Saturday, December 12, 2009

How would Canada look if Michael Fortier had won in Vaudreuil-Soulanges last year?

How would the current history of Canada differ if Michael Fortier had won in Vaudreuil-Soulanges last year?

And why didn’t he?

It must have looked like a winnable riding, only 72% francophone in 2006, yet part of Quebec’s fast-growing Montérégie region (87.4% francophone).

Provincially the PQ won it only once in 1976. Otherwise it was solidly Liberal, safely held by Daniel Johnson who was premier in 1994.

The Bloc could not take it even in 1993 when the Bloc won 54 seats, nor in 1997 with a different candidate, nor in 2000 with a third candidate.

It had been held by the Tories from 1958 to 1963, while Jack Layton (born in 1950) was growing up there. It was held by the PCs again in 1984 to 1993. (Jack's father Bob Layton was a Liberal when Jack was young, as was Jack, and Bob tried for the local Liberal nomination in Vaudreuil in 1972, but in 1984 Bob Layton ran and won for the PCs in Lachine.)

Yet the Bloc took it in 2004 and holds it today.

Fast-growing Montérégie is typical of what winner-take-all does for the Bloc. Its candidates won 10 of the region’s 11 seats last year, although it got only 45% of the vote. A democratic voting system would have let Conservative voters, with 18% of the vote across the region, elect two MPs, along with two Liberals and one or two New Democrats. And one of the two Conservatives would surely have been Michael Fortier.

Similarly, there would have been three Conservative MPs from Montreal Island (perhaps including Hubert Pichet and Andrea Paine), and two from fast-growing Laval--Laurentides--Lanaudière (no doubt including Claude Carignan).

In Vaudreuil-Soulanges in 2008 the incumbent Bloc MP whom Fortier would face, Meili Faille, must have looked like as much of an “accidental MP” as Quebec City’s three surprise MPs of 2006. (Sylvie Boucher, Daniel Petit and Luc Harvey were the “accidental Tories” as Phil Authier famously called them. Phil’s great story is no longer on the Gazette website, but can be found here.)

In 2004 the Bloc had run a new young candidate Meili Faille, 31, who turned 32 just 10 days before the election. Her father had been the defeated PQ candidate in Vaudreuil in 2003, as he had also been in 1998.

Her mother Feng-Chi and her father Yvon Faille had named her “Meili,“ a Québecois version of the Chinese name Mei Li which means “beautiful.” Her mother tongue had been Mandarin.

Meili had left the riding in 1989 when she finished high school, going to Ottawa for university, getting a Business Administration degree. She had worked at Employment and Immigration Canada from 1993 to 1995 as a Project Manager for the International Service group. Her son Jasmin was born in 1996, and she had then worked for an IBM affiliate LGS Group as a Project Manager from 1996 until her election. In her team at LGS Group she was its only Mandarin-speaker, which was sometimes very useful.

To her surprise, she had won in 2004 with 44% of the vote. In 2006 Liberal star Marc Garneau thought she was easy prey, but she had held on, although her vote had slipped slightly to 43%.

Yet in 2008 Michael Fortier crashed and burned against her, when she still got 41% but he got only 24% while the new Liberal woman candidate, 28-year-old Brigitte Legault, recently president of the Quebec Young Liberals, got 21%. (She had been appointed to run there as a consolation prize; like other Liberals she had hoped to run in Outremont.)

There was more to Meili, a double giant-killer, than Fortier had first thought.

Her father Yvon had been a Catholic priest, working as a missionary and teacher in Taiwan in the 1960s. Her mother Feng-Chi, 12 years his junior, had once been his student, and became a linguist. Their relationship began while she was working as a translator on a U.S. military base in Taiwan. He left the priesthood and they married. They moved to Quebec in 1970, where Meili was born June 18, 1972, in Montreal. A younger sister and brother followed.

Yvon got a job as a teacher at College Bourget in Rigaud, 7 km from the Ontario border, where he would become his daughter’s favourite teacher. Meili grew up on a farm just outside of Rigaud, just upstream from Jack Layton‘s hometown Hudson, on what has become the limit of Montreal‘s commutershed. (The AMT runs 13 trains a day to Vaudreuil but only one to Hudson and Rigaud.)

Her grandfather Émilien Faille had run for the Bloc Populaire in 1944 in Châteauguay, also in Montérégie, and lived until 1978 when he died in Valleyfield, Beauharnois, also in Montérégie. Her father Yvon first ran for the PQ in 1981 in Huntingdon, also in Montérégie.

(The various parallels with Jack Layton, whose grandfather was elected provincially in 1936 as a member of the Union Nationale and ran federally as an independent PC in Mount Royal in 1945, and who has a Cantonese-speaking wife Olivia Chow, cannot have escaped Meili.)

Her father had taken his eldest child to countless political events since she was nine, and she had stayed at her father’s side. An active PQ member since 1992, she had worked in election campaigns in Vaudreuil--Soulanges in 1994, 1997, 1998, and 2003, and was president of the BQ riding association when she took the nomination in 2004, a veteran at age 31.

Her mother ensured Meili, a multi-talented girl, excelled in piano and oil painting. She also excelled in judo, and played hockey (defence).

During university, she had worked as an intern in the office of two PC Ministers. For Pierre Cadieux, the local MP for Vaudreuil (born in Hudson), as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development in 1989. For Pierre Cadieux again, as Solicitor General of Canada in 1990-1991. For Pierre Cadieux again, as Minister of State (Fitness and Amateur Sport and Youth) in 1991-1992. And for Bernard Valcourt, the Minister of Employment and Immigration in 1992-1993; and also for the Secretary General of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 1993. Her resume even includes being a volunteer for the United Way campaign in the federal public service in 1991-1993.

Both Meili Faille and Michael Fortier deserved to be in the House of Commons. But winner-take all could let only one of them be elected, while leaving 55% of Montérégie's voters unrepresented.