When Jenica Atwin walked onstage at St. Thomas University’s Kinsella Auditorium, she immediately looked for a table to sit on. Someone offered to grab her a chair, but she shook her head.
“Sitting on tables is kind of my thing,” said the Fredericton MP.
It’s been five months since Atwin was elected the first Green MP outside of British Columbia. As she sat on stage, you could see how the challenges of office have weighed on her: Her smile faded when she spoke about the government’s failure to properly consult with Indigenous Peoples; she laughed as she told the small crowd about speaking in the House of Commons for the first time and addressing the prime minister by name – something against protocol. Still, the rookie MP made it clear she’s going to occupy her House of Commons seat her way, with balance and sustainability.
“I think society needs to allow working moms to have boundaries and not everyone respects that. There are workaholics who want to work 14 hours a day, and that’s fine for them. For me it’s important to be a mom still. That’s my number one job and it has to stay my number one priority.”
While she’s a rookie MP, she’s not new to politics and social issues.
Atwin is from Oromocto and was her high school class president. She has a background in education and much of her work has focused on working with Indigenous communities. She completed her masters of education at the University of New Brunswick with a child and while teaching full time.
“That taught me that I can do more. During the election people would say ‘Can you do this?’ And I’d say ‘Well, I’ve done things like this before where I’ve had 17 things on my plate and survived.’”
Nonetheless, one issue is taking up much of her bandwidth lately.
Since Feb. 12 major protests and blockades have been spreading across Canada to show solidarity for Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. They oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline that is supposed to go through their land. Train services have been suspended, protesters have been arrested and the solution is unclear.
Atwin said this situation hasn’t been handled properly but it makes her thankful she didn’t support the throne speech in December. She said the speech focused heavily on reconciliation.
“The words sounded wonderful, but I haven’t seen any actions that back them up.”
While she’s finding her footing, she’s also finding her balance as a woman and mother in politics. But she’s determined to make sure her voice is heard during the process. Her days in Fredericton are just as long as her ones in Ottawa, and while she loves her job, she knows she faces different challenges than her male counterparts.
The mother of two said she receives some push-back from different people. Some people question her ability to take on extra tasks, and she has trouble getting the same respect as some of her peers.
“When other people are worried about you and your family for you, it’s like, I do enough worrying on my own. I don’t need anyone else to be concerned about what my family life is like. So that’s been a bit of an issue.”
She said having to separate herself from established Green Party politicians like David Coon and Elizabeth May has also been a challenge.
“There are times when you’re kind of put on this pedestal, and if you’re not good enough, or you don’t meet people’s expectations, and they try to maybe tear you down or to be quite judgmental.”
“I’m not them. I can’t be them. I’m just me.”
But overall, Atwin feels confident that she won’t lose the spark that got her to where she is. She said her support network is always able to fish her back in when negativity takes over.
During the campaign, she went for dinner with New Brunswick Green Party MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar, Megan Mitton, who also has a young child and has had to navigate through the political world.
“I think that’s something that’s going to help women in politics or women in the professional space – having other women to have those conversations with.”
Atwin’s already establishing herself: She’s voted independently from the rest of her Green Party caucus, called out Justin Trudeau on Twitter for not being present while Wet’suwet’en is in crisis and is not afraid to admit that family will always come first.
“I always like to say that I’m bringing a little bit of New Brunswick to Ottawa.”