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Four McGill students elected to parliament

Charmaine Borg, Matthew Dubé, Mylène Freeman and Laurin Liu were all NDP candidates in Quebec ridings

Article updated May 4

Three current McGill students and one recent McGill graduate were elected members of parliament (MPs) in the May 2 federal election

The students, Charmaine Borg, Matthew Dubé, Mylène Freeman and Laurin Liu, were NDP candidates in Quebec ridings. All four candidates defeated incumbent opponents from the Bloc Québécois.

The NDP, led by Jack Layton, won 102 seats in the new parliament, and will form the official opposition to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which won the majority with 167 projected seats.

According the Parliament of Canada website, in 2011, members of the House of Commons will receive a salary of $157,731 per parliamentary session.

Liu won 49.21 per cent of the vote in the Rivière-des-Mille-Îles riding north of Laval. Liu beat the second-place candidate – Bloc incumbent Luc Desnoyers, who won the seat in the 2008 election – by over 20 per cent of the vote.

In each of the previous five federal elections, the NDP finished fourth or lower in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, receiving less votes than the Green Party in 2000.

Myriam Zaidi, outgoing SSMU VP External and Liu’s past employer, said to the Daily that Liu, even as late as Monday evening, did not expect to win the election.

However, in an interview with The Daily the next day Liu stated, “When I signed the papers to be a candidate it’s not like I had no intention whatsoever of going to parliament.”

Liu said she has been involved with the NDP for several years. She started an NDP campus club at her CEGEP, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, and has been a member of NDP McGill since starting at the University.

Liu said she declared as the NDP candidate in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles shortly after the election was announced in late March. Liu was asked to run by members of the NDP she knew and had worked with in Quebec, and was later assigned the riding. Liu has been living in Montreal since she was ten, and grew up in Pointe-Claire.

“Candidates are recruited by members of the party and assigned a riding by members of the party,” said Liu. “It works the same with every party.”

The four McGill MPs, barely in their twenties, have been attracting a lot of local media attention. However, Liu said that the NDP have always been open to recruiting young candidates.

“Having young candidates is not something new in the NDP, but it’s something people are paying close attention to this time around,” said Liu.

Liu said she couldn’t comment on campaign strategy or NDP policy as the official opposition, but, as the Rivière-des-Mille-Îles MP, Liu said she would focus on communicating with people in her riding as well as on learning as much as possible from the more experienced NDP MPs in parliament.

Liu, a Daily staffer, is entering her U3 year and is majoring in History and Cultural Studies and minoring in Islamic Studies. She is also a newly-elected CKUT board member, and will likely become a part-time student to accommodate her duties as an MP.

“I haven’t given it much thought yet. I would definitely like to finish my degree – that’s a priority to me – just maybe not in the same time frame,” she said.

“It’s not uncommon that MPs have pursued part-time studies while sitting [in parliament],” added Liu.

Dubé, who completed his bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in History this year, won the Chambly-Borduas riding with 47.72 per cent of the vote. Dubé, NDP McGill’s other co-president, beat Bloc incumbent Yves Lessard by 15 per cent of the vote. Lessard had been the MP for Chambly-Borduas since 2004.

“You don’t go in thinking you’re going to lose,” said Dubé in a Wednesday morning interview with The Daily. “At the same time it’s obviously quite surprising.”

Dubé said the biggest surprise was his margin of victory.

“The incumbent I was up against is very well respected, he works hard in the community,” said Dubé.

“It came out of left field, this whole ‘orange wave’ as it’s called,” he said.

According to Dubé, the NDP had originally planned for someone else to contest the riding, but asked Dubé to run after the first candidate had to withdraw for personal reasons.

“It was a few days into the campaign when they contacted me,” he said. “They knew it was an area I knew well, and I had expressed interest in the past. Despite my lack of experience they knew I understood how the system worked.”

Dubé said he grew up on the border of the Chambly-Borduas riding in the neighboring riding, but that his father lives in Chambly-Borduas.

“It was a pretty major decision [to run], obviously more so now I’ve been elected. Although it’s a lot of work, it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “It’s not a hunt for glory or anything like that. I wanted the opportunity to make a difference, and it’s the best way.”

