The 2019 federal election had a great deal of uncertainty. Up until the polling stations had closed, Trudeau’s Liberals and Scheer’s Conservatives had been level on points, with the other parties scrambling for third place.
However, it soon dawned on Ottawa’s broadcasters that nothing of any interest had occurred. The Liberal’s had won their minority, the Conservatives had failed to convince anyone of their competence outside of the Prairies, and the NDP was, unsurprisingly, swept away in Quebec.
Perhaps, the only early-night surprise moment of the election came from the Green Party. Despite Elizabeth May failing to capitalize on the growing environmental consciousness of Canadian citizens, the eagerly anticipated green wave hardly drenched the beaches of Canadian politics. Nevertheless, the election of Jenica Atwin, the first Green Party candidate east of British Columbia, created some excitement for the party.
Atwin is a young, gregarious candidate, who has spent much of her life campaigning for indigenous rights and environmental protections. This election, despite being expected to finish in third place, she took Fredricton by storm, winning by 791 votes.
To discover more about this breakout star, The Post Millennial sat down with Atwin to understand her background and her political influences, as well as what she hopes the Green Party can do to remedy Western alienation and the courting of Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Q: How did you get into politics?
Atwin: In High School I was my grad class president so that’s kind of where it started. I studied political science at university. I started my undergrad with the hopes of being a lawyer because I recognized that many politicians were lawyers and judges. I’ve always been setting the stage to get involved at some point in my life. I began working with aboriginal youth, which really lit a flame inside of me to really step up my involvement. I had my second child, and I was on maternity leave, and there was an upcoming provincial election and the timing was right.
Q: You finished fourth in the provincial election, was it at all nerve racking to run again federally?
Atwin: Provincially, I knew that it was very difficult to win. It was more about having a breakthrough and understanding what it took to win. We doubled our vote count so it was a success. Things were aligning nationally, and in the city of Fredericton the timing seemed right. I wasn’t nervous about getting the vote. I knew that we would have an excellent shot. Even before we had a candidate selected, people were speculating that it would be a three-way tie.
Q: You were originally ranked third before your upset, when did you realize you actually had a chance of winning?
Atwin: There was a lot of momentum. We knew there was a protest vote out there, and we knew there was an appetite for voting outside of the traditional red and blue. However, it really started to change after we put out our ground game. The canvassing was huge for us, we knocked on thousands of doors.
Q: Did you always want to get into Green politics?
Atwin: As a young voter, I was always a Liberal. Even on social media I had been Liberal for quite a long time as a status on Facebook. When it comes to indigenous issues, we knew the Liberals were the better option. It was really in 2015 that it became very clear to me that the Green’s really rose above the others on Indigenous issues.
Q: Are you disappointed by the Liberal’s approach to Indigenous issues?
Atwin: Yes, I had such high hopes. I clearly remember watching the Tragically Hip’s televised concert where he put the spotlight on Trudeau. I was so hopeful that he really was going to live up to his expectations. I believe that their intentions were good. I have to believe that, but they just didn’t engage with indigneous voices enough. At a town hall, for example, [Trudeau] said we have to be patient with indigenous communities while they figure out what [reconciliation] means. That is absolutely the wrong direction to take. It is the settlers, the colonials, that have the responsibility to make steps towards reconciliation.
Q: How has your community be impacted by climate change?
Atwin: Through the flooding of the St. John river. So many people were affected. Climate change was real for them. They could no longer pretend it didn’t affect them. It was in their homes, it was costing them $20,000 a year— people are now worried about what’s going to happen next spring.
Q: In the Green Party manifesto, it talks about its disapproval of the TMX pipeline. There is a sense of alienation in western Canada. Is the Green party willing to risk possible separation and further alienation?
Atwin: We definitely don’t want to alienate Alberta, and they feel attacked when we talk about moving off fossil fuels. We’ve always included aspects of retraining and including those voices to make sure they’re not left out. Their skills are so transferable and we are not going to leave them behind.
Q: The Green Party’s proposals are quite aggressive with the 2030 deadline. To achieve your goals, the government would have to seriously infringe on people’s lives.
Atwin: Our role as MP is to bring people along for this ride. We have three MPs so it’s not really feasible, anyway.
Q: Well, you may have a vote pact with the Liberal Party, in which case some of your environmental policies may be mandated.
Atwin: I always think it goes back to positive reinforcement and incentives rather than negativity towards people. But you have to be aggressive and go after these things in a way that is strong. It’s a fine balance. It’s about our leadership being aggressive, our rhetoric being aggressive, it’s about having real concrete steps forward that people can take pride in.
Q: Under May’s leadership, there has been talk of a green wave. Although there has been an improvement of one seat, the green wave never really happened. Were you surprised that there weren’t other Green MPs.
Atwin: I was surprised more than anything else, I thought there were a few ridings that were guaranteed. I was very hopeful for a few more spots in the maritimes as well. I still see it as a victory, we doubled our popular vote. But it would have been nice to have a bigger caucus.
Q: There was a lot of talk about Jody Wilson-Raybould joining the Green Party, would this be something that you encourage?
Atwin: She’s an inspirational woman and leader. What happened with SNC shows her personal integrity. So if she wants to come, I would be more than open to that. I would love the opportunity to work alongside her.
Q: May has said she will step down as party leader in the next four years, are you thinking at all about running for the leadership?
Atwin: It’s interesting how many times this has come up over the past seven days. I’m not thinking about it at all. Even hypothetically. I just can’t entertain it at this time. I think it might be something that Paul [Manly] would consider more than myself.
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