As It Happens

Green Party's 1st MP outside B.C. says flooding made climate change 'top issue' in her N.B. riding

New Brunswick's Jenica Atwin made history Monday night when she became the first Green Party of Canada candidate to be elected outside of British Columbia. 

Jenica Atwin says 'climate change was on the minds of voters' in Fredericton

Atwin (Mike Heenan/CBC)

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New Brunswick's Jenica Atwin made history Monday night when she became the first Green Party of Canada candidate to be elected outside of British Columbia. 

Atwin received 33 per cent of the vote, becoming the province's first Green MP and and the first female MP in her Fredericton riding — and she says she did it because flood-ravaged New Brunwickers are worried about the effects of climate change.

She is one of three Green MPs elected on Monday. Leader Elizabeth May and MP Paul Manly both held onto their B.C. seats. 

Atwin spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off on Tuesday about her historic victory and her vision the party's future. Here is part of their conversation. 

How does it feel to be the first elected Green MP east of British Columbia?

It feels incredible, surreal. It's still kind of settling in here for me and the team, and my family. We're just ... so proud of the work that we put in, and to see it kind of pay off in this way is just the best outcome we could have hoped for. 

Why do you think it happened? I mean, I know your province has seen the flooding, the effects of climate change, or what is believed to be climate change. Homes under water as the [St. John] river overflowed. Do you think that influenced people at the ballot?

I do. You know, it was very clear from the beginning of this campaign just how much climate change was on the minds of voters. Almost every single door we knocked on, that was the top issue for them — especially those who lived along ... the St. John River

But also it's the hard work of our provincial Greens. So David Coon is New Brunswick Green leader. Our other two MLAs are just incredible as well. The success of the P.E.I Greens. All of this kind of led to, I think, this breakthrough moment for us.

The Green Party's Paul Manly held onto his Nanaimo-Ladysmith seat. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, another development today in New Brunswick, the premier of the province, Blaine Higgs, said that he is now looking at crafting a made-in-New Brunswick price on carbon, complying with the Trudeau climate plan. How big a change of heart is that?

That's a huge change of heart. I'm so glad to hear him say that. It's part of why the carbon tax has been hitting us so hard here in New Brunswick, because we didn't take up the opportunity to make that made-in-New Brunswick approach.

And we certainly do need a better formula here, because that's another issue that came up time and time again at the doors. People in New Brunswick do not like that carbon tax.

Wasn't it just last summer that Premier Higgs was, I guess, doing what Doug Ford was doing in Ontario and giving out anti-carbon tax stickers to gas stations?

I ran provincially as well in 2018 and that was a huge part of their [the Progressive Conservative Party] campaign.

I don't appreciate that ... provincial-federal disconnect, and I don't think that's very productive. And so I'm very happy to see that we're now willing to work together to find a better solution.

We do know that Elizabeth May was hoping to elect more MPs to the Green Party, and that given that your riding is not the only one that is facing all kinds of changes in the climate, all kinds of environmental concerns, why do you think that only three MPs have been elected to the Greens?

I was a little surprised that there weren't more. We were kind of expecting, you know, more like six to 10. But, you know, there were many ridings that we had a great showing, a close second in some places.

All the candidate should be very proud of the work that they put in. And it's really a team effort. We've been encouraging each other along the way.

So I think it's just about them continuing to do the work that they care so much about. You know, elected or not, there's a lot we can contribute as individuals.

And I don't think that all the other parties are so far off on climate issues. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that in most of our public debates, we were, each of us, kind of fighting over whose plan was better. So I'm extremely hopeful that we're going to move forward on the climate issue in an all-party format and to really represent those different perspectives that are within the mix and help us all find the best foot forward.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks to supporters after her victory in Saanich—Gulf Islands. (Chris Corday/CBC)

But given that you didn't reach the objectives and what the party hoped for, do you think it is time to question Elizabeth May as the leader? Do you think that a fresh face for the Green Party of Canada might change things?

I have so much faith in Elizabeth and her leadership, and she's been so inspirational for me personally along this journey. I look forward so much to learning from her and taking direction from her as my leader. I think we're in good hands.

I think at the end, people really did buy into some of that strategic voting conversation that was really dominating the last few weeks. I think that really had more to play than anything else.

What role do you think that you'll be playing, the Green Party will play, in a Liberal minority government?

We're going to be, you know, holding them accountable on these issues and helping us really move forward of all these promises that have been made.

Many people across Canada were very disillusioned. Many people were questioning whether or not they wanted to vote at all. So we need to restore faith in the democratic system, in our role as representatives for our constituents, and if we focus on that, I think that we're going to be able to get a lot done.

What do you think it's going to be like to sit in that Green Party caucus room for the first time?

I don't know. I have no kind of preconceived notions of what it might look like. I'm so open minded and ready and just excited to get to work.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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