When Jenica Atwin arrived at Picaroons Roundhouse on Oct. 21 around 10 p.m., supporters started chanting her name.
Since polls closed at 8:30 p.m., there was only standing room left in the bar.
“It’s surreal. It’s something I’ve been working toward my whole life,” said Atwin.
After 40 days of campaigning, Atwin will become the first Green Party MP to be elected east of British Colombia. She will also be Fredericton’s first female MP.
Atwin received 15,380 votes. Conservative candidate Andrea Johnson received 14,589 votes and Liberal candidate Matt DeCourcey received 12,803.
Fourth-year student Raelynn Barry was at Picaroons with the Green Party supporters while they watched the election results roll in. She said she’s very happy to see Atwin elected.
“Her personal life is something I feel everybody could relate to in some way, so I feel like that’s super important to have somebody that can represent a little bit of everybody, speaking for everybody.”
Soon Atwin will head to Ottawa, with two other elected Green Party MPs, including party leader Elizabeth May, to represent the Fredericton riding in the minority government attained by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. On the top of her mind? She plans to bring up the “dire situation” of the New Brunswick health care system and mental health and senior issues.
“Most people would expect me to say environment which absolutely we’re going to act on. We want a cross-party committee to make sure we start moving on this but immediately, on the ground here, we need to act on health care.”
Atwin ran provincially in the riding of New Maryland-Sunbury in 2018. She grew up in the Oromocto area and completed her Master’s in Education at the University of New Brunswick. Before she became an MP, she worked as a research and program coordinator for a “First Nations education organization,” according to the Green Party of Canada’s website.
Fredericton’s MP said her success was thanks to a strong campaign, including door knocking and debate performances, and also a strong foundation set by Fredericton South MLA David Coon.
“David certainly got that started for me, but they saw there was a lot of similarities in our approach and [people in the community] appreciated that.”
She said herself, her team, and the campaign volunteers did everything they could to get themselves out there and spread Atwin’s message.
“It took a village to do this.”
The 2018 provincial election resulted in three New Brunswick Green Party candidates being elected, MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar riding Megan Mitton, MLA for Kent North Kevin Arsenault, and provincial Green Party leader David Coon.
This federal election, Green candidates received 17 per cent of the popular vote.
Brad Cross, a STU history professor who served as campaign advisor early on to Atwin as well as communications director to David Coon’s campaign, said Fredericton, a riding that’s experienced back-to-back floods, needs a candidate speaking directly about environmental issues, along with things like health care, seniors and mental health.
“What I think has happened in this federal election is that people are expressing frustration. And some of that is met with hope. And some of that is met with cynicism. The Green Party is a place for people who are hopeful.”
He said people are attracted to candidates who will be putting the concerns of the people in their riding over their party’s policy. The Green Party of Canada does not have a party whip, a member of their legislature who makes sure all members are voting according to the party’s views, sometimes instead of their own, unlike the Liberals, the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party.
Atwin’s win follows the election of three Green MLAs in New Brunswick in 2018 and leading the popular vote in the Prince Edward Island election. STU communications and public policy professor Jamie Gillies said it means Greens shouldn’t be ignored.
“With this win in Fredericton at the federal level, they will likely help keep climate change on the agenda in Ottawa.”
Gillies said Atwin will have a voice in Parliament, but he’s not sure how much the Greens will have a voice policy-wise since they only have three seats out of 338.
Still, he said her election demonstrates an important message to Parliament: great candidates can come out on top, no matter the party.
“There’s nothing the opposition parties can do about that. It’s organic.”
Trudeau elected with minority government
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won 157, short of the 170 seats required for a majority government.
STU political science professor Tom Bateman said this means he will likely form an “understanding” with the New Democratic Party of Canada to continue to govern in government.
“Because of the 20 [seats] or so that [the NDP] have, [they] are crucial to the Liberals. They’ve got this amazing new lease on life.”
He thinks proposals such as pharmacare and energy development issues such as pipelines will ultimately decide how long a Trudeau minority government stays in power.
Minority governments rarely survive for more than two years because non-confidence votes from Parliament trigger another election.
The approximately 45 students who attended a campus election results viewing party in the off-campus student lounge in James Dunn Hall cheered whenever the TV showed a Green Party candidate was in the lead.
Alex Gagne, a third-year STU student, said he thinks this will encourage future candidates to go after the student vote.
“There was very little mobilization by any of the other parties on campus to any of the same degree as the Greens,” he said.
“That makes a difference on how the parties perceive the youngest voting block and tailor their policies toward them.”
With files from Alishya Weiland