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Rookie Quebec NDP MP missing in action before, and after, election

Brosseau outside his house in Gatineau Quebec, Thursday May 5 2011, as he is asked questions about his daughter Ruth Ellen Brosseau the newly elected NDP MP representing the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge.

Fred Chartrand for The Globe and Mail/fred chartrand The Globe and Mail

She was nowhere to be seen during the election campaign and newly elected MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau remained incommunicado Thursday as the NDP put her through intensive language training before she faces public scrutiny.

Circling the wagons around their embattled Quebec MP, the party is protecting Ms. Brosseau until there is less of a furor about her poor French, her absence from the campaign and the allegations that signatures on her nomination papers are bogus.

The NDP's struggle with its not-ready-for-prime-time MP underlined the party's postelectoral hangover as it tried to manage 57 first-time MPs from Quebec.

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NDP spokesman Marc-André Viau said Ms. Brosseau would meet journalists "in the coming days," but would not be more precise.

In her riding of Berthier-Maskinongé, a rural area midway between Montreal and Quebec City, some of the voters who elected her were getting impatient.

"Where is she? Why haven't we heard from her?" asked Louiseville resident Claude Berthiaume, 45, one of the rare voters in the riding who has been a long-time NDP supporter.

"I had no idea who she was, where she was from or that she didn't even speak French. I'm beginning to wonder if we've been had."

One of the big mysteries surrounding Ms. Brosseau is how she ended up on the ballot.

It turns out she has a friend who works at NDP headquarters in Ottawa. When the election was called and the party needed to find candidates, Ms. Brosseau was asked by her friend, according to Mr. Viau.

The NDP would not identify the party's staffer, but said Ms. Brosseau was a party member.

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At the Gatineau townhouse near Ottawa where she lives, her father, Marc, seemed baffled by the attention, referring all questions to an NDP spokesperson.

Mr. Brosseau speaks French but is more comfortable in English. He said his daughter learned French but lost some of it when the family lived in Kingston.

Ms. Brosseau never went to the Berthier-Maskinongé riding to meet voters during the campaign. She had no campaign workers, no campaign headquarters, no money. She simply placed her name on the ballot and won.

And she wasn't the only NDP candidate to coast to victory with no campaigning.

Mylène Freeman, a 22-year-old McGill University political science student, was elected in Argenteuil-Papineau Mirabel, northwest of Montreal.

She also was never in the riding, because she didn't expect to win, preferring instead to help the campaign of NDP Quebec lieutenant Tom Mulcair, who was running in Montreal.

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Ms. Freeman did not respond to an interview request but Mr. Viau addressed the fact that she admitted to the newspaper Le Droit that she didn't grow up in the riding, as claimed in her party biography, but in Stouffville, Ont.

Mr. Viau said that the information she gave the party - that she spent time in the riding but didn't live there - was misinterpreted by party workers. "It could have been clearer," he said. "Vacations are also a period during which you grow up."

In an interview with the CKOI 106.9 radio station, Mr. Mulcair explained that Ms. Brosseau is taking French classes in Gatineau while the "dust settles."

He promised that he would personally help her set up and staff her office.

"She's a young woman who took French immersion in high school in Ontario, but it was far from giving her an appropriate French for granting interviews," he said. "You have to understand that, from our point of view, with everything going on around her, we had to protect her a bit."

Mr. Mulcair, like other NDP officials, stuck to their argument that there was nothing wrong with Ms. Brosseau's nomination papers.

To field her as a candidate, the party had to get the signed endorsement of at least 100 riding residents.

Four people listed on her nomination papers are now saying that their names shouldn't be there, with at least one saying that his wife's signature was forged. In addition, the defeated Liberal candidate says that five or six other people on the document aren't riding residents.

The NDP said Ms. Brosseau's nomination list is legitimate because it was accepted by Elections Canada's returning officer in the riding.

However, Elections Canada spokeswoman Diane Benson said the returning officer does not check whether the signatures and names are genuine. "As you can understand, the returning officer has 48 hours to confirm the candidacies."

Electoral officers only verify if there were at least 100 addresses on the paper that are within the riding boundaries, she said. As soon as they reached the required 100 valid addresses, the officers would stop checking.

With reports from Campbell Clark in Ottawa and Tu Thanh Ha in Toronto

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