Ruth Ellen Brousseau has, unfortunately, become the face of the new NDP MPs, and it's not a good thing for the official opposition. The new representative for Berthier-Maskinongé has faced criticism for not living in her riding, not having visited the place, and going on vacation during the campaign. But the most interesting thing about this mini-scandal is what it says about us as Canadians.
We are astoundingly politically ignorant.
It isn't just that many of us lack a bit of political knowledge, it's that most of us have a fundamental lack of understanding of how the parties operate, what the standard practices are. This has been used against us a few times by the Conservatives, like when Harper told us that coalition governments are undemocratic and un-Canadian (they are neither) and when he said that being found in contempt of parliament isn't a big deal (it is).
The fact is that all political parties, when federal elections are called, send candidates in from elsewhere when they can't find a suitable candidate from a particular riding, especially if they expect to lose. This is in part to raise local support for the party by running a candidate, so they may eventually be able to win that seat, and partly just to get the subsidy money for the few hundred/thousand votes they can expect from that riding.
To use a personal anecdote as evidence of this phenomenon, I remember in the 2000 federal election when the Liberal Party sent a Montreal lawyer named Delvin Chatterson to my riding at the time (Kootenay-Columbia in BC). His only connection to the area was that his mother moved to the area a few years earlier. He ended up getting second place to the incumbent Alliance candidate. To use a more well known example, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has run for parliament 3 times in 3 different provinces. The first time was in a by-election in London, Ontario. The second was in Peter Mackay's riding in Nova Scotia, which was kinda-sorta right next to where her parents live, and the most recent time was her historic victory in the BC riding Saanich-Gulf Islands. While I'm unaware of any candidate who ever won without visiting the riding first, the rest of what Ms Brousseau did is par for the course. But most of us don't pay enough attention to know or remember this fact, which leads me to my next point...
We regularly vote for the party, not the candidate.
This probably inspired a "no shit, Sherlock" response from you, but please hear me out. While I understand this idea (not all of us have the free time to fully educate ourselves about local candidates for federal or provincial elections, and the party they belong to is a good indication of where they stand on particular issues) government is made up of people, and sometimes the people we agree with most are the worst people to put in charge. Sometimes the parties choose idiots or corrupt people to represent them. And that is why we need to make the time to learn about political candidates in any election, and keep up with them between elections to make sure they're doing their job.
Ms Brousseau isn't the only example of a less-than-ideal candidate who won due to party affiliation. Jim Hillyer, the new conservative mp for Lethbridge, drew much criticism for refusing to give interviews or attend debates, despite living in Lethbridge and not really having anything else on his schedule (at least Brousseau had the excuse of being a student and bartender in another town...and being on vacation) and upon further examination, had about as many qualifications as the new NDP MPs. Of course, as an Albertan Conservative, he was all but guaranteed the win, even if he didn't bother to campaign. I'm convinced that it would take video of the entire conservative caucus sodomizing farm animals while doing blow off the bodies of naked 10 year old boys to get Albertans to even think about not voting conservative, but I'm sure that Harper would just tell them that the other parties will raise taxes and they'd quickly forget about "Abominationgate".
Another conservative, Bev Oda, whose illegal tampering with the budget was a big part of the reason the conservatives were found in contempt of parliament, won her riding of Durham with 54% of the popular vote, about 50% more than she deserved, and roughly the same percentage of the vote she earned in the previous election. And why? They liked the Conservatives, not Oda.
The same thing happened in Quebec to Brosseau and others. Jack Layton appeared on a popular Quebec talk show called "Tout le monde en parle", then did well in the French language debate. People in Quebec haven't really cared about sovereignty for some time, if surveys on the subject are to be believed, and realized that the Bloc wasn't doing much for the province. Given that the NDP, and Jack Layton in particular, has a reputation for standing up to the Conservatives, and agrees with the Bloc on everything but Quebec sovereignty, Quebecois blindly threw their support behind them.
And that's how a 27 year old assistant bar manager can be elected in an area she's never been to, where they speak a language she barely understands, without campaigning, and while on vacation.
In summary, ms Brousseau shows us to be an apathetic, uneducated and whiny people. Why whiny? More than half of eligible voters decided to not bother (some of us refused to even register) and we lament now about newly elected officials who, frankly, should not have won. Who probably would not have won if people took the time to simply find out who they were voting for and why they deserved their votes.
It will be a very interesting 4 years.