Green caucus will ask the ‘tough questions,’ says rookie MP

Newly sworn-in Green MP Jenica Atwin says she got into politics to change the world.

“I want to do big things and represent the people that I love,” she told CBC News in a recent interview on Parliament Hill.

Atwin won her seat by 791 votes, beating out both Conservative candidate Andrea Johnson and Liberal incumbent Matt DeCourcey. The Oct. 21 election delivered the best result in the federal Green Party’s history. Atwin is the first female MP for the Fredericton riding and the first Green MP elected outside British Columbia.

With only three seats, she said, the Green caucus will try to wield what power it has by serving as a “strong voice” for Canadians.

“We plan to exercise our voice and to show that we’re here by … really connecting with our constituencies and bringing their voices forward, and continuing to do what we do, which is ask the tough questions,” she said. “I think that’s something that really can define us as Greens and so we’ll keep our critical thinking caps on and … be that strong voice.”

Along with holding the government accountable in the House of Commons floor, she said the Greens are also looking for committee seats.

Making friends

Parties without official status in the House, like the Greens, can negotiate to get committee assignments.

“We divided up the different committee themes to see which ones … align with our area of interest,” said Atwin. “We’re going to do our best to make friends with the committee chairs to see that we can participate in a meaningful way.”

Green MP Paul Manly, left, John Kidder and Green MP Jenica Atwin look on as party leader Elizabeth May announces Jo-Ann Roberts as the interim party leader during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 4, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Politics seems to be Atwin’s family business. Her father is mayor of Oromocto, a small community outside of Fredericton, her stepfather is chief of the Wolastoqey Grand Council and her husband Chris Atwin is a band councillor with the Oromocto First Nation.

But Atwin credits a snowstorm with convincing her to run federally. Stuck in town in early 2019 due to the bad weather, she and then-leader Elizabeth May went out for lunch.

“[May] was able to dispel some of the myths around difficulties for women in politics and also [give me] the truths,” Atwin said. “She really put me over the edge and I said I would be a candidate.”

Atwin said May assured her that while it can be hard to be a woman with young children in politics, there are resources available on Parliament Hill, such as a daycare centre. Atwin has two young boys, age seven and two.

Entering federal politics requires other lifestyle adjustments, Atwin said. She plays hockey in a recreational league in New Brunswick; she’ll be hanging up her goalie pads for the time being but she said she’s hoping to find some pick-up games in Ottawa.

Green MP Jenica Atwin, right, in her goalie gear. (Courtesy of Jenica Atwin)

Greens don’t want resource workers left behind

At a time when many people in Alberta and Saskatchewan are feeling alienated from federal politics and alarmed by the state of the region’s ailing energy sector, Atwin said it’s important for them to know that the Greens don’t want to see them left behind.

“The very transferable skills of the oil and gas industry need to be used for this transition forward,” she said. “It’s about ensuring that people’s needs are met and they are being retrained in a way that is meaningful to them and that makes sense and that they are brought forward with us.”

The Green Party’s 2019 platform committed to a “just transition” of workers from the fossil fuel and mining sectors.

Atwin said forging strong partnerships with Indigenous communities is also important to her. Although she’s not Indigenous herself, her husband and children are and she worked in Indigenous education. She said too much of the burden of pushing the reconciliation project forward is being imposed on Indigenous communities themselves.

“It’s really for us to do that,” she said, adding that non-Indigenous Canadians can help by learning something about the deep connections between Indigenous languages, culture and territory — about the meaning of Indigenous place names in Canada, for example.

“It’s important for me to acknowledge that as a sign of respect.”

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