After four years in Parliament, Laurin Liu is going to finish her degree at McGill
On May 2, 2011, Laurin Liu was in Outremont, watching the ballots come in.
The NDP had pooled its resources into ridings it thought it could win, and her own riding was not one of them. Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, nestled on Montreal’s north shore, had been a Bloc Québécois stronghold for years. The NDP was a distant third- or fourth-place party.
Her goal hadn’t been to run for a seat. She was still completing her undergrad at McGill—a double major in history and cultural studies—when a party organizer approached her in 2011, asking if she wanted to put her name on a ballot.
She agreed, not thinking the NDP would manage to win in Quebec. She was 20 years old.
“There was very, very little chance that we would win the seat,” explained Liu. “There was virtually no campaign.”
It was there, at the counting station, that she got a text message saying she was leading in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
She won with nearly 50 per cent of the popular vote.
“It was a pretty special night,” said Liu. “I remember we had a party in downtown Montreal at the Rialto, for all the volunteers and the staff who worked on the campaign. It was pretty incredible to be there with so many other candidates who had just learnt that they had been elected in the Orange Wave.”
Liu would later be dubbed one of the “McGill Four”—four McGill students who had been unexpectedly elected to Parliament as part of the NDP’s sudden gains in Quebec. She became the youngest woman elected in Canadian history.
However, Liu was suddenly thrown from student life to parliamentary life. No one had been expecting a win in her riding, and this left her rushing to prepare for Parliament.
“There were a few really hectic weeks, setting up an office, hiring staff,” said Liu. “My first year was really spent meeting as many constituents as possible, letting them know we offered services at the MPs office, and that I was available and accessible to them.”
As an NDP parliamentarian in 2011, Liu and the other newly-elected students were joining a diverse caucus, with over a dozen MPs under the age of 30 and 40 per cent female representatives overall. Liu said she looked forward to working with two of her role models—MPs Megan Leslie and Nicki Ashton—who she describes as being “two parliamentarians who surely didn’t look like the status quo, who were female, and were relatively young.”
“[Going to Parliament] was really something,” said Liu. “It was really exciting to be there with Jack [Layton] as well, to be in caucus as a member of the Official Opposition. I think we really did manage to change the face of Parliament, and I think we were the literal embodiment of the change people wanted to see.”
Which is why, going into the 2015 general election, Liu was confident that she would hold her seat. “We had done a lot of work over the past four years, just being on the ground and being present,” she said. Over the course of her career, Liu was well-known for sounding the alarm over the muzzling of scientists and tabling the Intern Protection Act, which offered protections for unpaid interns, such as giving them the right to refuse dangerous work.
And while that did translate into support at the polls, it fell short of what Liu needed to return to Ottawa: she lost her seat by a 1,500 votes to Liberal candidate Linda Lapointe.
Liu believes that over the course of the federal campaign, mistakes were definitely made by the party.
“We weren’t able to properly contrast the NDP with the Conservatives, in terms of showing how the Liberals actually supported a lot of Conservative policies,” said Liu, citing areas such as tax breaks for large corporations and the Keystone XL pipeline. “In terms of explaining to Canadians who we are, and what we stand for … that’s something we need to keep doing in the next few years, to build the party and regain seats in Quebec.”
And while Liu says she was very proud of the campaign they ran, she doesn’t sugar coat the effect the results had on her and her team.
“It was pretty devastating, to be honest,” said Liu, with a small laugh. “It was really tough being in the campaign office with all the volunteers who put their heart and soul into the campaign, who had gone door-knocking with me in the sweltering heat … it was really hard to accept that we had lost the riding.”
Liu spent four years, five months, and 18 days as an MP. Now, she is planning to return to McGill and finish what’s left of her undergraduate degree. When asked if she planned to return to politics, she believes it’s too soon to say anything for sure.
“I do want to continue fighting for the causes that are important to me,” said Liu. “There’s lots of opportunities available, so we’ll see what the future holds … I do love politics and I think there’s a lot of work to be done still, and I would like to continue as an activist and doing advocacy work.”
Those who were fans of her work can expect to see more of Liu in the public sphere. “I’m sure you’ll see me on the trail on some future campaign,” she said.