New Brunswick

Atwin defends defection during mostly cordial virtual town hall

For the first time since defecting from the Green Party to the Liberals, Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin fielded questions from the public during a virtual townhall on Wednesday evening.

Fredericton MP fields questions from public for first time since ditching Green Party

Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin on Wednesday fielded questions from the public for the first time since defecting from the Green Party to the Liberals in June. (Zoom)

Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin defended her defection from the Green Party to the Liberals in a generally polite virtual town hall with constituents Wednesday night.

It was the first time Atwin fielded questions from the public since her stunning jump in early June, a move that upset many Green supporters in the city.

"I have seen your anger, sadness and frustration, but I've also seen the words of support and encouragement that have come my way," she said.

Atwin said emotions ran so strong in the aftermath of her announcement that she stepped back from social media in the weeks following.

"It was a conscious decision to stop engaging on those platforms while it was such a vacuum for hate and vitriol," she said.

"It would probably shock you to know some of the things that came our way," she said, referring to misogyny and threats of physical violence against her and her staff. "We really chose as a team to shut things down." 

In contrast, Wednesday's one-hour meeting was a civil discussion, with a range of questions both easy and more challenging. One participant asked where her new seat is located in the House of Commons. Another asked if Liberal climate targets are strong enough.

But several others, including many submitted in a live chat that went unasked, were about her June 10 decision to leave the Greens, dropping the party from three MPs to two.

Atwin said "it would not be in good faith" for her to talk about the internal crisis in the party that led to her departure. 

But in response to one question, she revealed that she considered sitting as an independent MP rather than joining the Liberals.

Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin's defection in June was considered a huge setback for the Green Party, as Atwin represented its only seat in Atlantic Canada. (Guy LeBlanc/Radio-Canada)

"I thought about this from a thousand, million different angles, and going independent was something that I thought about," she said.

"But really it was about Fredericton. I want to be able to deliver. I want things to move forward … and I don't think I would be able to do that as an independent voice. I want a  team. I'm a team player."

Atwin took part in a federal government announcement in Fredericton this week and said during the town hall that another one, related to health care, is coming in the next few days. A federal election call is widely expected by the fall.

Views on key issues haven't changed: Atwin

About 40 people took part in the Zoom call, and participants had to register in advance. One of Atwin's office staff chose which questions to read from those submitted in advance and in a live chat during the meeting.

It wasn't clear if anyone trying to register had been screened from taking part, but at least one prominent Green supporter, Fredericton riding association president David Kersey, was listed on the call.

...I have great disdain for any member of any party that crosses the floor.- Ken Howe, town hall participant

"Jenica, I am going to be very honest here and say I have great disdain for any member of any party that crosses the floor," one participant, Ken Howe, said in a comment in the chat window that wasn't read out loud.

"They are not [being] responsive to their riding's wishes and should be declared independent and they can run under their new colours in the next election."

Oromocto resident Mila MacLeod posted several questions, including one that Atwin fielded about whether some constituents' votes had been wasted because of her defection.

Atwin said she hasn't changed her views on key issues and urged constituents who want electoral reform — which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in 2015 and then abandoned, and which the Greens support — to keep pushing the issue.

She said Liberal officials have told her she can vote against legislation she opposes on principle.

But being in the government caucus, she said, means she can do "a lot of that groundwork ahead of time to ensure Fredericton is adequately represented. ... But in the end, if it's not, absolutely, I can vote against a government motion or legislation." 

MacLeod told CBC News after the meeting she wasn't a Green or Liberal supporter in the 2019 election and was disappointed by which questions were chosen and in the answers.

"I don't think it was a town hall," she said. "They didn't get to anything really challenging."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

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