La candidate: a charming comedy about an unlikely politician

Isabelle Langlois and Catherine Chabot say they’ve received enthusiastic response since it hit screens, notably in political circles.

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The inspiration for the charming new Radio-Canada dramatic-comedy series La candidate was Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the NDP candidate who was never expected to win when she first ran in the Quebec district of Berthier-Maskinongé during the 2011 federal election. Brosseau was considered a “paper candidate,” or as they say in French with much more verve, “une candidate poteau,” meaning a candidate with virtually no chances of winning.

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But 2011 was the year of the “vague orange” when the NDP, under the leadership of Jack Layton, had a sudden surge of popularity in la belle province. Brosseau won again in the 2015 federal election, before losing in 2019.

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In an interview at a Mile End café, screenwriter Isabelle Langlois said the spark for La candidate did indeed begin with Brosseau. But the very funny series is not her story, Langlois quickly added.

“Look at Ruth Ellen Brosseau — she really had to learn about her milieu, about her profession,” said Langlois, whose previous credits include the hit series Rumeurs and Lâcher prise. “I found that really fascinating.”

La candidate, which began airing in January on Radio-Canada, focuses on Alix Mongeau, “une candidate poteau” who surprises everyone by winning in the fictional rural district of Dufferin, for the PPDQ Party (Parti progrès et démocratie du Québec), presumably a fictional version of Québec solidaire. Like Brosseau, who worked at a bar before going into politics, Mongeau has no idea what she’s getting into and has to quickly learn on the job.

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Writing the series, Langlois, a seasoned TV writer ici, also had to learn a lot about the life of politicians.

“I often hear people saying that our politics here in Quebec aren’t that interesting,” said Langlois. “When I started preparing La candidate, I began reading biographies of politicians. I started following the Facebook feeds of a bunch of politicians to try to figure out what they do in their jobs. I also saw a documentary, Nos élus, that really inspired me. It was a Télé-Québec series that followed four or five Quebec provincial politicians in their daily lives. The more I learned, the more I became interested in politicians.”

Catherine Chabot, who plays the main character in La candidate, said that like Langlois, she has come away with a greater respect for politicians since working on the series.

“I was very cynical about politics, but La candidate forced me to reconcile with the world of politics and inspired me to become politically engaged myself, as a citizen,” said Chabot.

Alix initially seems remarkably ill equipped to be a politician. A fast-talking, down-to-earth type, she puts her foot in her mouth early on, saying Dufferin is “the place where fun goes to die” — but we soon see that this 30-something, working-class single mother is one very resourceful person. One of the more interesting plot lines is her difficult interaction with another deputy from her party, Salima (Ines Talbi), who is clearly exasperated by the fact that the party has asked her to show Alix the ropes in the political arena.

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“She has a real desire to learn,” said Langlois.

A woman is standing at a podium, surrounding by hands of reporters holding microphones up to her face. The woman is making a face that shows she is uncomfortable. The word LA CANDIDATE is sprawled across the image as it is a promotional poster for the television series.
Catherine Chabot in the Radio-Canada series La candidate. Courtesy of Radio-Canada

The series, which runs 10 episodes, premièred in the fall on the streaming service, and Langlois and Chabot say they’ve received nothing but enthusiastic response ever since it hit screens, notably among folks from political circles in Quebec.

“So many people from the political milieu have written to me to say they think the show is a really accurate depiction of the political scene here,” said Chabot. “They tell me: ‘Finally, someone has made a series that properly reflects our work.’”

Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Émilise Lessard-Therrien posted a lengthy tribute to La candidate on her Facebook page in early January. She wrote that it was not hard at all for her to identify with this woman who suddenly entered politics without much experience.

“I think that what moved me is that it’s the story of so many people who think of themselves as ‘ordinary,’ usually women, but who aren’t ordinary at all,” Lessard-Therrien wrote. “People who come into their own one day because life shakes their cage. Women who at a certain moment are able to drop the feeling of being an imposter that comes every time they try to do something bigger than themselves.”

Langlois and Chabot were mighty impressed by that post and the reaction from other political insiders. Both women have come away with a much more positive view of the job our politicians do.

“You go from saying about politicians: ‘Hey, what are they doing?’ to, ‘Well, what am I doing?’” said Langlois.

“Sure, we put them into power, but we have a certain duty as citizens,” added Chabot. “In any case, I think there are good politicians just like there are good screenwriters, and then there are others who don’t do their job. It’s probably the same percentage in politics as anywhere else. But they have more responsibility. They have power, so it’s normal we demand a lot of them.”

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