New Brunswick·Analysis

Fredericton Greens back in the fight for progressive voters

The federal Greens now have their standard-bearer in an increasingly perilous battle to win over left-leaning New Brunswick voters heading into a likely national election.

Nicole O'Byrne will try to win riding back after former Green MP Jenica Atwin defected to Liberals

Fredericton Green candidate Nicole O'Byrne says she's 'definitely of the mindset' that more study and more discussion are needed. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

The federal Greens now have their standard-bearer in an increasingly perilous battle to win over left-leaning New Brunswick voters heading into a likely national election.

The party has nominated law professor Nicole O'Byrne as the candidate it hopes can hold onto Fredericton, the one federal riding east of Vancouver Island that the party managed to win last time.

That makes the race in the capital the focus of an age-old political tug-of-war.

The party's winning candidate from 2019, Jenica Atwin, is now a Liberal who is arguing that being part of a governing team is the best way for her, and the riding, to benefit from federal spending and decisions.

"I want to be able to deliver. I want things to move forward. I want us to be able to see the change that we need," Atwin said in a recent town hall with constituents.

"I really think that the decision I made was in the best interests of our riding." 

Atwin announced in June that she was leaving the federal Green Party. (Guy LeBlanc/Radio-Canada)

But Green Party members say while Atwin may bring short-term benefits to the city and the province, most people who supported her last time will stick with the Greens.

"In terms of the money being splashed around Fredericton, I'd love to see more of it," said university researcher Susan O'Donnell, who attended Monday's Green launch for O'Byrne.

"I mean, why not take the chance while we have it to get more money coming into the city and the province?"

But, she added, "whether that's going to actually sway people when it comes to a potential election, I think Greens are really focused on the climate crisis and they know who stands for that."

O'Byrne said the climate issue, and her commitment to be a solid constituency representative, will help local Greens get past the damage from the nasty internal leadership battle in Ottawa that drove Atwin out of the party.

"One person coming or going is not going to affect that voice that we have in Fredericton."

Also struggling to grab some of that loose left-wing support is the NDP, which has failed to elect an MP anywhere in New Brunswick since 2011 and a provincial MLA since 2003.

Chris Thompson, the interim provincial NDP leader, said New Democrats can't sit around and hope for votes because of whatever the other parties are going through. 'You have to actually go out and win those, and knock on doors, and talk to people.” (Twitter.com)

Interim provincial leader Chris Thompson said the problems facing the federal Greens could help the federal NDP in New Brunswick, but it's not guaranteed.

"Opportunity is only what you make of it," he said.

"We can't sit around and say 'The Liberals might flounder, the Greens are going through some troubles, so we're going to get a whole bunch of votes.' You have to actually go out and win those, and knock on doors, and talk to people."

The federal party's prospects are linked to its provincial profile, and at that level the NDP is facing challenges.

NDP challenges

All but one of the four people who'd been planning to run for the provincial leadership have dropped out or been disqualified, and the fourth and final candidate has yet to clear the threshold to be deemed eligible to run. 

"They're completely disorganized," says Jen Smith, one of those disqualified by a party committee. "They have turnover rate comparable to a fast-food restaurant."

Thompson said nine different party caucuses made up of volunteers are working on a set of provincial policies that he eill get the attention of progressive voters.

"We'll be able to offer the province something no one else is offering."

Federally, Thompson said, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is going to have to pay more attention to Atlantic Canada than he did in 2019 if he wants a crack at gaining support.

The Liberals are arguing they're the pragmatic choice for progressive voters because they've set out ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and are the only party with a chance of being in power to implement them.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said last week that the federal government would introduce new measures to push the New Brunswick government to fund Clinic 554, an abortion clinic in Fredericton. (Mikael Mayer/Radio-Canada)

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland visited Fredericton, demonstrating that Atwin has access to key decision-makers.

Freeland also hinted that the federal government will make a major announcement "in the coming days" on the funding of abortions at Fredericton's Clinic 554, a key issue for Green and NDP supporters.

O'Byrne said it's yet another example in a long history of Liberals trying to woo left-wing voters during elections and then falling short when in government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed in the 2019 campaign to "ensure" the New Brunswick government funded abortions at Clinic 554, but so far has only penalized the province by withholding $140,000 in federal health transfer payments.

"I guess you can wait until the clinic's closed to say that you support it," O'Byrne said Monday.

Jenica seems to think that this is all about her. It's not.Susan O'Donnell

"Where've they been? … They let it all come to a crisis point. They didn't enforce the Canada Health Act in any meaningful or effective way, and it's a little precious, frankly, for them to come right now, as we all wait for another federal election, to say that they support it."

O'Donnell said it will take more than Atwin's defection to shift left-wing voters behind the Liberals.

"Jenica seems to think that this is all about her. It's not. It's about a party and it's about a certain type of politics and a certain type of orientation," she said.

"Anyone who understands that this is about principles and what we're trying to do with the economy and the environment understands that the Liberals don't offer what we want." 

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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