It was just over one year ago when voters in the Memramcook-Tantramar riding made history by sending its first Green Party MLA to the legislature.
Megan Mitton was one of three Green Party candidates voted in during last fall’s provincial election and she says the past 12 months have been hectic, challenging and yet gratifying all at the same time.
“It’s gone by so quickly but so much has happened in a year,” says Mitton.
And while it’s certainly been a challenge to work within the confines of a unique minority government situation, Mitton says it’s a task she has readily taken on.
“We’re there to try and make good things happen,” she says of the Green Party caucus, “to get good things done in a minority situation.”
Mitton believes she and her colleagues have been able to accomplish that, raising issues that are important to New Brunswickers and forcing the government not to push those concerns aside.
Whether it’s climate change, mental health, youth mental health, or fair taxation, Mitton says these are the types of issues that are now being raised more often in the legislature, topics that would sometimes be left out of the debate because the solutions don’t come easy.
“We have strong green voices talking about those things.”
Mitton is also pleased the Green Party has been able to make significant progress in changing the tone and the conversation in the legislature; although she admits more can be done when it comes to cross-party collaboration.
“There have been some changes being made in the way things are happening in the Legislature.”
And much of that can be attributed to having a minority government, she says. Mitton goes on to explain that this situation has provided an opportunity for all the parties and all the MLAs, past and newly-elected, to find ways to work differently and more collaboratively.
“This is new for them to have to work with all parties this way,” she says. “It has made the Legislature more effective. And there’s potential for it to be even better.”
She says while some of the caucus and committee work is often times now a more concerted effort between the MLAs, she says more cooperation could come from the Conservatives, who sometimes forget they are not in a majority government position.
When the smoke cleared after election night last Sept. 24, the results were like nothing this generation of New Brunswickers had ever seen before as the province had not been faced with a minority government for nearly a century.
The Progressive Conservatives had won 22 of the 49 seats, Brian Gallant's Liberals had earned 21 seats, while the Greens and the People’s Alliance each swooped in and nabbed three seats.
When Mitton and all the other MLA elects were sworn in to the Legislature about four weeks later, on Oct. 19, Gallant had been granted permission by the Lieutenant Governor to try and continue to govern in this tenuous minority situation. But his Liberals didn’t last long, losing a major confidence vote on the Throne Speech Nov. 2 in a 25-23 vote.
This then opened the door for Blaine Higgs’ Progressive Conservatives to assume the governing role. And with People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin agreeing to a deal where his party would prop up a PC government for at least 18 months, the Conservatives have managed to keep a hold on that power since that time.
“Because of that, the Higgs government is acting like it has a majority government,” says Mitton. “So there are missed opportunities for collaboration.”
The MLA says she has, however, been able to get the ear of several of the ministers and approach them on a number of issues and concerns related to her riding. The ministers of social development, education, and transportation and infrastructure have all paid visits to the riding in recent months.
She says it’s important to her to be able to put partisanship aside and get things done for her riding.
Mitton says her main priority is to ensure she gives a voice to people in her riding, to be able to bring their concerns to Fredericton and speak up about issues that are important to them.
From road conditions to coastal erosion, from health care to senior care, “there are so many issues where we can do better,” and Mitton has been hosting community meetings around the riding over the past year to give voice to those concerns.
And while she says it may seem like this riding is being unfairly targeted with cuts from the Conservative government, Memramcook-Tantramar is not being hit any harder than some of the other regions.
“There have been cuts across the whole province, and as an opposition member, I have spoken out about this,” she says.
She points to the Aulac tourist bureau being closed as an example.
“I don't agree with this government's decision to close it, but they didn't close it because this riding is Green. They also closed the one in Woodstock this year, which is a PC government riding,” she says.
Mitton also points out the previous Liberal government closed the tourist bureau at Cape Jourimain, in what was a Liberal riding at the time.
“So we see similar decisions being made by these two parties when they are in power and we see cuts in their own ridings. The problem is the short-term thinking no matter who is in government, and an austerity budget for the whole province under this Higgs government.”