PEI

Why some former P.E.I. politicians have gone Green

Some high-profile members of other political parties have decided to go Green. Hannah Bell's victory party in District 11 Monday night brought out several well-known faces including a former P.E.I. NDP leader and a former Liberal MLA.

Former Liberal cabinet minister, former NDP leader among growing supporters of Green Party

Former Liberal Kali Simmonds, crouching on the lower left, volunteered to help get Hannah Bell elected for the Green Party in the District 11: Charlottetown-Parkdale byelection. (Submitted by Kali Simmonds)

Some high-profile members of other political parties have decided to support the P.E.I. Green Party. Hannah Bell's byelection victory party in District 11 Monday night brought out several well-known faces, including a former P.E.I. NDP leader and a former Liberal MLA.

"It always kind of felt right to me anyway — even when I was a Liberal MLA I was called 'the Green Liberal MLA' by my colleagues," said Cynthia King. She was Cynthia Dunsford when she was elected as a Liberal MLA in 2007.

King took a break from politics after losing to PC James Aylward in the 2011 election, but while advocating in favour of proportional representation in 2016, she met many Green members and rekindled an interest in politics. 

"This is a good group, they represent some values that I share," she recalls thinking, and eventually became a member. 

Bell will become only the sixth Green Party MLA in Canada when she's sworn in in a couple of weeks. She'll join Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker in the P.E.I. Legislature.

"Since Peter Bevan-Baker was elected to the legislature, Islanders of all former political allegiances ... are becoming increasingly hopeful that a political movement that better reflects Island values can succeed," said deputy P.E.I. Green leader Lynne Lund. "We welcome all who share our values to join us."

'Not a big reach'

The P.E.I. Greens now have 225 members, from just 21 two years ago. 

"It's not a big reach for me to be involved in the Green Party," King said. "It kind of makes sense for me to find a home with the Green Party." 

Cynthia King was a Liberal MLA from 2007 to 2011. Now, she volunteers with P.E.I.'s Green Party. (Submitted by Cynthia King )

King, who now owns a cycling tour company, managed Bell's social media campaign, lending her insider's knowledge — and was thrilled with the outcome of the vote.

"It was just so exciting and so encouraging to see that we were able to get those messages out and mobilize people to vote," King said. "We made a lot of those votes turn Green." 

'Proud member'

Naturopathic doctor Kali Simmonds was a Liberal Party member and unsuccessfully sought a nomination for the Liberals in the 2015 election. She also briefly considered running for the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2014. 

'The Green Party is the most interested in truly collaborating with its members,' says former Liberal Kali Simmonds. (Submitted by Kali Simmonds)

Simmonds has now proudly gone Green — she donated money to Bell's campaign and volunteered to help canvass door to door in the district. 

"It has become clear to me that the Green Party is the most interested in truly collaborating with its members and honouring their constituents, while caring the most about creating a long-term plan for the well being of P.E.I. and its inhabitants in all sectors," Simmonds said. "So yes, I am a proud member of the Green Party."

If she'd run and been successful in the general election, Simmonds said she "would have been frustrated working under Premier MacLauchlan's leadership based on his record to date. Ignoring the voters' wishes to move towards proportional representation showed disregard for democracy. We saw this at the federal level, as well."

James Rodd led the P.E.I. NDP for five years and is now a Green Party member. (CBC)

James Rodd, an organic farmer who led the New Democratic Party of P.E.I. from November 2007 to 2012 and ran for the party in three elections, has also switched loyalties.

Rodd attended Bell's party Monday and did confirm he is a member of the Green Party, but didn't want to elaborate.  

Former cabinet minister, too

Former Liberal MLA Alan Buchanan is also a Green supporter, he confirmed to CBC. Buchanan was elected in 1989 and held several portfolios in premier Catherine Callbeck's government including health and attorney-general until he resigned in 1996. He then took a run at the party's leadership in 2003, losing to Robert Ghiz. 

Alan Buchanan, who ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2003, is now a Green Party supporter. (CBC)

Buchanan, now retired, attended the Green Party's spring planning session, and said though he hasn't taken out a party membership, he may in future. 

"I was encouraged by the efforts Peter [Bevan-Baker] has made in the House and agree with the direction he wants to go," Buchanan said. "I think he's good and a very thoughtful and honest leader." 

Buchanan, like King and Simmonds, is a big supporter of proportional representation, and was "very disappointed with the premier and the entire Liberal caucus" for rejecting the outcome of the 2016 plebiscite on the matter. (The premier said a voter turnout of less than 37 per cent was not enough.) 

Liberals also claim growth

The P.E.I. Liberal Association isn't worried about the change of heart of some of its members, noting the party still appeals to a broad base of Islanders.

"We continue to have encouraging growth numbers with close to 50 new members in November," said Liberal party president Scott Barry when contacted for comment. 

"Our focus is on engaging with our growing base, listening to their ideas, and implementing those into policy initiatives. In our experience, that results in good — but not perfect — retention numbers," Barry said. 

CBC requested comment from the NDP but did not receive a response as of publication time. 

About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca