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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Two words to put the Ruth Ellen Brosseau brouhaha in perspective: 'Rob Anders'

| May 17, 2011
Quebec MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau

Since the media has shown such reluctance to let it go, let's put this whole Ruth Ellen Brosseau brouhaha in perspective.

Brosseau is the young woman elected as the New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge as Opposition Leader Jack Layton's Orange Wave swept through Quebec on May 2.

The media got its teeth into this story because it just can't resist the symbolic opportunity to attack the NDP that is found in the fact Brosseau obviously didn't expect to win when she accepted the nomination. As if that were some kind of a first in Canadian political history!

Nevertheless, as we are reminded with tiresome regularity, Brosseau spent part of the campaign in Las Vegas, doesn't live in the riding, doesn't speak the majority language fluently, and some of her political opponents are making claims about the validity of her nomination papers. So, fair enough, we can reasonably conclude from this that she was probably not the ideal candidate for a riding in which the party in fact had a chance of winning.

Given this, we might as well let the media have its fun. After all, notwithstanding their implication that the Quebec surge of the NDP was some kind of historical aberration soon to be corrected, the Orange Wave didn't just happen -- it was the product of more than eight years of hard work by Layton and his lieutenants in that province.

It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the same Layton may have the political skills to have a reasonable chance of turning his 59-member Quebec caucus into an effective political machine over the next four years. No doubt that is what is really worrying his opponents in other parties and in the government's English Canadian media auxiliary.

This is not to say that Layton will face no challenges managing sovereignist sentiment within his caucus. But then, others have the same problem with provincial sentiments. Consider the Alberta Conservative caucus, for example, which contains the noted Western sovereignist Stephen Harper, who in 2001 wrote, "it is imperative … to build firewalls around Alberta."

Regardless, Layton is not the first Canadian political leader to have gone to Ottawa or a provincial capital with a caucus containing a significant number of inexperienced members. John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney, both Conservative prime ministers, faced the same problem.

Nor is Brosseau the first Canadian politician, of course, to have represented a riding where he or she did not live. Examples? How about John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister, who was elected to represent … wait for it … Victoria, B.C., in October 1878?

She doesn't speak the local majority language fluently? Well, gee, that'd be half the MPs in Canada!

Nor is the NDP the first Canadian political party to have seen a weak candidate elected on the strength of his or her political affiliation. The proof of this assertion, surely, is in the Conservative Party's Alberta caucus.

Indeed, out here on the Great Plains of Alberta we not only elect unqualified and inexperienced candidates, as long as they're some variety of Conservative we keep on re-electing them, year after year, election after election!

The media and all other political parties would like those of us in English Canada who know very little about the political scene in Quebec to draw the conclusion from the election result in Berthier-Maskinonge that all the NDP's successful candidates in Quebec are weak. This is of course preposterous.

In fact, the NDP Quebec caucus has deep roots in that province's trade union movement. It is full of smart, experienced, committed, seasoned union activists who have learned their political trade the hard way, on the front lines.

Consider these new NDP MPs, so far barely mentioned in the English Canadian mainstream media, if at all:

-    Tyrone Benskin, MP for Jeanne-Le Ber -- a popular actor and actors' union representative.

-    Françoise Boivin, Gatineau -- an experienced and progressive MP as a Liberal, now one of the bright lights of the NDP Quebec caucus.

-    Alexandre Boulerice, Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie -- a senior CUPE communications strategist.

-    Guy Caron, Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques -- CEP economist, former president of the Canadian Federation of Students.

-    Hélène Laverdière, Laurier-Sainte-Marie -- former Canadian diplomat and PhD sociologist.

-    Roméo Saganash, Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou -- a top-shelf Cree negotiator.

-    Nycole Turmel, Hull-Aylmer -- the first woman president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Seriously, people, how many Alberta politicians could hold a candle to any of these guys? On the other hand, consider these notables from the Conservatives' Alberta caucus, which is otherwise mostly distinguished by the nonentities it includes:

-    Rob Anders, Calgary West -- the former professional Republican heckler who called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

-    Peter Goldring, Edmonton-East -- the MP whose big issue is having Louis Riel declared to Canada's No. 1 Official Villain when he’s not campaigning to have the Turks and Caicos Islands united with Canada? Goldring is an MP, a local columnist gently noted, for whom "the actual affairs of actual Edmonton have not always been foremost in his mind."

There are others, but why go on? Offhand, I can only think of one Alberta MP other than the PM and Chief Censor Jason Kenney that really matches the firepower of any of the seven Quebec MPs mentioned above, and that's Linda Duncan, environmental lawyer and seasoned campaigner, the MP for Edmonton-Strathcona. But Duncan, of course, is also a member of the NDP caucus in Ottawa.

So never mind the one-note song the media has been singing. With people like those listed above in the NDP's Quebec caucus, it's a safe bet that over the next four years it will prove to be very effective, thank you very much.

And who knows, even Brosseau may turn out to be a capable Member of Parliament. Stranger things have happened.

Regardless of this, the governing Conservatives, the moribund Liberal Party and their amplifiers in the media had better be careful if they want to push this line of criticism, considering some of the clowns we elect under their banners in English Canada.

What's more, unlike our compatriots in Quebec, we don't have the excuse here in Alberta that we were courageously voting for change or supporting newcomers to federal politics.

Both Anders and Goldring, for example, have been re-elected six times! What's with that?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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