Pierre-Luc Dusseault was 19 years old when he became the youngest MP ever elected to the House of Commons.
Now 20, Dusseault told The Huffington Post in a year-end interview that his electoral win on May 2nd came as huge surprise that has presented a steep but enjoyable learning curve ever since.
“It was a good surprise because we knew that it was not easy to win in this riding because the Bloc was good,” Dusseault recounted. “The member who was there was there for 12 years (the Bloc Quebecois’ Serge Cardin), he was a nice guy, people liked him.”
Despite the challenge, Dusseault's Sherbrooke constituency became one of 59 Quebec ridings the NDP captured on election night.
Unlike some of his caucus colleagues, who had loose ties to the NDP when they volunteered to put their names on a ballot, Dusseault was an easy choice to represent Sherbrooke.
Attracted to the NDP in 2003 when Jack Layton took the party reins, Dusseault described the late NDP leader as a mentor and an ideal to aspire to.
“I was 13 years old when he became the leader of the NDP so all the time I was following and looking at politics, Jack was there and that was my inspiration,” Dusseault said.
He joined the NDP formally in 2009, founded the campus club at the Université de Sherbrooke where he studied politics until his campaign peaked, and served as president of the NDP riding association.
Dusseault spent the first two weeks of the campaign, cramming for and writing his university exams. His small team of volunteers helped him put posters up, but there was little money to mount an advertising blitz.
After his exams were done, Dusseault travelled from one seniors’ home to another in what he describes as a grassroots campaign.
“We had $4,000, which is not so bad in Quebec for the NDP. But we were really on the ground because we didn’t do any advertising or big money campaign,” he said.
Still, support seemed to come easily. At the doors, people kept giving him their vote.
“We really felt the last two weeks, or the last week … that something was really happening there in Quebec and in my riding. Like 50 per cent of the people were saying they were voting for me or they had already voted for me (through advance polling), so my campaign team and me, were really happy and surprised to see that,” he recounted.
On election night, Dusseault said, a smile spreading across his face, he won nearly every poll.
“That was really fun,” he noted.
By the end of June, Dusseault had hired staff, opened his constituency office and started learning what it was like to be the boss.
“I learned to manage, it’s like a small business this, when you have to manage your staff and manage your constituency office. So I learned a lot of things about managing people and managing a budget. We have a $300,000 budget so … we have to learn how to deal with that,” he said.
Dusseault is also getting a first hand lesson in how politics differs from his university textbooks.
“When you just look at politics in general, you see on CPAC, you see the person who is doing a speech but you don’t really see what happened behind (the scenes) and how this person do a speech and how the party take position on issue, how Question Period works, how we prepare this.” Dusseault said he learns every day and appreciates the opportunity to keep learning.
He has no plans to return to university right now, although he might take a class or two starting next fall.
He said he’s getting used to the MP life. His girlfriend of four years comes up for visits when she can, and he counts himself lucky that he’s only a three and half hour drive from home.
It’s been a year of upheaval, but Dusseault said he’s enjoying the new job.
He’s been most surprised by how generous and supportive people have been.
“I was not sure how the people will react when they will meet me because I was not sure if there was really happy to have a 19-year-old MP, but finally I was really surprised to see that everyone was really happy and they like me and so that was very nice to see that,” he said.
Still, it was a bit of adjustment joining a work environment where everyone is older. (The House of Commons has an average age of more than 50).
“All my staff is older than me, and so that’s one point, and all the people I meet are generally older than me,” Dusseault said, adding that he believes he is that young people can be as capable as older individuals.
People treat him differently, but only “a little bit,” he acknowledged.
“But I think that if you show that you can do the job, and if you show that you are serious that you are working hard, people will likely recognize this and see that, so they respect me.”
Layton's death was a large loss, Dusseault said, but he hopes the NDP can overcome the challenges ahead and stay united after the leadership race.
So far, he thinks the leadership contest is going well. The candidates aren’t attacking each other and the race is providing “a momentum” to build the NDP’s base, especially in Quebec where he said the party has already more than tripled its membership.
“I think for the moment this is really a good time for the party to build on some new ideas and to try to have more members.”
The leadership vacuum on the front bench also gives him and the other 18 NDP MPs under the age of 30, a chance to shine and gain experience, he said.
“The majority of our best elements are presently involved in the leadership race but I think that’s a good thing, that our best MPs and our best people be presently in the race … Of course, it creates a certain emptiness in the House of Commons because normally they are absent from the debates and Question Period but it also allows others (MPs) to showcase their skills,” he said.
Dusseault has backed Thomas Mulcair, a candidate he believes is not only perfectly bilingual, but has the parliamentary experience to take over the NDP reins.
And he’s is pretty confident that with the right leadership the party will hang on to its Quebec seats.
“The only way that we can obtain government is by winning seats that the Conservatives are currently holding and that will be a challenge,” he said.
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