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Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla, shown outside her office on Parliament Hill after an exclusive interview with Jane Taber on May 13, 2009, about the allegations of nanny abuse levelled against her. (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)
Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla, shown outside her office on Parliament Hill after an exclusive interview with Jane Taber on May 13, 2009, about the allegations of nanny abuse levelled against her. (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

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10 things you should know about Ruby Dhalla Add to ...

She is young, single and fond of stiletto heels and figure-hugging pencil skirts - not what you'd expect to see on someone who sits in the House of Commons.

At 35, Ruby Dhalla has represented Brampton-Springdale, a riding just west of Toronto, for the Liberals since 2004, and has been intelligent, articulate and aggressive in her questioning of the government.

But political Ottawa is cliquey and still very much an old boys' club, so like single and attractive MPs who have gone before her - from Belinda Stronach to, in her day, Sheila Copps - Ms. Dhalla (or Dr. Dhalla, as the chiropractor prefers to be called) has been a target of gossip and derision.

Now, of course, she is the target of something much more serious - allegations that she underpaid, overworked and mistreated women she had hired to care for her 62-year-old mother, Tavinder. This week, the women, immigrants from the Philippines, gave an emotional account of that treatment before a Commons committee, as did Ms. Dhalla.

She has put a brave face on her predicament, saying that support from her caucus leadership has been important. But party leader Michael Ignatieff has accepted her resignation as youth and multiculturalism critic, pending the outcome of the inquiry, and Ms. Dhalla - the first Sikh woman elected to the Commons - doesn't know if she will get the job back.

Extremely ambitious, she flirted with running for the leadership when Stéphane Dion resigned after the election last fall. But now there are whispers about her hazy future and suggestions that support from inside Mr. Ignatieff's office has not been as strong as it could be.

Insiders say some of her caucus colleagues don't like the fact that she has portrayed herself as a victim in the controversy, and even friends who are drawn to her warmth and chutzpah say she can suck the oxygen out of a room. It didn't help that, at the Liberal convention held in Vancouver two weeks ago, she was spotted looking like something out of a Bollywood movie as she was whisked away from her hotel in a white stretch limo.

However, perhaps not surprising for someone was raised by a very strong, loving mother, she is fighting back. "I think ultimately that the truth always prevails," she said this week in her first interview since the story broke.

Will she bounce back? Only time will tell, but before making any bets, here are 10 things you should know about her.

1. What inspired her to run for public office:

Ms. Dhalla says that at 10 she was struck by the violence in India and wrote to Indira Gandhi, "advocating for peace." The late Indian prime minister wrote back, a handwritten letter, inviting the family to visit. "As I reflect back on my experiences and journey, I think it was at that point that I realized that it doesn't matter how young or old you are, or where you live in the world, if you have a desire to make that difference, then anything in life is possible. That's how I got involved in politics."

2. What it's like to be in politics:

"I take a look at some of the comments that people make and realize that in politics maybe that's one of the reasons that we don't have more women and that's one of the reasons you don't have more young people. So when you're young, you're female, you're from an ethnic community and you're single, you know, those are all traits or qualities ... [that]are not inviting for the type of political environment that we have. The challenges that I faced last week [when the story broke]I think really, really highlighted some of that. ... I became a victim in all of this. ... You never judge a book by its cover. You have to know about someone's story, someone's journey."

3. What her own journey has been like:

"We've been through a lot in life [she has a younger brother, Neil] We have seen life in the front-row seat. ... There was a point in our life where we had absolutely nothing except for each other and family. And growing up in an inner-city neighbourhood, I have seen first-hand the challenges that one experiences. And when you talk about people who are struggling, we've been through it. Even to buy a hamburger at that time for 79 cents or a dollar, you know, was a big deal."

4. What she learned from her father:

She won't talk about him; she won't even say his name. He left the family when she was 10 years old, and has since died. "It's a long story," she says of her father, who came to Winnipeg from India in 1972 and later sent for her mother. It was an arranged marriage.

5. And from her mother:

"My mom was educated at the time in India when a lot of girls didn't have that opportunity. She came to Canada after leaving a very good job. My mom always said she came to Canada out of curiosity but she stayed for a better future for her children. She came to Canada with ... qualifications and no one would recognize them - she was the head of a whole region for a banking centre. So she worked in factories, and worked two jobs in factories. She didn't drive and would take the bus, and Winnipeg is minus 30. The bus stop, I remember growing up, was a good half-hour walk from our house. She worked two jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet and look after us at the same time."

6. Why she is perceived to be a real diva:

"I think people look at the product, people look at the title of the member of Parliament. .... We live in a society where people just look at an image and they pass a judgment. But everyone has a story. Everyone has a journey. You know I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I wasn't born with that famous last name. I was the daughter of immigrant parents who came to Canada with absolutely nothing. I went to an inner-city school and that's what defined me as a person. So when people make judgments ... they don't know that, at the end of the day, on a Friday night, I'm at home sitting in my pyjamas with my brother. ... We always sit and chat about the week."

7. How she copes with the Ottawa conundrum:

Political Ottawa is about making connections with the right people. But if you're young and single and seen having dinner with a male colleague, it is assumed that you are having an affair. Consequently, she says, she stays in her office and works, only to be accused of being "anti-social" or a "bitch."

8. What she thinks of her current ordeal:

"It's been very difficult. It almost seems like a horrible nightmare and the reason it's been so difficult is that the people, the women who came out with the allegations, the caregivers, those are the very women that I've been trying to help my whole life. ... I know the experience first-hand because I've lived it."

9. How she stays positive:

"I always believe first of all that God never gives you anything you can't handle. ... As my Mom says, 'It's not what happens to you. It's how you handle it.' And you grow as an individual."

10. What ex-prime minister Paul Martin suggested when he recruited her for the Liberals:

Grow a "thick skin."

Jane Taber is a senior political writer with The Globe and Mail's parliamentary bureau.

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