In the many columns written about the NDP leadership race, Nathan Cullen’s name usually appears side-by-side with Paul Dewar, Niki Ashton, Romeo Saganash and Martin Singh in the lower-tier of potential Stornoway residents.
I’m interested in Cullen for a few reasons. He’s the only leadership candidate from BC, he’s incredibly accessible (I sat down with him two weeks ago, check out the profile here) and he’s taken some very unpopular and daring positions in what has been a largely lacklustre race.
So what would it take for Cullen to pull out a victory in March? Well, a lot of things would have to go in his favour.
1) A Liberal Surge
What Cullen is best known for in this race is his proposal that to hold joint nomination conventions in ridings with the Liberals and the Greens in order to take down the Conservatives in a leftist-flood. Cullen maintains that this would be a one-time only deal and that immediately upon forming government, he would change the voting system away from first-past-the-post.
This idea hasn’t exactly had a lot of support amongst NDP partisans. But if Bob Rae and the Liberals start gaining some heat in the polls, being the senior partner in a centre-left coalition may start to look appealing to some.
2) Enbridge Gets Ugly
The Enbridge Pipeline hearings are about to get underway and Kitimat, where the pipeline would hit ocean, is in Cullen’s home riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley. This is going to mean a lot of press on this issue, and if he plays his cards right, a lot of press for Cullen. He’s been an opponent of the project from the start, which is going to play well with environmentally-inclined NDPers.
The Enbridge issue has already gotten him his first caucus endorsements from BC MPs Phil Donnelly and Alex Atemanenko.
3) Mulcair/Topp/Nash Get Ugly
One of the most endearing things about Cullen is that he comes off as totally earnest and gives off-the-cuff answers that don’t sound as if they’ve been processed in the PR-factory. If the top-tier of candidates start attacking each other hard, voters may start to find more value in Cullen’s genuine likeableness.
Just recently, Paul Wells gave Cullen some love for his generous and immediate response to Mulcair’s statement that he would hold his French passport even if he stayed in office. Cullen went on to say that he simply disagreed with Jack Layton on this issue.
I’m me and Jack was Jack. We agreed on almost everything. I think on this one we disagreed. Just different views on the world. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. My generation coming up, we’re global citizens. As a young politician getting into office, it wasn’t a problem for me because many of my friends work abroad and hold different citizenships it didn’t matter for me. As long as they prove themselves in action, that’s what I’m looking for. Are you a proud Canadian and do you stand behind the flag? That’s all I’ve ever seen from Tom.
That’s the type of forthrightness that could see Cullen win over more people the better they get to know him.
Cullen was credited by most commentators for being the most interesting in the first NDP debate and has generally kept that up ever since. His likeable demeanour combined with his ability to go off-script while staying on-message makes for, as Kady O’Malley tweeted today, “lively” performances. If he keeps on acting like a human being in a field full of grizzly bears and robots, Cullen may be able to eek something together.
Of course, Cullen isn’t without his liabilities. Many NDPers see working with the Liberals as anathema and he’s taken unpopular positions on the gun registry. But don’t be surprised if by March the name Cullen starts appearing alongside Topp, Mulcair and Nash.
(Photo Courtesy of Nathan Cullen)