Dubé said his campaign in Chambly-Borduas suffered from a lack of financial resources, especially in comparison to opposing parties. For example, Dubé said he “didn’t really have any signs” up during the campaign.

“There were criticisms with regards to some of the candidates, that there was no real organizational structure,” said Dubé.

“[But] I knew the area, I did what I could on the ground. Whenever I had the opportunity to speak I did. I was not as exposed as I would have liked, but nonetheless the results worked out,” he continued.

Dubé said he didn’t have specific details on his long-term goals as an MP, but that for the short-term he was focused on increasing his exposure in Chambly-Borduas and on getting to know his constituents.

Dubé was also excited about the diversity among the NDP’s Quebec MPs, especially the three other McGill students, whose elections Dubé said ran “contrary to beliefs” of student apathy in politics.

“I think a lot has been made of the people of different backgrounds, that we’re somehow less competent,” said Dubé. “I find that kind of odd. The whole point of democracy is to be representative. People don’t want to elect 308 lawyers.”

“People say we don’t have political experience,” continued Dubé. “Obviously that’s true to some extent…but we’re familiar with what we have to do, [and] we have a lot of energy and that’s important too.”

In March the provincial government announced base tuition increases of $325 a year for five years starting in 2012, almost doubling current Quebec tuition by 2017. Federal involvement in post-secondary education was a key issue in the NDP campaign, and Dubé mentioned the possibility of working on legislation similar to Niki Ashton’s private member’s bill, Bill C-635, which was scratched from the House of Commons when the election was called, that would increase regulation of federal funding to post-secondary education. Ashton was re-elected as an NDP MP in her riding of Churchill, Manitoba.

“[That’s] something we’re going to talk about, bring up together,” said Dubé.

Dubé said the NDP are also planning to talk “at length about what it means to have a Harper majority.”

“Sixty per cent of people who voted didn’t vote Conservative,” said Dubé. “We want to make sure those people who don’t think Conservatives represent them are represented.”

Dubé added that that doesn’t preclude the possibility that the NDP will get their own legislation passed.

“We have a responsibility to get results more concrete than just saying ‘no’ to the government.”

Borg won the Terrebonne-Blainville riding in southern Quebec with 49.37 per cent of the vote. Borg is a Political Science student at McGill and Labour Relations Officer for the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), who represent around 2,500 part-time employees at the University, as well as NDP McGill co-president.

The closest candidate, Diane Bourgeois of the Bloc, received 30.83 per cent of the vote. Bourgeois had represented Terrebonne-Blainville in parliament since 2000.

A few days ago an NDP spokesman explained that Borg did not own a cell-phone. Borg had been unreachable throughout the campaign despite repeated attempts by local Terrebonne newspaper Le Trait d’Union to reach her.

Freeman, a McGill graduate, won the Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel riding with 44.24 per cent of the vote. Second-place candidate, Mario Laframboise of the Bloc, received 28.94 per cent of the vote. Laframboise had been the MP for the riding since 2000.

Freeman is also a candidate for Outrement borough council on the Projet Montréal ticket.

It appears the NDP will more than triple their number of seats in parliament after the election, attributable in large part to an upsurge in popularity in Quebec, where they are projected to take 58 of the province’s 75 ridings. Layton’s party has also more than doubled their historic high of 43 seats achieved in 1988.

The explosion in popularity seems to have come at the expense of the Bloc, who will hold  just four seats in parliament, all in Quebec. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe lost his own riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie to NDP candidate Hélène Lavardière by over ten per cent of the vote, and has announced his resignation as leader of the party.

 Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff also lost his riding, Etobicoke-Lakeshore in Greater Toronto, to Conservative candidate Bernard Trottier by close to five per cent of the vote. Ignatieff announced at a press conference Tuesday morning that he will be stepping down as leader of the Liberal party.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May became her party’s first ever MP, defeating incumbent Conservative candidate Gary Lunn by over ten per cent of the vote in her Saanich-Gulf Islands riding in southern British Columbia.

with files from Eric Andrew-Gee