Lisa Roberts is hoping to follow in the footsteps of former NDP MPs in Halifax — Megan Leslie and Alexa McDonough — who held the seat for the party from 1997 until 2015.
The 2015 federal election saw a red wave crash against Atlantic Canada, with all 32 districts electing Liberal MPs. Falling short of regaining the Halifax seat in 2019 with Christine Saulnier, the NDP is banking on a candidate with experience in political office to garner the seat back from Liberal incumbent Andy Fillmore.
Roberts served as MLA for Halifax Needham since 2016 before making the move to federal politics this summer, and also held the position of NDP housing critic in the provincial legislature.
For Roberts, a mother of two school-aged children, the timing of the election couldn’t have been worse — forcing her to grab her kids’ school lunches while doing a double-shift of canvassing, before coming home and getting ready for back to school.
“I think the beginning of September is an inappropriate time to be making important decisions about who our leaders will be,” Roberts said, adding it’s so far from an ideal time to be asking people to engage in political debate. “I am in a party and was in a provincial caucus with a high number of female candidates with relatively younger families, and it makes it very, very difficult,” Roberts said.
It’s also more difficult to find campaign staff when many post-secondary students are headed back to campus and parents are working full-time.
“There are, to my knowledge, almost no volunteers or workers on my campaign who are putting in significant hours who have families,” Roberts said, adding that she doesn’t believe the process of running for office in Canada is accessible.
Despite the timing, Roberts doesn’t feel like she’s faced as many barriers as some of her colleagues, mostly due to the path created for her by former NDP women. She noted McDonough’s struggles to get elected, and Maureen McDonald, who ran several times in Halifax Needham before she was elected.
“So long as those fixed election dates are not respected, it makes it very difficult for people to contemplate seeking office,” Roberts added.
She wishes Justin Trudeau hadn’t made the call due to the growing fourth wave of COVID-19 across Canada.
However, since the pandemic situation has been relatively mild in Nova Scotia compared to other regions in the country, Roberts, who is double-vaccinated, doesn’t feel as concerned about COVID-19 as her fellow candidates may feel elsewhere.
“To be frank, I think my greater concerns at the moment are around the safety of candidates of all political stripes, because I find the tone of some of the protests around campaigns quite distressing,” Roberts said.
Roberts noted that while much of the media coverage of the campaign trail violence is on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, NDP candidates, particularly those who are racialized, are also bearing the brunt of the vitriol.
For Roberts, the NDP is the party who always asks “are we going hard enough?” or “are we being courageous?” when it comes to seeking justice and action on issues like the climate crisis.
Aside from her experience in politics, Roberts has studied development, economics and international development studies. She speaks three languages, including French and Spanish.
“I have a real interest in global affairs and human rights,” Roberts said in an interview with rabble.ca.
In her 20s, Roberts lived in Guatemala, as well as Mexico for a short time in her 30s. She bought a ticket headed to Central America from Prince Edward Island and fell in love with on-land travel. Roberts would love to see more rail and transit service both across Canada and internationally so others can take adventures like hers.
While issues like pharmacare and universal dental care are top of mind for Roberts, she’s often reminded of the climate crisis when looking at her children, who will be forced to inherit its impacts.
“I want to do what I can to ensure that we are building a better world,” Roberts said. “And a better world has to include a Canada that is more just and more sustainable than the one we’re living in right now.”
Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred stories.
Image: Lisa Roberts/Facebook
Editor’s note, Sept. 17, 2021: A previous version of this story referred to Lisa Roberts as having been the Nova Scotia NDP’s health critic. In fact, she was the housing critic. The story has been updated.