Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Vegas' MP's whirlwind

A year later, NDP's Brosseau growing into her role

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LOUISEVILLE, Que. -- Spend a day with rookie NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau and witness the degree to which someone's life can change in 12 months.

It was a year ago this week Brosseau was making regular phone calls home from Las Vegas, where she was celebrating her 27th birthday under the bright lights of Sin City.

Those calls brought news that turned her life upside down.

"Of course being a mom, I called home all the time and spoke to my son and my family," Brosseau told The Canadian Press.

"They were kind of like: 'There's, um, stuff going on here, you're kind of in the news a bit for going on your trip.' "

Brosseau, then a campus-bar manager in Ottawa, was hit with a stunner. Her name and photo were splashed all over the national news during Canada's ongoing federal election campaign, during which she emerged as a poster child for the NDP's improbable Quebec surge.

Little did she know roughly one year later, she would be spending a busy day in a rural Quebec riding -- a place to which she had no personal connection -- discussing pyrite, float planes, federal summer jobs and an art exhibition with local constituents.

Entering that campaign a year ago, even the term 'underdog' would have been charitable to describe Brosseau and a few dozen other Quebec NDP candidates.

She hadn't knocked on doors, hadn't spent a dime on her campaign and had never even set foot in the riding she was vying for.

Allegations also spread Brosseau couldn't speak French, even though the constituency was 98 per cent francophone.

But a so-called "orange wave" rolled in around the same time Brosseau was on that late-April trip. A few days later, that wave swept her to victory in the Berthier-Maskinonge riding, in what was perhaps the biggest upset of the election.

Since the May 2 election, the single mom has been earning an annual salary $157,000 as an MP in the House of Commons.

That turn of events also prompted a rather rapid reorganization of her life.

"(The) election was kind of, 'Wow, what do I do now?' " she said of that surprising win over veteran Bloc Quebecois incumbent Guy Andre.

"I knew it was a possibility, I just didn't think it was possible."

The Canadian Press followed Brosseau last week in her riding, where she met with constituents and fielded French questions from local journalists at a news conference.

She appears to have grown into her new job and, given the French lessons she's been taking, original claims about her lack of proficiency in the language now appear exaggerated.

Brosseau, who turns 28 on Thursday, insists she learned French as a child, but it was rusty and she didn't have the confidence to express herself comfortably last spring.

In a twist, the rumours about her struggles with French are now working in her favour -- many locals still believe she was a unilingual anglophone just a year ago.

Several people remarked last week about how impressed they were with her progress, with some crediting her quick mastery of the language for winning them over.

The media's interest in Brosseau still appears to be strong in the region.

Around a dozen journalists showed up last week for one of Brosseau's first news conferences in the riding.

Brosseau says she enjoys talking with people and fighting for their interests. With this increasing taste for politics, she plans to run again in 2015.

"I definitely got bit by the bug," she said.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2012 A8

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