Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Book of Ruth

It is almost too easy to laugh at Ruth Ellen Braseau, the NDP MP for the francophone riding of Berthier—Maskinongé. For starters even though she was running for election she infamously celebrated her birthday in Vegas midway through the most recent Federal election. The Dippers tried to excuse her by saying that she couldn’t change her flights because she’s a poor single mother, but let’s be honest here, going to Vegas is not like saying, “I’m off to Geneva for a World Health Organization Convention on reproductive rights, so I’ll be missing the local all-candidates debate.” We all know that the only reason people go to Vegas is drink, gamble and see Celine Dion. Because as well also all know Celine Dion is #amazing.

For the Liberals, reprimanded by the Canadian electorate and sent to sulk in their room WITHOUT DESSERT, Ruth Ellen has become an easy target as Canada’s Not So Natural Ruling Party attempts to lick their wounds like no political party in this country has licked their wounds before.

“See what happens with you give the NDP keys to Stornaway,” you can almost see a stern-looking Michael Ignatieff complain to Zsuzsanna as she helps him unpack his boxes into his fancy new office in Toronto’s Munk Centre, “They immediately invite everyone over for a house party. If only Canadians had trusted us. We know what’s best. As if we’d ever have an unwed single waitress over to dinner. As. If.”

Such patronizing paternalism aside (Iggy, what?!)… lets be somewhat radical in the assessment of our dear friend Ruth Ellen. Yes, she’s a 27 year-old cocktail waitress who may not be fluent in French and who represents a riding where 98% of her constituents speak French as their first language and where 77% don’t speak English. These are what the French call, les faits.

But she’s also a woman and a single mother who at some point was asked to run as a parachute candidate in a country that is desperately lacking in female parliamentarians. Besides… if you asked half of my friends (a lot of whom are 28) two months ago to run as an NDP candidate in any riding – the answer would be: (to quote Mercedes on Glee) Hell to No. That would be due to political affiliation but also political disinterest. Bitch please, most would rather watch Rebecca Black’s Friday on loop then think about politics.

Certainly Ruth Ellen isn’t the only parachute candidate from the most recent election. Etobicoke-Lakeshore is quite a few physical kilometres away from Michael Ignatief’s residence at 18 Yorkville (even further from a socio-economic perspective). And as this cheeky article from 2006 notes: In fact, politicians who run in ridings where they don't actually live are as much a part of Canada's heritage as hockey or maple syrup. Seems that politicians from John A. Macdonald to Brian Mulroney have a history of running in one riding and living in another (do you think Brian and Mila were going to schlep their asses out to Central Nova from Westmount?).

Is it possible that the Ruth Ellen Braseau situation indicates a tipping point of how the Canadian electorate is starting to see beyond our historical allegiance to the Westminster System with its imbued first-past-the-post idiosyncrasies coupled with some sort of vague representation by population?

Its almost as if segments of the Canadian electorate are slowly deciding they don’t need local federal representation. Ruth Ellen may represent a larger movement in Canadian politics, one where local representation at the Federal level has become increasingly less important.

It seems that Quebecers may be moving in that direction. This is somewhat unsurprising - in my mind the Quebec electorate is perhaps Canada’s Smartest Voting Bloc (no pun intended!). So before we cry for the poor villagers of Lavaltrie remember that 40% of them (22,000 people) voted for Ruth-Ellen even though she didn’t personally canvass the ridings towns and find out what their needs were. She didn’t, like my Member of Parliament, have to stand precariously above the Heath Street exit to the St. Clair West subway station rambling about the Liberal Family Pack.

And as Canada’s Smartest Voting Bloc – Quebecers knew who they were voting for even if they didn’t know who they were voting for. What the NDP surge exhibited was that Quebecers were happy to voting as a cohesive bloc in order to punish parties that they felt had wronged them. If Ruth Ellen happened to get caught up in the surge - who cares, because Quebecers wanted a seat at the table to talk about pan-Quebec issues. Nothing else mattered.

And as astute political creatures Quebecers had already soured on the Liberals, realized it was now time to take the Conservatives to the cleaners (J’accuse you for not building our arena M. Harper!) and felt like they needed to punish the Bloc for being lazy fools and thus… they turned to Jack and his merry band of idiots fully know that some of the NDP candidates were nothing more then what Lysiane Gagnon called poteaux in a recent column. Poteaux stands for posts – “symbolic candidates who don’t bother to campaign because they don’t have the slightest chance of winning.” As Montreal Gazette columnist Don Macpherson noted: “Every time I pass an orange traffic cone now, I’m tempted to wave, because I think of my new Member of Parliament.”

But perhaps Quebecers are ahead of the general curve realizing that the twentieth century concept of electing a federal MP to represent your hyper specific local issues is outmoded. What matters increasingly in twenty first century Canadian politics is party leadership.

The success of Ruth Ellen to me, at least, asks that important question: as we move to a more regionalized stance in Canadian politics and where, at least federally, our issues and debates become about the general tone of the country (economic recovery, law and order, foreign policy, health) why do we need local federal representatives to deal with our local issues. Truthfully we have Rob Ford for that (song interlude: you just call Rob Ford, and you know wherever he is – he’ll come running, to see you again; winter spring summer or fall, all you got to do his call and Rob Ford will be there ya ya ya, you’ve got a friend).

Besides – have you ever seen what happens in parliament? Them people are yelling at each, clapping and banging on their desks. Do you think Ruth Ellen was EVER going to stand up and argue for additional funding for the local museum she visited today, which celebrates unwed mothers? And how do you think John Baird would react to that? (Because you know that bitch knows a thing or two about impregnating and then leaving women as single mothers [uhm…]) Sidenote: I’m not sure how a video of John Baird saying Point of Order has not gone viral, but this is my new ringtone:

I realize that this is a somewhat simplistic viewpoint of Canadian politics and I understand that local constituent offices work closely with local populations to bring about local change at a local level… blah blah blah and certainly some federal politicians, especially those who are part of our current governing party, do bang-up jobs ensuring that gazebos are built in Muskoka, but like… our MP’s aren’t the people negotiating hidden wage increases with police unions (hi Dalton, call me buddy, we gotta talk) and nor should they be.

Besides within the auspices of our current party structure where MP’s are whipped to vote with their party on major issues – do our local representatives really represent our local issues? I mean sure… they do in some instances, but not always. Take the private members bill to scrap Canada’s Gun Registry - Bill C-391. When it was originally read in Parliament - 8 Liberal and 12 NDP MP’s voted WITH the Conservative Party to scrap the firearm registry even though their party leaders voted against the bill. Afterwards Ignatieff whipped his caucus to vote along party lines meaning if you were a Liberal MP whose constituency wanted the long-gun registry abolished - tits up. Jack didn’t officially whip his caucus (that sounds dirty right?) but still 6 of the 12 NDP MP’s who voted with the Tory's suddenly decided to vote along party lines even if that meant NOT representing their local issues. That's just one issue... but its telling.

What the Braseau scandal then truly highlights is that in Quebec, at least in this election, riding representation in the Federal realm is dead. And Ruth Ellen isn't the villain in this situation, she may simply be the uni-lingual canary in the coal mine.

And if not – we always have the bible. As Ruth said to Naomi in the Book of Ruth: Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people.

For Ruth-Ellen Braseu her people are the residents of Berthier—Maskinongé.

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