NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen says he wants his party to borrow a page from Vision Vancouver’s playbook and work more cooperatively with federal Liberals and Greens in the next election to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight at an Oak Street coffee shop, Cullen declared that it’s essential for the NDP to lead this discussion because it’s the opposition party with the most seats in Parliament and because Harper presents a “clear and present danger to this country”.
“To be honest, a lot of my model of cooperation is built around Vision’s success,” Cullen said. “If Greens all stay in their bunkers and New Democrat types stay in theirs and Liberals stay in theirs, then the Conservative candidate tends to do really well and win.”
Unlike other federal NDP leadership candidates, Cullen has proposed a way for his party to work with the Greens and Liberals. If he becomes leader on March 24 at the NDP convention in Toronto, Cullen said, he will call upon the party to allow riding associations to hold joint nominating meetings with the Greens and Liberals in areas represented by a Conservative MP.
“But it would have to be driven by the grassroots,” he emphasized. “If they’re into it, then I’m into it. If they’re not, then we’ll do it the old traditional way.”
The leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, told the Straight that she's delighted by Cullen's willingness to work with other parties to stop the Conservatives.
"I don't know if he has the exact right proposal, but I think it's critical whoever is the next leader of the NDP be prepared to discuss methods of working together with the other parties in some form of cooperation," May said. "It could take many different forms."
Earlier this year, Liberal Leader Bob Rae told the Straight in an interview that he expected that both the NDP and the upcoming Liberal leadership races would bring forward ideas for mutual cooperation. He was unavailable for comment on Cullen's more recent remarks.
Nathan Cullen discusses how the NDP could work with the Greens and Liberals to defeat Conservative candidates.
Cullen, the MP for Skeena–Bulkley Valley, added that he would not countenance the party having this type of electoral arrangement with the Bloc Québécois because its “fundamental purpose is to destroy the country”, even though he acknowledged that many Bloc MPs and their supporters are progressive.
Vision Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson has won two consecutive landslides in municipal elections by bringing together some Greens, federal Liberals, and New Democrats into a single party. Cullen, 39, said that he has been impressed by how Vision politicians have tackled homelessness and helped the city meet the Kyoto Protocol’s targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
“They’re doing things and showing it can work,” the MP stated. “For me, it’s very pragmatic as opposed to dogmatic politics.”
Prior to becoming an MP, Cullen was an environmental consultant and got to know Andrea Reimer, now a Vision councillor. Cullen said he was impressed when she told him that the environmental movement didn’t spend enough time talking to poor people. He later developed a friendship with Robertson, when the mayor was a member of the provincial NDP caucus. “I’m a huge fan,” Cullen admitted.
However, the NDP MP is no fan of the prime minister, claiming that Harper has a “fundamental disdain for Parliament”. Cullen also criticized the Conservative government for ignoring Supreme Court of Canada rulings on several issues—including aboriginal rights and title, and the dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board—and refusing to address climate change.
Moreover, Cullen claimed that Harper is also a “very bad economist”, missing the last recession and only taking action after being forced to by the other parties in Parliament. “He was so stuck with his ideological blinkers that he couldn’t read the numbers,” Cullen charged. “One plus one was making four for him—and he was wrong. And only because he was threatened with the loss of power did he change course.”
He said that in his northwestern B.C. riding, he can see the impact of bad government. At the provincial level, it has resulted in the closure of mills because of a lack of restrictions on the export of raw logs. At the federal level, he claimed that the government refuses to deal fairly with First Nations.
"There are no people in the world that can survive without the means for their own production—the ability to generate their own income and wealth," Cullen said. "And the First Nations in our world live under a blatantly racist and oppressive act called the Indian Act. Why are we talking about changing or bringing in a couple of housing units if, at its core, this government has a racist orientation toward First Nations?"
One of Cullen's greatest passions is the environment. And he sees energy as a critical consideration. He has called for an "energy-security strategy" for Canada to focus far more attention on producing it sustainably, affordably, and reliably.
"My first priority would be to put a price on carbon," he commented.
Nathan Cullen discusses energy issues.
Now that the Conservatives have a majority, Cullen believes they will bring about their own political demise because they’re going to show their true stripes to Canadians.
He also claimed that Harper practises “whistle-dog politics”, with every signal sent out at a pitch intended for certain groups of Canadians to hear. Cullen argued that eventually, the public will see through this—and if the other parties cooperate on some level in time for the next election, Harper can be defeated.
“I think he has a disdain for people’s intelligence,” Cullen claimed. “It’s dangerous when you think you’re the smartest guy in the room, in every room. That’s the impression he leaves with most people.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.