Earlier this week, NDP MP Nathan Cullen’s democratic-reform proposal was accepted by the majority Liberal government. The move was unexpected, as committees in the House of Commons are based on the number of seats a party holds and Cullen proposed a system based on the percentage of votes received.
This would deny the Liberals a majority in committees.
The move put a spotlight on Cullen, the five-term MP for B.C.’s Skeena-Bulkley Valley electoral district, and many heralded him as a possible candidate for the NDP leadership after Tom Mulcair's ousting. Some considered him a worthy combatant for Justin Trudeau, as his expertise in some of Trudeau’s favourite subject areas—Cullen is both the NDP’s environment and climate-change and democratic-reform critic—could, theoretically, handcuff the prime minister in debate.
Today (June 3), Cullen declared that he will not be running for the NDP leadership.
“I thought about it for a number of months,” Cullen told the Georgia Straight by phone just minutes after announcing the decision in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa. “I was thinking about what’s best for me and my family and the riding I represent and what the party needs right now. As we go through a renewal process, this job is going to require the full-time heart and dedication of the leader to go out across the country for the next number of years, and then, hopefully, lead the country. And with [two] young kids and with the riding and all the other factors in my life, it didn’t feel like this was the right time to jump in."
Cullen might well have enough on his plate already. For starters, his riding is the seventh-largest in Canada in terms of square kilometres. “It’s bigger than Poland,” he said about the mass of land that stretches west to east from Prince Rupert to Fort St. John and from Bella Bella on the coast past Kitimat to the Yukon border in the north.
“Rural Canada has real expectations that they get to see their MP often and in an intimate way, and that’s virtually impossible if you’re running,” Cullen said when asked if he thought that running for the leadership would have hurt his ability to serve his constituents. “And if you win, that means you’re just on the road. Urban MP’s, they can maybe cut a few corners that way, but you’ve got to be at the barbecue, you’ve got to be at the rotary dinner—there’s just no substitute.”
As for finding some cracks in Trudeau’s armour, Cullen said he has a few ideas to help out whoever ends up taking the leadership.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is slated to run directly across Cullen’s riding, and he has a vested interest in preventing the project, as well as the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline. “It’s nearly everything,” Cullen said about how much the fight against the Northern Gateway development means to him. “It also symbolizes so much. Just about our own ability to have rights in our communities, to be able to set our own course and to be able to protect the things we need to protect. It’s hugely important and it’s been important to me since the day I took office.
The issue links up with another one close to Cullen’s heart. Skeena-Bulkley Valley is a heavily aboriginal district, and although Cullen acknowledges that Trudeau is making a “huge promise” in his pledge to drastically overhaul the federal government's relationship with First Nations, he also thinks the prime minister should be ready for repercussions if he proceeds with approval for the pipelines.
“If he‘s hoping to approve pipelines like Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway over the expressed wishes and the legal objections by First Nations people, he’ll have a hard experience, and there will be a real loss of faith and confidence in this government.”
Cullen came third in the NDP leadership race to replace Jack Layton in 2012, behind Mulcair and Brian Topp.