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The NDP Today: Charmaine Borg

In Maisonneuve's current Winter issue, Nick Taylor-Vaisey has a feature called "After Jack," a thoughtful assessment of the NDP's rocky past and uncertain future. Over the next few weeks, we'll publish a series of short online profiles of some of the people he spoke with. To read "After Jack," from which this post is adapted, pick up a copy of Issue 42 (Winter 2011) or order it online.

The idea that a group of absolute strangers could treat each other like family might seem unlikely, but Charmaine Borg, a first-term MP, says it's just how things are for her new colleagues in the NDP's federal caucus. "We're a very tight-knit team," she says. Borg is one of the McGill Five, a group of young students elected to the House of Commons almost by accident. She's from a small town in rural Ontario, but represents a Quebec riding. And she's never held elected office. If there's any uncertainty about the NDP's future, Borg's at the centre of it all.

What Borg's critics probably don't know is that she's bilingual; in fact, French is her first language. She was raised in Keswick, Ont., on the shores of Lake Simcoe, and she attended a French school in suburban Aurora, a lengthy commute to the south. The contrast between Borg's hometown and Aurora wasn't lost on her when she made the trek. (In 2005, according to Statistics Canada, the median family income in Georgina, the town that includes Keswick, was $71,054. In Aurora, it was $98,842.)

Keswick "is a town that has a lot of social housing, a lot of unemployment. You can kind of see social problems all around you. Growing up in that community, I don't come from a very rich family, either. You look around and say, 'Something's wrong,'" she says. But she admits that the NDP's influence in that part of the province—Conservative international trade minister Peter Van Loan won with 63 percent of the vote in the last election—is limited. "It's not really the thinking around there," she says.

Borg attended a French school in Aurora because it was the closest school where she could speak her mother tongue. Her extended family has deep Francophone roots, and they live in Timmins and Ottawa, as well as parts of Quebec. That helps her understand the complexities of the linguistic debate in the province, and riding, she now represents—Terrebonne-Blainville, in suburban Montreal.

"I grew up as a language minority. I learned English, because you're forced to, but my family's French. I've always spoken French. French was my first language," she says. "I can really understand what it feels like to be that language minority, and to have to fight to keep your French language. That's the main reason I moved to Montreal for my studies."

Borg's inexperience is palpable, for the time being, but that doesn't mean she offers nothing. She's a young, energetic, bilingual Franco-Ontarian who's lived in Quebec. Every political party in the country would love to show off those kinds of credentials. For the NDP, Borg represents change. And, surprisingly, there's plenty of that in Ottawa these days.

To read "After Jack," from which this post is adapted, pick up a copy of Issue 42 (Winter 2011) or order it online.

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