Hannah Bell was not waiting for the opportunity, but when it arose, she seized it.
Running for public office, says Bell, was not on her radar in mid-October. She was immersed in her full-time job as the executive director of the P.E.I. Women’s Association – work that was typically consuming 60 hours or so each week.
Then Doug Currie, who was education minister for the Liberal government of Prince Edward Island, suddenly announced his retirement from public office effective Oct. 19.
A byelection was called, and Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker urged Bell to run.
She won – handily.
Not surprisingly, Bell is pleased that she took the political plunge.
“Sometimes its right there in front of you and you say you either are going to go (for it) or you are going to regret it for the rest of your life,’’ she says.
“Two months ago, this wasn’t on the radar…this is a career change. This is one of those things where you pivot.’’
In doubling the Green party’s MLA contingent to two, Bell has managed to rock the provincial political landscape.
Her victory is being welcomed by some and feared by others – notably the Liberal and Progressive Conservative brass – as a major tidal shift.
During the Nov. 27 byelection to fill Currie’s District 11, Charlottetown-Parkdale seat, Bell took 35.4 per cent of the vote, winning all but two of the 11 polls.
Hannah Bell, who will officially end her job as the executive director of the P.E.I. Women’s Association on Dec. 31, will not have much idle time on her hands. The single mother of 10-year-old Ava is the newest member of the legislative assembly in P.E.I., having won the by-election on Nov. 27 for District 11 Charlottetown-Parkdale. The green – and Green party - MLA plans to remain as the P.E.I. governor on the board of the National Trust of Canada, a charitable organization that protects cultural heritage. Bell will also continue to volunteer her time to advisory boards with the P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government and the P.E.I. Adapt Council, which works collaboratively with the Island’s agri-entrepreneurs to foster rural economic development.
Wayne Thibodeau, regional managing editor for The Guardian, says there is no question Bell’s win was a major game changer in P.E.I. politics, which prompted The Guardian’s editorial board to name Bell Prince Edward Island’s 2017 Newsmaker of the Year.
“There were many other notable newsmakers, including James Aylward, who won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, and Mike Redmond, who resigned as NDP leader, but Bell’s win stood out amongst the crowd,” said Thibodeau.
“The Green party proved that it is much more than a one-hit wonder. The party has established itself on the Island’s political landscape. Bell’s win has already had an impact on P.E.I. politics. Just look at the fall session, which dragged on until almost Christmas.
“Politics in P.E.I. is about to get much more interesting.”
“Things seem to be shifting both dramatically and quite quickly…it’s just a different vibe. I think the stigma of voting for a third party may have disappeared now.’’
-Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker
UPEI political science professor Peter McKenna calls Bell’s win a notable political development, at least in the short-term.
“I do think that people are taking a serious look at the Green party – and it’s a first,’’ he says.
“It remains to be seen if the Green party can translate that into more members in the legislature.’’
Bell is confident that the party can and will make plenty of noise in the next election.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we will have a significant number of seats in the next election,’’ she says.
Bell could even see the province going Green in the election following the one that is expected in 2019 if the party continues to perform with focus and commitment while fielding solid candidates.
Perhaps the attention her victory has generated has been more overwhelming than the win itself with the outcome garnering national media coverage and, of course, landing Bell Newsmaker of the Year selection by The Guardian.
“It is surprising…this obviously has happened very quickly in a lot of ways,’’ she says.
“I know that I’m kind of the face in front of this now, but its also bigger than me.’’
Bevan-Baker says his new political partner deserves the newsmaker of the year designation.
"She has proven herself both through the campaign and since the election as a worthy MLA,’’ he says.
“She’s smart and she’s hard-working and she’s just a really kind, lovely person.’’
Bevan-Baker says the byelection win by the Green party indicates strong momentum for a party once easily dismissed by Island voters.
“Things seem to be shifting both dramatically and quite quickly…it’s just a different vibe,’’ says Bevan-Baker, who in the most recent polling by Corporate Research Associates was identified as the most popular leader in P.E.I. with the Green party preferred by one-quarter of Islanders.
“I think the stigma of voting for a third party may have disappeared now.’’
Bell was never directly aligned with any political party until she was drawn a few years ago to the Green party by Bevan-Baker for “so clearly articulating the things that mattered to me.’’
She knows her party, with its strong momentum, will come under increased scrutiny, which she welcomes.
She notes environment remains a key piece of the her party platform, but it is only one of many pieces.
She says party policies include “things that people haven’t heard of before or that require a lot more explaining.’’
Bell sums up her own philosophy as a one-Island approach.
“One Island is that we are all Islanders and it really doesn’t matter what community you live in, you should have access to the same level of service and the same quality of life and the same respect and dignity,’’ she says.
“I would really hope that this is the beginning of a way that I can continue to affect change in my community.’’
1993: Premier Catherine Callbeck*
1994: Provincial government's 7 1/2 per cent public sector wage rollback*
1995: Bombing of P.E.I. Legislature*
1996: Charlottetown Mayor Ian Tex MacDonald
1997: Confederation Bridge
1998: Summerside police officer David Griffin
1999: Lorie Kane
2000: Lorie Kane
2001: Blair Ross, workers' compensation protest
2002: Lucille Poulin
2003: Robert Ghiz
2004: Brad Richards
2005: Jared Connaughton and Mark MacDonald, tie
2006: Premier Pat Binns
2007: Premier Robert Ghiz
2008: Lucy Maud Montgomery
2009: Baby Lillian
2010: Heather Moyse (Olympic gold medal)
2011: Royal visit by Prince William and Kate
2012: The Impaired Driver
2013: Senator Mike Duffy
2014: The ‘year” 2014 (150th anniversary of Charlottetown Conference)
2015: Mike Duffy
2017: Hannah Bell
News story of 2017: