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Halifax native steps in to replace Green Party leader Elizabeth May

Interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts will focus on growing the party before next leader selected

3 min read
caption Jo-Ann Roberts at her concession speech after losing to Andy Fillmore on Oct. 21 in Halifax.
Ellery Platts

The Halifax-based interim leader of the federal Green Party says the appointment came as “a bit of a surprise” to her.

Jo-Ann Roberts, the Green candidate in the riding of Halifax, is replacing Elizabeth May after the longtime leader stepped down Monday.

In an interview, Roberts said May approached her shortly after the federal election in October, saying she wanted to resign as leader and plan the succession.

“It happened more quickly than I had expected,” said Roberts. “But Elizabeth certainly has really good timing and very good political instincts, and I think she’s done the absolutely right thing.”

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Roberts doesn’t have a seat in the House of Commons. She came in third behind Andy Fillmore and Christine Saulnier, with 14 per cent of the vote in the Halifax riding.

She will serve as interim leader until a new leader is selected at the party’s leadership convention in October 2020 in Charlottetown.

Roberts said she doesn’t plan to run for the leadership because the party is looking for a different kind of leader, though she said she still has a lot to contribute. She plans to find “the most dynamic leader possible” over the next 11 months.

“Elizabeth May has given us a very strong and firm foundation, and the new leader will have a chance to build the structure that will go on top of that foundation,” Roberts said.

May was party leader for 13 years, making her the longest serving female leader for a Canadian federal party. A new leader will bring momentum, Roberts said, and opens the possibility for new support as Canadians may be able to identify better with a new face behind the message.

What is an interim leader?

An interim leader has the rights and responsibilities of an elected party leader, but can’t choose when they finish. They serve until the party organizes and holds the leadership convention.

Louise Carbert, an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University, sees Roberts’ major role in the interim as building up the party outside of the House of Commons.

But she doesn’t think her resignation will have much of an impact until the new leader is selected.

“Elizabeth May is still going to be the public face of the party and define the party,” said Carbert.

Carbert said it’s hard to predict how the Green Party will do after the change of leadership, especially when she hasn’t seen them as a party contesting seats. This is because the Green Party has traditionally been working towards making Parliament less argumentative under May.

Given this, Carbert questioned if the Green Party is a competitive party that wants to win.

“They’ve been more of a movement party, about raising public awareness, bringing issues onto the agenda,” she said. “Things could really change if we have a new leader come in who is willing to be more combative and to be more directly critical of other parties.”

Coastal support

The Green Party has seen more support on the provincial level than federal, with MLAs elected in P.E.I., New Brunswick, British Columbia and Ontario. In P.E.I. alone, the Green Party makes up 30 per cent of the province’s MLAs.

Three Green candidates were elected in this year’s federal election: May and Paul Manly in B.C., and Jenica Atwin in New Brunswick.

Roberts suspects this coastal support for the party may be one of the reasons she was selected as the interim leader.

“I think Haligonians can be rest assured that having the interim leader also being in their city, that there will be a lot of attention paid to Nova Scotia and to Halifax,” she said. “I think it’s not accidental that the Maritimes is an area that the Green Party is focusing on.”

She’s still deciding her future beyond October 2020 and isn’t sure if she’ll run again in Halifax in the next federal election.

For now, her goals for the party are to increase membership, fundraise and get ready for the leadership convention.

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About the author

Ellery Platts

Ellery is a fourth year student in the BJH program at King's. She is extremely passionate about sports and photography.

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