By Dylan Hackett, CBC News
He continues to hold accountable, not just the government and Premier [Brian] Gallant, but the legislative process itself, often pointing out how vested interests control and command the provincial narrative. – Jamie Gillies, political scientist at St. Thomas University
It’s been two years since David Coon made New Brunswick history by winning the first seat in the legislature for the Green Party.
The Fredericton South representative won the four-way race with 31 per cent support, compared to 26 per cent for Craig Leonard of the Progressive Conservatives.
Coon’s election was notable, not just in New Brunswick. He is only the second Green Party candidate to win a seat in a provincial legislature in Canada, after B.C.’s Andrew Weaver in 2013.
Prince Edward Island’s Peter Bevan Baker was elected to that province’s legislature in 2015.
Electing a Green MLA has had an impact on New Brunswick politics, from promoting local food to keeping voters more connected to the goings on within the legislature.
Jamie Gillies, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said he believes electing Coon has heightened political discourse in the province.
“[David] Coon has been an original and important voice in New Brunswick political discourse,” he said.
“He continues to hold accountable, not just the government and Premier [Brian] Gallant, but the legislative process itself, often pointing out how vested interests control and command the provincial narrative.”
New ideas being discussed
Coon said that since his being elected two year ago, he’s brought forward issues and ideas that have led to change in the province.
“I’m raising issues or solutions that would not be otherwise raised or proposed,” he said in an interview Thursday.
“I managed for the first time to bring about a debate about forest policy as a result of my bill to cancel contracts with J.D. Irving and other big forest companies.”
Coon has also made a name for himself with younger voters by establishing a strong presence online, and providing insight into the legislature.
Coon has also been brazen with his ideas during these past two years.
He has sparked discussions around lowering the voting age to 16 from 18 and has tried to cancel the wood supply contracts between the provincial government and several forestry companies.
“This government has favoured industry over reclaiming its authority for managing Crown lands and its ability to uphold its treaty obligations to First Nations,” he said in a statement in June 2015.
The people’s house
The Green Party leader has also done his best to try and be more inclusive in his politics.
“I made a major effort to try and open the window on the legislature to New Brunswickers. … To get a better sense of what is going on there with the website and my Twitter feed,” he said on Thursday.
“It’s the people’s house but most people don’t feel like it’s their house.”
He said he’s maintained his youth stronghold over the past two years by remaining connected to students and their concerns.
“One of the things I’ve done to represent youth is create a roundtable from my constituency. With high school representatives, universities and colleges in the riding so I can be as close as I can to the priorities of the youth in my riding,” he said.
His party also supported the Youth Employment Fund in 2015, which acts as a work placement opportunity for 18 to 29 year olds.
Tapping into dissatisfaction
However, Gillies said he believes voters in general are unsatisfied with the way politics is carried out in this province.
But the political scientist said Coon has been able to bring about new ideas that will garner more interest and ultimately change.
“With the lack of a single idea to solve long-term economic problems and other ideas that risk the traditional provincial economy into an unknown, it makes governing New Brunswick extremely difficult and limits the opportunities for grand gestures and new policies that could create jobs and wealth,” he said.
When Coon put his name on the ballot in the 2014 election, he was not the first person in his party to do so.
The Greens under former leader Jack MacDougall had fielded 49 candidates in the 2010 election, but received only 4.6 per cent of the popular vote.
The NDP has not been able to get a seat in the legislature since former leader Elizabeth Weir left politics
Coon’s electoral success in 2014 begs the question on whether he has developed a beachhead to elect more Greens or whether he managed to win a seat based on his own personal connection with voters.
Gillies said he does believe there is a chance that more Greens will call legislature home come next election.
“David Coon has tapped into this dissatisfaction and I hope that he and others continue to provide a voice for accountability, transparency and fresh ideas that might work,” he said.