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NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Jane Taber

'Vegas girl' acknowledges her luck, embraces new challenges in Ottawa Add to ...

Ruth Ellen Brosseau has never considered herself a lucky person.

Pregnant at 16 and a single mother at 17, she was ostracized by some of her friends at school. She finished high school, partly through correspondence, and at times has had to work two jobs to make ends meet for herself and her son.

Ms. Brosseau hasn't had many breaks in life - at least, until May 2.

"This kind of fell in my lap," Ms. Brosseau told The Globe and Mail Friday in her first English-language interview.

By "this," the 27-year-old means sitting in the House of Commons, becoming an NDP MP and media sensation almost overnight, and going from a job as an assistant manager at a Carleton University bar, earning $29,000 a year, to representing the constituents of the Quebec riding of Berthier-Maskinonge, making $157,000 a year. "I think now I am really blessed," she says.

Famously known as the NDP "Vegas girl," Ms. Brosseau attracted national headlines as the NDP candidate - a so-called placeholder - who went to Las Vegas on a holiday to celebrate her birthday during the federal election campaign.

She had never set foot in the riding and her French was not great, but she allowed her name to stand as the candidate after a friend - a member of the NDP's organization team - approached her.

"And I agreed," she says. "I have always supported the NDP. We share a lot of values." Indeed, she votes and says she was a member of the party even before she was asked to run, but she didn't have an abiding passion for politics.

She can't really remember the last time she was in the Parliament Buildings - she thinks it was on a school trip.

Caught up in the "orange wave" that surged through Quebec and elected 59 NDP MPs, Ms. Brosseau, whose win was one of the biggest upsets, is now spending most of her time in Parliament, getting to know its corridors and corners and exactly how it all works.

She figures her background in bartending and waitressing will serve her well in the Commons - she has learned how to get along with people and be strong when dealing with the town drunks.

She allows, however, that her heart will likely be racing when she stands up in the Commons to make her first speech or pose her first question. But she's determined to make it work.

"I am going to work really hard and I'm going to give it my all, like I have my entire life…," she says.

Born in Ottawa, Ms. Brosseau lived for a short time in Hudson, Que., before her parents moved her and her sister to Kingston, where she lived until about six years ago.

She describes herself as stubborn and says she has a thick skin - made even thicker by the stigma she experienced as a pregnant teenager. "I had it from the moment I found out," she says. "I made that decision I was going to keep him - and the father didn't agree with me and we split ways." Her parents have always been extremely supportive, she says.

In addition, Ms. Brosseau says she made a decision then that she was no longer "number one" - that distinction went to her son, Logan, now 10. "He's my man," she says.

At first, Logan was nervous about her new role as MP, as he's quite protective of her. But they plan to get an apartment in the riding and will spend the summer there; she'll also be taking intensive French courses over the break.

Against this background, Ms. Brosseau has had to grow up quickly, and that maturity shows in the poise she displays in the interview.

Of course, she has been prepped by her handlers and is at times too much on message track, talking a lot about wanting to make "positive change" as an MP. But there is an authenticity to her. She recognizes her story is unique and why she is a target for the media. She does not condemn the coverage, which at times has been sexist.

"It's interesting, right?" she says. "This doesn't happen very often. I am a single mom. I won the election despite going on a trip to Las Vegas." But she adds that "Quebec wanted change" and elected her because they supported Jack Layton and the NDP.

There is a recognition, too, that she is a role model for young women. And she's excited about that.

In the last Parliament, of the 308 MPs there were only five women under the age of 40. That number has tripled since May 2, according to Equal Voice's executive director Nancy Peckford. Her organization is committed to electing more women to office.

Ms. Peckford is rooting for Ms. Brosseau.

"We need those young women there," says Ms. Peckford, referring to the Commons. "It is absolutely vital.…. If we can't have the emerging generations of women in their 20s and 30s say, 'I want to be there, I want to be one. I see the Ruth Ellen Brosseaus … and I think I can do that, too', then, really, the struggle will go on."

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