Almost 25 years before she made history as the first Green Party MP elected outside British Columbia, Jenica Atwin started her political career at the dinner table, winning spirited debates with her siblings.
Those who know the 32-year-old mother of two weren’t surprised to see her win in Fredericton, and predict she’ll quickly become a household name.
Politics and Indigenous activism run in her family. Her father is Bob Powell, mayor of Oromocto, a community of 9,000 outside Fredericton that includes CFB Gagetown. Her stepfather is Grand Chief Ron Tremblay, leader of the Wolastoqey Grand Council and a prominent Indigenous and environmental activist in New Brunswick. Her husband, Chris Atwin, is a band councillor with the Oromocto First Nation.
Positioning herself as a community-first activist who cares about homelessness, addiction and poverty, Ms. Atwin said she wants to be an MP who will do politics differently. And she wants to bring a new eastern perspective to a party that can sometimes be “too West Coast-focused.”
“I want to be a voice for people who have been silent,” she said after a long night of celebrating. “I really want to be a champion for people who are struggling. … I think it’s going to be a very human approach. And I think to have a woman’s touch is important.”
By winning a tight three-way race with Liberal incumbent Matt DeCourcey and Conservative candidate Andrea Johnson, Ms. Atwin finally gave the Greens a foothold in the East and a voice in Ottawa from the opposite side of the country.
Mr. Tremblay said his stepdaughter has been a politician-in-waiting since childhood. She was always an honour-roll student who threw all her energy into her homework, sports or career, he said. In high school, she was heavily involved in student politics and was her graduating class president.
Both her stepfather and father are already musing that the young, untested politician could eventually replace party leader Elizabeth May. But for now, Ms. Atwin says she’s just thrilled to get started in Ottawa and isn’t thinking about “climbing the ladder.”
“I had no doubt she was going to win. And I knew once she won she’s going to make a difference,” Mr. Powell said. “You’re going to hear a lot about Jenica Atwin at the national stage – no doubt about it. She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.”
Fredericton, the provincial capital and home to two universities and a college, has a core of progressive-minded, well-educated voters who have shown they’re willing to support the Greens at the provincial level. The riding is also home to David Coon, leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, who represents Fredericton South.
In 2014, Mr. Coon achieved his party’s first breakthrough in Atlantic Canada when he won a seat in that year’s provincial election. Four years later, he expanded his party’s caucus to three seats.
Ms. Atwin ran provincially for the Greens in 2018 but came a distant fourth. This time, she picked up 32.8 per cent of the popular vote, 791 votes ahead of Ms. Johnson. Her campaign had a lot of help from experienced organizers, but Mr. Coon says it was the candidate herself who made the difference.
“I think she’ll emerge as a prominent person in Parliament. She has such energy and capacity to communicate effectively and from the heart. I think there will be a real ‘wow’ factor.”
Indigenous rights and the environment are very important to her, but she’ll be more than a one-issue MP, Mr. Tremblay said. She’s also concerned about health care, the LGBTQ community and mental health, with Canada’s largest military base in her backyard and its cluster of PTSD cases.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.