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Spotlight on NDP's Quebec caucus: Are they just a group of accidental MPs?

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With the NDP convention in Montreal opening later this week, the spotlight will shift to the NDP, especially the Quebec caucus. Are they just a group of accidental MPs?

Justin Trudeau gave a well-crafted and effective speech this past Saturday.

It was not overflowing with policy, but that is not what those speeches are for.

Trudeau projected a positive, optimistic, empathetic persona, more evocative, perhaps, of Laurier's "sunny ways" than his father's more rigorous and austere political personality.

And that is what Trudeau-fils had to do. We have not had many happy warriors in Canadian politics since Jack Layton died. Among the current leading figures of Canada's political class there are too many who look like they're auditioning for the role of undertaker in some gritty and grim television mini-series.

With the prospect of another Trudeau at its head, most recent opinion polls are almost gushing over the Liberal Party's prospects.

Mind you, as John Diefenbaker used to say, "polls are for dogs," and these days polls are not so much evanescent snapshots as highly unreliable samples taken from a turbulent and rushing stream.

But the polls create a certain sense of reality all their own, and they have columnists and commentators talking about the Liberals' regaining the role of inevitable alternative to the Harper folks.

It ain't over ‘till it's over, of course, and starting Friday focus will shift, somewhat, to the Party that is now the Official Opposition, the NDP. That's when that Party's policy convention gets underway in Montreal.

A highly diverse caucus, with lots of professional and life experience

It is appropriate that the NDP should hold this first big event since the leadership race in Quebec, scene of its greatest breakthrough in the last election.

Outside of Quebec, there is still a lingering perception that the NDP's success there in 2011 was almost accidental. The day-after-the-election news stories about the election of McGill undergraduates and a bartender from Ottawa who vacationed in Las Vegas during the campaign left a lingering impression on a great many.

Unfortunately, outside of Question Period, few Canadians pay much attention to Parliament. It may be available round the clock on CPAC, but it is hardly riveting entertainment.

Those who have been watching Parliament and its various committees since the 2011 election know that the 57 NDP MPs from Quebec, almost all rookies, have been doing a diligent and competent job.

There are, yes, a number who are very young. Not that youth is necessarily a handicap. Jean Charest, James Moore, Maurzio Bevilacqua and Perrin Beatty all got into the House in their 20s and went on to successful careers.

The NDP's Quebec caucus is, in fact, a very diverse group, and at least as qualified as, say, the current Conservative Ontario caucus.

There may not as many Rotary and golf club members among the Quebec NDPers as you would find in most Canadian political families. But there are plenty with grassroots community experience and significant professional qualifications.

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, an MP from Montreal's centre-east and the Party's housing critic, is an archeologist, and, perhaps more typical for the NDP, was a union leader and activist before the last election.

Hélène Laverdière, also from Montreal (she defeated the Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe in the Laurier riding he had held for more than two decades) is the international cooperation critic, and had a long career as a diplomat before entering politics. She has a PhD from a British university and speaks four languages.

Christine Moore, who shares the defence critic tasks with Newfoundland's Jack Harris, and represents a riding in northwestern Quebec, is a trained nurse and, for three years, was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain, MP for a riding in Quebec's northeast lower Saint Lawrence region, is from the Innu community of Uashat. He has a law degree from Laval University, and praticed law in his community prior to the election.

Phil Toone, the NDP's east coast fisheries critic and Deputy Whip, represents the Gaspé and Magdalene Islands. He is a lawyer and notary, by training, and for many years ran a notarial practice while teaching at a local CEGEP (community college).

Francoise Boivin and Nycole Turmel, who both represent ridings in West Quebec, on the Ontario border, are better known than most of their colleagues. Boivin had successful careers as both a lawyer and broadcaster and was a respected Liberal MP for a number of years. She is now the NDP's Justice Critic. Turmel, the Party Whip and former interim leader, was head of one of Canada's largest unions.

Anne Minh Thu Quach, whose parents were boat people from Viet Nam and who represents a riding southwest of Montreal, was a high school teacher and competitive badminton player. She now works with Deputy Leader Megan Leslie on the environment file and has been relentless in pursuing the Minister, Peter Kent, on the question of the notional economic benefits of the government’s regulatory (as opposed to carbon pricing) approach to greenhouse gas reduction.

Tyrone Benskin, who represents a working class area in southwest Montreal, had a long and successful career, before his election, as an actor and theatre director, and as Artistic Director of Montreal’s highly respected Black Theatre Workshop.

Djaouida Sellah, who represents the suburban Montreal riding where the Canadian Space Agency is located, was a doctor in her native Algeria, where she practiced for ten years. She also practiced in Malaysia for another five years, all before coming to Canada. She is founder of an organization that lobbies for professional recognition of foreign trained doctors and was 6 months away from gaining her Canadian medical license when she entered the House. She now works on health issues with the NDP's Deputy Leader Libby Davies.

Sadia Groguhé, MP for a riding on Montreal’s south shore, immigrated to Canada from France, where she had served as a city councilor. She has a Master's degree in psychology, and is the Party's Deputy House Leader and deputy critic for immigration (working with British Columbia MP Jinny Sims).

Robert Aubin was for many years a respected teacher, choir director and musician in Trois Rivières, which he now represents in the House. He is the Chair of the NDP's Quebec caucus, and can belt out mean versions of Yves Montand's "C'est si bon" and Edith Piaf's "Hymne à l’amour."

Guy Caron, who represents a riding east of Quebec City, had successful careers as an economist and a journalist prior to politics. He is deputy critic for finance (working with Peggy Nash) and has earned the respect of colleagues for the knowledge and professionalism he brings to his role on the House Finance Committee.

One of the featured speakers at the coming policy convention will be Alexandre Boulérice, Member of Parliament for a riding in centre-east Montreal. His critic responsibilities include labour, access to information, and ethics, which he shares with Charlie Angus. In the latter role Boulérice is frequently on his feet in the House, sparring with the indefatigable Parliamentary Secretary and designated Conservatve pit-bull, Pierre Poilievre. Boulérice is a long time NDP activist, has a Master's degree from McGill and worked as a journalist before getting involved in union work fulltime.

And what about that bartender from Carleton University who spent part of the last campaign in Vegas? You’ve probably heard about her recently. Her name is Ruth-Ellen Brosseau and she has been the subject of many mainstream media reports, from the Ottawa Sun to CBC. It seems there is not a journalist or columnist who can find a bad word to say about her. She is, they all report, an effective and hardworking MP, well liked in her rural Quebec district. Leader Tom Mulcair saw such potential in her that he appointed her the Party’s deputy agriculture critic.

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