McGill Five rides the orange wave all the way to Ottawa

Students turn giant killers by knocking off incumbent MPs

By Neale McDevitt

Good CVs are sprinkled with work experience that will make potential employers sit up and take notice. Great CVs will knock them right off their chairs – as will, no doubt be the case some day for McGill students Charmaine Borg, Matthew Dubé, Laurin Liu, Mylène Freeman and Jamie Nicholls. After all, how many students can include this CV entry: “2011 – Elected as a Member of Parliament to Canada’s House of Commons?”

A month ago, all five were political unknowns, recruited by the New Democratic Party to run against incumbent MPs from the province’s powerhouse sovereignist party at the federal level, the Bloc Québécois. Sacrificial lambs sniffed the experts – a judgment passed upon many an NDP candidate early in the campaign.

But on election Monday, the lambs became lions, as the quintet knocked off their Bloc counterparts to become among the youngest MPs in Canadian history.

Buoyed by leader Jack Layton’s surge in popularity among Quebec voters, the NDP went from just one seat in Quebec in the previous Parliament to an astonishing 58 en route to becoming the Official Opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority Conservative government. The NDP’s newfound popularity in Quebec almost wiped the Bloc off the electoral map, as the latter plummeted from 49 seats to just four.

Students shine

“I was up against a very, very competent individual – well-known, well-liked and well-respected by everyone, including me,” said Matthew Dubé of his primary opponent in the riding of Chambly-Borduas, Bloc incumbent Yves Lessard. “You don’t campaign thinking you don’t have a chance, but I have to admit that I was surprised at the result. As the election drew near, polls suggested it would be a real dogfight. In then end there was nearly a 10,000-vote difference in my favour.

“I think it shows that people were ready for change and ready to give us a very strong mandate. They’ve placed their trust in us and now it is up to us to stand and deliver,” said the political science major (with a minor in history) who will graduate later this month.

With results still being verified, Laurin Liu, who majors in Cultural Studies with a minor in Islamic Studies, is projected to win 49.21 per cent of the vote compared with Bloc second-place finisher incumbent Luc Desnoyers, who polled a projected 28.5 cent of the vote in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles riding north of Laval.

“I feel so proud to be part of this great team,” said Liu via telephone the day after she was elected as an MP. “I’m really looking forward to working with my fellow New Democrats in the coming years.”

When pressed on whether she was considering a career in politics on this, her first day as an elected official, Liu laughed. “I’m only 20, so it might be a little early to tell. Anything’s possible – let’s just leave it at that.”

Charmaine Borg won the Terrebonne-Blainville riding in southern Quebec with a projected 49.4 per cent of the vote. The poli-sci student who is also the co-president of NDP McGill, easily beat second-place finisher and Bloc incumbent Diane Bourgeois, who received a projected 30.8 per cent of the vote

Mylène Freeman, Honours Political Science, won the Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel riding with a projected 44.19 per cent of the vote over Bloc incumbent Mario Laframboise.

And Jamie Nicholls, a doctoral student in Urban Planning, took the Vaudreuil-Soulanges riding with a projected 43.6 per cent of the vote over Bloc incumbent Meili Faille.

More McGillians

McGill will be well represented in the House of Commons as, on top of the four student MPs, a dozen alumni were also elected. MPs with a McGill connection include NDP leader Layton, who represents Toronto-Danforth; John McCallum, Liberal MP for Markham-Unionville; Thomas Mulcair, NDP MP for Outremont; Justin Trudeau, Liberal MP for Papineau; Francis Scarpaleggia, Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Louis; Irwin Cotler, Liberal MP for Mont Royal; Chris Alexander, Conservative MP for Ajax-Pickering; John Williamson, Conservative MP for New Brunswick Southwest; Hélène LeBlanc, NDP MP for Lasalle-Émard; Massimo Pacetti, Liberal MP for Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel; Mylène Freeman, NDP MP for Argenteuil-Papineau-Mirabel; and José Nunez-Melo, NDP MP for Laval.