NDP leadership candidate Cullen brings message to Nanaimo

Cullen, 39, was in Nanaimo Wednesday morning at MGM restaurant to pass his message on to an intimate but well-informed audience.

Nathan Cullen doesn’t back down from a challenge, a trait the Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP is taking with him into the federal NDP leadership race.

He is, after all, the only candidate in the race to have wrestled a seat in parliament away from a Conservative incumbent, no small feat considering he won it in his northern rural riding, where Conservatives have historically ruled.

Cullen, 39, was in Nanaimo Wednesday at MGM restaurant to pass his message on to a small but well-informed audience. He is one of nine NDP MPs intent on following in the big footsteps of the late Jack Layton, who died this summer from cancer.

The party is expected to elect a new leader in March.

Cullen, an economic development consultant and conflict resolution expert before he was first elected in 2004, said he wants to bring “a new kind of politics” to Parliament Hill.

“I want to impose the best and brightest ideas, no matter where they come from,” he said. “I don’t think anybody holds a licence for all the best ideas. Those who have been elected and are deeply partisan take the longest to understand how this is going to work. But folks on the street who want to see a different kind of government take to it immediately. People who care about health care or the environment or basic justice don’t see themselves reflected in the current government.”

Cullen said he disagrees with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s policy on several issues, including the government’s handling of the recent Air Canada and Canada Post labour disputes, as well as the Conservatives’ requirement for the country’s top justices to explain their decision on some rulings.

“We haven’t found any evidence of that happening in any other democracy around the world,” he said.

Determined to defeat the Conservatives, Cullen said part of his new politics includes working with the Liberals in ridings where Conservatives have been strong.

Finding a balance between protecting the environment and creating jobs is an issue that is already happening in Cullen’s riding as former mill towns are finding new ways to attract economic diversity. He said the north has learned some hard but valuable lessons.

“Lessons I’ve learned have come from the hard knocks of a rural economy. We’ve learned lessons about how to make the economy work and still respect the environment,” he said.

Cullen, who served as chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Privacy, Access to Information and Ethics and also served as his party’s associate critic for natural resources, is one of nine candidates entered in the race to carry on Layton’s work. Twenty-nine year old Niki Ashton, an NDP MP from Churchill, Manitoba, entered the race on Monday and will likely be the last to announce her run for the leadership. Cullen and Ashton are joined by Robert Chisholm, Romeo Saganash, Martin Singh, Peggy Nash, Brian Topp, Paul Dewar and Thomas Mulcair.

Although he’s the MP with the most parliamentary experience in the NDP leadership race, Cullen still sees himself as an underdog.

“I haven’t spent years conspiring or planning a bid for leadership so I’m not the candidate from the inside, you know,” he said. “My work is going to be different and it’s going to be person by person, town by town which is how I prefer it anyway.”

Cullen has one of the largest geographical ridings in the country with an area of 323,720 square kilometres.

The winner of the race will take over as Leader of the Opposition and will likely be the NDP’s candidate for prime minster in the next federal election, scheduled for 2015.

reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com