all-candidates debates. There's something else more insidious going on here. First of all there is just the sour grapes of the other parties, stirring this up. The Bloc has an interest in pushing the line that the NDP is a foreign presence in Quebec politics. The will play up the fact that Brosseau has never lived in the riding and doesn't speak French as part of a nationalist narrative. The Liberals and Conservatives would like to undermine the credibility of the NDP as a party that could be the federal government by focusing on competency rather than politics, which is a safer target.
Frankly the other issue for the hacks in the media and the political machine is that she's not a professional politician and is, in fact a young, single mother. I was impressed with Layton and Mulcair's first response - that the NDP wants people exactly like Brosseau because she is one of the faces of Canada that isn't represented in Parliament. Single mothers and young workers have every right to be elected political representatives. It may be the case that they are being a bit too paranoid about hiding Brosseau from the media - or maybe she's totally freaked out by the attacks on her and her integrity. Who can say for sure? But this BS that she should been in her riding meeting the constituents is just that: the election was less than a week ago. How many newly elected MPs have gone to "meet their constituents" and what does that even mean? Walking door to door to thank people for voting for them? Holding a big party? Having a press conference? It's just nonsense. Probably the NDP shouldn't wait till Brosseau is perfectly fluent in French to bring her out in public - and they've promised to do so shortly in any case - people in the riding aren't morons, they'll understand the strange situation and a real effort to serve their interests will go a lot further than perfect grammar - as Duceppe has discovered; his grammar and vocabulary in French being rather more sophisticated than Layton's.
All of which is to say that the attacks on Brosseau are motivated at best by a mean-spirited pettiness and, at worst, by straight-up bigotry against a working class, single mother. But, as the excellent article in today's Globe notes (see link below) this could blow up in the faces of the media and even more so the other politica parties. If Brosseau can get through this difficult moment, connect with her constituents and build a solid constituency machine she could become an underdog hero. I don't know her personally and have no idea about her politics but I, for one, hope that she is up to it and gives the other parties with their sense of entitlement and the bottom-feeding attack dogs of the media a poke in the eye.

Three thoughts about Ruth Ellen Brosseau - The Globe and Mail
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