Jo-Ann Roberts, Green Party candidate for Halifax in the federal election, became the Green Party interim leader on Nov. 4. Elizabeth May, her predecessor, had held the position since 2006. Dalhousie Gazette contributor Kaija Jussinoja met with Roberts to talk about her new position. This interview has been edited for length and style.
How do you feel about being the new interim leader of the Green Party?
It’s exciting. It’s also a little overwhelming because taking it on for 11 months I realized that my scope is limited, and I don’t want to disrupt the amazing things that have been done. However, you can’t stay static. I see it as kind of a guidance role as we move towards having the party ready for a new leader in October.
Why were you chosen?
I think I was chosen for two reasons. First of all, I had been deputy leader for the last two years, so I had some experience both working with the party and with Elizabeth [May]. I also have experience on both coasts. Before moving back home to Halifax, I had lived in Victoria for fourteen years, so I think they wanted someone who had connections in both parts of the country. But there’s real growth in Atlantic Canada so I think it’s a nod to the Maritimes to have the interim leader here.
What do you hope to achieve during your time as the Green Party leader?
I really do want to build on this foundation that Elizabeth has laid, especially while we have her expertise with us. We have more MPs [Members of Parliament] in the house, and we received over 1 million votes. We’re on a roll in my opinion, so I want to build on that initiative and I want the party to feel invigorated as it goes forward. It’s always hard to change leaders, but the exciting part of it is that new perspectives and fresh voices can come into the party because they see that there’s some room. I want to encourage people to take advantage of that.
How would you describe the current political climate in Canada?
I think the current political climate is a bit uncertain. I think people are a bit discouraged that their voice has not been heard politically. Some of that is because with first past the post, a million people can vote Green and get three MPs and 1.2 million people can vote for the Bloc and they get 32 MPs. That’s frustrating to Canadians.
I think this election has shown us again that there are voices who want to be heard in this country and they’re frustrated, so we’re seeing more and more protests, we’re seeing more and more people feeling that they have to join movements. But if that doesn’t translate to actual political action it’s very difficult for people to feel that they have any voice.
What advice would you give to young people filled with impending doom about climate change?
Sometimes I’m filled with that same feeling of impending doom, plus guilt because my generation didn’t do anything to fix it and we owe something to your generation. My advice would be don’t let up, keep the pressure on and realize that you can have a voice politically. You need to stay involved in the political process, you need to push your politicians and you need to tell them that you’re going to vote and these are the issues you’re going to vote on. If you don’t, politicians will ignore those voices.
We need a bit of a revolution, but I think the revolution has to be political. I’d like to see it be one that follows our political system. I think our system will respond to the pressure, but you’ve got to keep it up, so keep up the pressure. Stay politically active!
What changes do you hope to see in the city of Halifax?
I think the city of Halifax is a city that has great opportunity, we are about to see the results of the environmental plan for the city and let’s all pay attention to it. We’ve seen our province say that that they’re going to raise their targets and make them more significant. We have to keep looking at the details. Saying you’re going to do things is one thing, but we need to start saying “okay, but what actually is happening?”.
I think we need to be a city that people want to come to. We should be a city that’s leading the way. I’m very impressed that Halifax is moving in that direction. They declared a climate emergency. Maybe that means instead of buying new diesel busses we should buy electric busses. Maybe we should be putting pressure on getting more trains coming in and out of the city. I think you have to start saying “what would it look like if our city was leading the way?” And we can. It’s a great city.