The New Democratic Party's status as the Official Opposition is unprecedented, but with that success comes many challenges
NDP Leader Jack Layton defended his youngest, least-experienced caucus members Tuesday morning after Quebec voters elected three McGill University students and a pub manager who doesn't speak French or live in the francophone riding she'll represent.
"I don’t share this notion that a young person is somehow not qualified, and evidently the people who voted for these new MPs in Quebec feel the same way," Layton, now the leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons, said in Toronto just 12 hours after his party saw its best-ever election results.
The NDP crushed the Bloc Québécois in the province, taking 58 of 75 seats. But the orange wave of popularity that decimated the other parties in the province swept several newbies to the House of Commons, including three students, a karate instructor and the pub manager.
Layton promised all the new MPs will work as hard as those with more experience.
"First of all, we also have a lot of experienced MPs who are judged by most of the people who watched the Parliament as some of the most effective," he said.
"And we will have a lot of new blood, new energy, new talent … when people vote for change, that's what they're hoping happens."
"Young people got involved in this election in an unprecedented way .… We should see that as something to celebrate, not something to criticize."
He also faced questions about how he'll put in place some of his policies when Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a majority government.
"With the mandate we got, it's his obligation to listen to us," Layton said, adding that he's optimistic they'll be able to find some areas where they agree.
"What I'm going to do is reach out to Mr. Harper and say we've had our differences in the past … but Canadians have now had an election, they've given you a certain mandate, they've given me a certain mandate," he said. "Canadians voted for Mr. Harper. He's the prime minister."
The subject of Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the anglophone bartender who will be replacing a Bloc MP in Berthier-Maskinonge, came up several times during the press conference. Fast becoming a symbol for some of the parachute candidates the parties run in ridings they don't expect to win, she spent a week of the campaign on vacation in Las Vegas, and party officials haven't been able to say whether she's even been to the riding.
French-language media have reported a local radio station reached her in Las Vegas but her French was so bad they wouldn't run the interview.
Three new MPs are currently McGill students, with one recent grad also winning a seat.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon lost to NDP candidate Mathieu Ravignat, who wasn't even nominated as a candidate until after the election campaign started.
But the NDP landslide also brings some old hands to the House, including former Liberal MP Françoise Boivin and longtime union head Nycole Turmel.
Outside Quebec, former provincial politician Robert Chisholm was elected for the NDP in Nova Scotia.