What you need to know about Jo-Ann Roberts, the Green Party's interim leader
Now that Elizabeth May has stepped down as leader of the federal Green Party, the responsibility has passed into the hands of deputy leader Jo-Ann Roberts, who will serve as the interim leader until the party holds an election.
Roberts is a former journalist who spent most of her career working with the CBC, in both TV and radio. She was a host on CBC Radio for 20 years between two different shows -- one in Moncton and one on Vancouver Island -- and received an award as a member of the team that covered the Stanley Cup Riots in 2011.
She is married, with four children and one grandchild. She also owned a media consultancy business at one point, and has done work with Threshold Housing, a non-profit that supports youth at risk of homelessness.
May named Roberts as the interim leader in a press conference on Monday after she announced that she was giving up the position of leader following 13 years in the role. She said she would be staying on as an MP for her B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
Roberts said she was taking on the new role “somewhat reluctantly.”
“For now in the Green Party, the focus is to start the search for the person who will take the Green Party into the next stage,” Roberts told reporters. “This is not a replacement for Elizabeth May; I don’t think anybody would be up for applying for that job.”
There will be a formal leadership convention in Charlottetown early next October.
Roberts’ focus as interim leader will be on expanding the party’s membership ahead of the leadership vote. Only around 20,000 people are signed up as members of the party -- but 1.1 million people voted Green in the Oct. 21 election.
The surge of the Bloc Quebecois meant that the Green Party did not see as many gains as they hoped, but the 2019 election did set new records: they now have three MPs in their caucus, and Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin became the first Green Party candidate to be elected to Parliament outside of B.C.
Roberts has never been elected as a member of the Green Party, but she has run twice.
Her campaign website says that after she left her job with the CBC in 2014, she wanted to run for Parliament to “fight for social justice, protect our environment and start the transition to a green economy.”
Roberts ran for a seat in Victoria in her first federal election as a member of the Green Party, and came in second place with just over 23,500 votes, losing to NDP incumbent Murray Rankin.
She decided to move “back home” to Halifax after the 2015 election, her website says. She is originally from the Maritimes.
She ran in the Halifax riding in the 2019 federal election, and came in third place with around 8,000 votes, behind the Liberal and NDP candidates. Andy Fillmore, the Liberal candidate who had first won the riding in the 2015 election, was victorious again.
Speaking alongside May on CTV’s Power Play on Monday, Roberts paid her respects to her predecessor.
“We stand on Elizabeth’s shoulders, and we know that,” she said.
However, she said she understands the curiosity surrounding a new face of a party.
“There’s something about new-leader momentum,” she said. “People are interested … what do they eat for lunch and where do they buy their shoes?”
She believes this kind of interest will help the party going into the leadership race.
“The country knows Elizabeth May really well … so I think some of that personality side, we will have momentum on our side with a new leader, and that’s just the nature of politics.
“We’ll probably unveil (candidates for the leadership race) early spring,” she said, adding that they could have candidate debates during the summer ahead of the convention in October. “I think that will actually help build momentum for that.”
May told Power Play host Don Martin she was confident in the timeline that they had set out to select a new leader. With the Liberals in a minority government, she said, the next election could be sooner than anticipated. She believes that climate change will only grow as a concern in voters’ minds, and that when the next election comes, more people will be turning to the Green Party.
“When we come around to the next election -- we don’t know when it will be, but it won’t be four years -- we will have fresh leadership that I support,” she said.
Gesturing to Roberts, May added, “that we support.”