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NDP's Brosseau admits she's never been to riding, but excited to go soon

Quebec NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who took a Vegas vacation during the election campaign, is shown in a handout photo.


After a week of silence, the NDP was slowly exposing its controversial new MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau to the whirlwind of media attention that has surrounded her since the federal election campaign.

In her first interview since getting elected, Ms. Brosseau told a Quebec newspaper in her riding that she was shocked to win the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge but is excited for the opportunity to serve in Parliament.

Ms. Brosseau, who made headlines for taking a trip to Las Vegas during the campaign, admitted in the interview published Saturday she has never stepped foot in her riding but said she is looking forward to visiting soon.

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The NDP also sent out an automated telephone message to residents in the riding, which has party leader Jack Layton introduce Ms. Brosseau to her constituents.

Speaking in rehearsed and passable French, Ms. Brosseau, who is a single mother, said she understands the challenges facing families.

"I will make sure voices of regular families like ours are heard loud and clear in the House of Commons," she said.

In another sign the NDP is waking up to its public relations problem in the Trois-Rivieres area, Mr. Layton made an effort to reach out to local mayors.

He called Pierre Roy of Saint-Barthelemy and Guy Richard of Louiseville on Friday, discussing how he could work with them, represent their views in Ottawa, and heard their concerns about flooding in the region.

On Sunday, Mr. Layton is to appear on popular current affairs shows, including Tout le monde en parle, to discuss his wins in Quebec.

In the interview with Trois-Rivieres' Le Nouvelliste, the 27-year-old said that she will quit her job as an assistant bar manager at Ottawa's Carleton University and devote herself to her new post.

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Ms. Brosseau said she plans to get a tour of her riding, some of which is under threat from flood waters, from a local mayor in the next few days.

"I've heard it's a beautiful place and everybody has been so friendly and I've received so many emails of outreach."

The halting phone interview was conducted almost entirely in English and Ms. Brosseau sounded nervous.

At one point, she takes more than 20 seconds to answer a question while papers are heard being shuffled.

Ms. Brosseau said she is trying to improve her French so she can better serve her predominantly francophone riding.

"I speak everyday and I want to be completely bilingual," she said in a rare French exchange with the reporter, adding that her father is francophone and she attended school in Quebec until Grade 2.

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Ms. Brosseau continues to take heat for her lack of French; a French-language Montreal daily took the unusual step of quoting her directly in English on the front page.

But she said she is learning to deal with the media scrutiny and her "skin is getting thicker by the day."

She said she has learned a lot over the week during meetings with other party members and leader Jack Layton.

Initially, she said, she ran as a candidate as a favour to the party she has long-supported.

"It was just symbolic," she said. "I was approached to put my name on a ballot but I was a supporter of the NDP for many years."

Watching Monday's results at the NDP headquarters in Ottawa, Ms. Brosseau said she was surprised to see she had handily beat the Bloc incumbent.

There was some speculation when Ms. Brosseau failed to surface this week that she didn't want the job, but she said that "never crossed my mind."

"Once I set my mind to something I always stick to it," she said.

Ms. Brosseau came under fire for her vacation during the campaign and there have also been questions about whether signatures on her nomination papers were falsified.

The Liberals and Conservatives, however, are taking no steps to pursue the issue in court and Ms. Brosseau said the party's nomination process followed the rules.

"Campaign workers collected the signatures the appropriate way and the signatures were approved by Elections Canada," she said.

Ms. Brosseau also said the trip to Las Vegas was for her birthday and she couldn't cancel it.

The interview was Ms. Brosseau's first since the election despite a plethora of media requests.

NDP officials, however, continue to shield her from the national media and The Canadian Press was denied an interview with her again Saturday. They were also shielding Mr. Layton from questions about Mr. Brosseau, refusing all interview requests and making sure reporters didn't get too close to him on his way in and out of a memorial service to former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney.

Party veterans are hard at work training their new Quebec cohort, which grew from one MP to 58 in a stunning election last Monday.

Most of the newly elected representatives have little experience in politics, although there are a handful with a long list of credentials.

Well aware that the NDP may be judged on its ability to form a serious Official Opposition, party officials are cracking down on public commentary made by their new MPs.

They are setting up a mentoring program that pairs the newcomers with veteran MPs, and helping the Quebec caucus members find staff, set up offices and learn the Ottawa protocol.

"I'm sure we'll have growing pains," said long-time MP Libby Davies.

But she's confident the new diversity of the caucus will help the party - and politics in general - in the long run.

"I feel like we're going to turn politics on its head."

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