Canada’s 41st Parliament will see dozens of new MPs from all walks of life descend on Ottawa. In the coming weeks, Globe reporters will get to know some of them on neutral ground – over breakfast.
Mathieu Ravignat may be known as the karate teacher who slew a Conservative heavyweight in the Quebec riding of Pontiac, but this morning he can barely finish half his plate of fruit-filled organic pancakes.
During breakfast at Café Soup’Herbe in the touristy part of his riding, the 38-year-old NDP MP wins plaudits from staff and customers for having beaten former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon as part of the orange wave that swept over Quebec on May 2. He hears a few more congratulatory shouts for his surprise victory as he walks down the main street.
He speaks about his social-democratic views, and gets chippy when the conversation swerves back to his love of martial arts. Mr. Ravignat first made national headlines in the election as the “karate kid” who could unseat Mr. Cannon. Now that he has achieved his upset and is heading for the House of Commons, the black-belt wants Canadians to know he has a master’s degree in political science and a decade’s experience at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
“It’s a bit funny that I spent eight, nine hours a day working for the government in the backrooms of Ottawa, of which I’m quite proud, yet there is much emphasis placed on my hobbies,” he says.
Raised in the francophone suburb of Orléans, Ont., Mr. Ravignat moved to the Quebec side of the Ottawa River a decade ago with his wife, Fida Abou-Nassif. They now have two daughters, a two-year-old and a one-year-old.
He says his political views flow from his activist mother, although he embraced more radical ideas when he ran for the Communist Party in Montreal in the 1997 election. He got 123 votes.
By the early 2000s, his views mellowed as he joined the NDP. He door-knocked for candidate Céline Brault in the 2008 election, and decided to go on unpaid leave this time around to put his name on the ballot. His goal was to prevent the Conservatives from getting a majority.
With more than 22,000 votes, his campaign was a success, although he will be stuck on the Official Opposition benches until at least 2015, with a Conservative majority across the aisle.
“We have to do everything in our power to save the Canada that preserves the values of the majority of its citizens,” he says. “We have to aim to replace the government four years down the road.”
Mr. Ravignat is focusing on local issues for now, such as economic development and protecting the pensions of workers, including those in the forestry industry in the Pontiac region. But he says he entered politics on behalf of Sophia and Gabriella, his two daughters,
“I’ve long been politically active, but running as a candidate was something else,” he says. “That decision was made for my kids. There is a future to build for them. They are so precious, and I want to make sure they still have access to education and health care.”