Once a globe-trotting diplomat, now a locally focused Dipper

For the record.

Once a globe-trotting diplomat, now a locally focused Dipper, Globe and Mail, May 10, 2011

Transition weeks are all about hello, goodbye, what’s the right form for that, and where do I go next?

As the Liberal caucus meets Wednesday, rookie MPs from all three parties are getting ready to take their seats in the House of Commons, even as defeated veterans pack their boxes and hug their departing staff. Becoming a new Member of Parliament is like starting up a small business: There are constituency offices to rent, parliamentary offices to staff, an Ottawa apartment to locate for those from away, many, many forms to fill out, and the sometimes-arcane rules of Westminster parliamentary procedure to master.

Here are three of the new faces you’ll find on the Hill when the 41st Parliament convenes in the coming weeks.

The MP Hélène Laverdière always favoured the NDP in private, but she was officially neutral as a Canadian diplomat posted in Chile, Senegal and the United States.

Now her political views are on public display as the 55-year-old is one of the most famous rookies in the NDP caucus that is taking Ottawa by storm. As she grabs her new ID card and gets briefed on parliamentary procedure in Ottawa this week, Ms. Laverdière is already known on the Hill as the vanquisher of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe.

The new MP for the Montreal riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie ran in the hopes of promoting NDP policies in Quebec, and did not anticipate bringing down a giant of the sovereignty movement.

“I didn’t run against Gilles Duceppe; I ran for the NDP,” she said.

Winning a seat in Ottawa was “like a faraway dream. I wanted to spread the message, to tell as many people as possible about what the NDP has to offer.”

After winning her riding by more than 5,000 votes, Ms. Laverdière said she plans to focus on local concerns. She has lived in her riding for four years and is busy meeting with community groups to get a better sense of the issues she will be defending in Ottawa.

“My first mandate is to the citizens of Laurier-Sainte-Marie,” she said.

She wants to help people make ends meet and work on issues such as affordable housing and the environment. To make it happen, she still needs riding offices in Montreal and a spot on the parliamentary precinct. She also has to hire staff, and order all of her office equipment.

“It’s all virtual for now,” she said.

Ms. Laverdière will then get to know her new colleagues and develop strategies to have an impact on the federal stage. There has been a conference call of new caucus members, with many more meetings to come.

“It’s really interesting; there are many francophones. In my view, it’s obvious that the team is gelling,” she said.

Some members of the NDP caucus are under fire in Quebec for having failed to campaign in their ridings or for being unilingual anglophones, but Ms. Laverdière will never be accused of being a placeholder candidate. She has a PhD in sociology from the University of Bath, in England, and speaks French, English, Spanish and some Chinese. She adds she feels at home in the NDP.

“I hadn’t been politically active, given I was frequently living abroad,” she said. “But I have always felt like a New Democrat.”


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