Lynaya Astephen got involved in politics when her community of Red Head, outside of Saint John, was facing a threat so large it propelled her into action and now she hopes to represent Ward 4 in east Saint John.
The professional became the strongest voice in the local opposition to the Energy East pipeline, a now-defunct proposed bitumen pipeline. The pipeline would have ended in her rural community and resulted in a leveled forest, oil tank farm and heavy supertanker traffic in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine to deliver oil to U.S. refineries.
Astephen currently resides in the shadow of the Irving oil refinery, Canada’s largest oil refinery.
“We want to live in a safe, healthy community and we want to prevent runaway climate change. A rapid transition to clean energy and efficiency will create more jobs and local prosperity than oil and gas,” Astephen told a large gathering of people wanting to protect Red Head and the Bay of Fundy from the Energy East pipeline in 2017.
Astephen’s community activism continues to grow as she connects the dots between environmental pollution and social injustice. She has also been a vocal critic of how the Irving group of companies control not only industry in New Brunswick but also the media.
Besides acting as the spokesperson for the Red Head Anthony’s Cove Preservation Association and participating in the Saint John Chapter of the Council of Canadians, Astephen is currently active with Leap4Wards, an organization dedicated to a swift transition to renewable energy future, and she sits on the board of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. In 2018, she ran for the Green Party to represent Saint John East in provincial government.
Now, she has decided to run to represent her ward in the city of Saint John.
The NB Media Co-op interviewed Astephen who has both appeared in and authored several NB Media Co-op stories.
NBMC: Why have you decided to run to represent the people of Saint John Ward 4?
Astephen: My community hasn’t had councillors who cared about issues affecting our area and when we had an issue they abandoned us and supported industry interests. My neighbors and I felt gutted. I couldn’t believe that our interest didn’t matter. When we brought up our concerns about a major energy project, which was proposed to end literally in some of our backyards, we were completely ignored.
Many residents have given up on politicians, saying why bother voting, they are all the same. I am running to prove them this isn’t correct.
I want to show democracy doesn’t have to be like that. I want to show that participatory democracy does exist. Hopefully, if elected, I can restore faith in our political system and restore the voices of the disenfranchised.
East Saint John is also where I grew up and lived the majority of my life. My roots are here.
NBMC: If elected, what will be your priorities for the city of Saint John and Ward 4?
Astephen: A big priority for me is fair taxation. Saint John has the highest water and property taxes while industry pays much lower taxes compared to similar businesses in different parts of the country.
Saint John has issues with growth. I believe we can thrive as a city by tackling the climate change crisis. By doing so, we can provide employment, better transportation, and food security. We can also better support newcomers and younger generations staying in our city.
My passion is environmental issues. I’ve been advocating for this in all levels of government for several years. By working with larger organizations and cities tackling climate change, we can help Saint John grow in the future. My focus is ensuring we’re not left behind. We can be the game changers.
I also want to restore Mispec Beach to what it was a couple of decades ago as this is a tourist attraction and it is needlessly in disarray.
NBMC: Has Saint John City Council been working for its citizens? What needs to change?
Astephen: City Council often stifles community voices by not being open and transparent and making decisions that would negatively impact residents.
We did have community groups set up by our current city councilors. I was on the one for Red Head. But from the beginning, city councillors told residents to not be political. Unfortunately, voices were shut down from the get-go. Community meetings are never held by councillors and feedback on issues is never requested.
I want to run things differently where feedback is welcomed and town hall meetings are held. I want to have the different communities in Ward 4 come together so they can talk about municipal issues and have fun. I want to build caring communities where people care about the well-being of one another. Also, I would communicate to the residents of Ward 4 through virtual newsletter to keep them informed. I’d like to put people first.
Tracy Glynn is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board.