For the fifth time since 2006, Nathan Cullen will be representing Bella Coola and the Central Coast as he returns to Ottawa as Member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley – the largest riding in British Columbia
In an election which saw the federal New Democratic Party under leader Thomas Mulcair move from its position as Official Opposition into third place nation-wide and the Liberals under Justin Trudeau sweeping the election in its move from third place to form a majority government, Cullen once again tipped the scales at more than 50 per cent in what he called a “bittersweet” win.
As the results came in, Cullen told a media conference linked by telephone that his feelings were “mixed” between disappointment in the national upset contrasting with his relief that “the politics of fear has been rejected” for a “much more progressive agenda”, noting in particular that with Trudeau and the Liberals, Canada has a Prime Minister who has publicly opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.
Cullen attributed his win to the hard work of volunteers in the riding and the fact that his supporters didn’t take for granted the NDP’s strong position at the outset of the 11-week campaign – the third longest campaign in Canadian history. He speculated that the length of the campaign could partly explain his party’s huge loss nation-wide, saying “the results would have been different” if the election had been held three weeks earlier.
Noting that the Liberals presented a very progressive platform that could have come from the NDP, he pointed to Mulcair’s stand on the “niqab issue” as a partial explanation for the NDP’s fall in the polls. (Mulcair had defended a woman’s right to wear the face-concealing garment in citizenship ceremonies, contrary to the position of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.)
While pointing out the “negative politics around the niqab issue”, Cullen said he was nevertheless “very proud of the principled stand our party continued to make even if it meant losing. We are not a party that is going to try and win at all costs.”
With reference to issues in his own riding, Cullen pointed to a need for a review of the federal subsidy granted to British Columbia for operating the ferry service on the North and Central Coast. He pledged to make this matter “front and centre” with his return to Ottawa.
He also intends to “hold their (the Liberals’) feet to the fire” on their stated opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project and on investigating the cases of missing aboriginal women and girls. He also intends to “nail the Liberals down” on their position on natural gas development in the region.
“Clean energy investment, the inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls, these are the kinds of things we fought for, some of the things that the Liberal party has adopted,” he said. “Now they have to see them through. So our commitment is going to be very sincere in keeping them going.”
As for his future in Ottawa, Cullen said he sees his role in the much diminished NDP caucus as “telling the story about the Northwest” and working for his constituents, and that a bid for national leadership of the NDP is “the furthest thought on my mind”. (Cullen ran for the leadership in the contest to replace former leader Jack Layton who resigned over failing health prior to his death in 2011).
For the moment, Cullen added: “I’m going to see my kids and have a normal meal again. We put almost 20,000 kilometres on the car. It was a long, long campaign. I’m just focused in on phoning my colleagues . . . and seeing how everyone is doing.”
Meanwhile, Tyler Nesbitt, Cullen’s Conservative challenger who took 25 pe rcent of the vote, pledged to help Cullen advance the interests of the riding with the new Liberal government, and Liberal candidate Brad Layton, who finished the race with 20 per cent was pleased with his party’s national win. Green party candidate Jeannie Parnell won 3.6 per cent of the vote and the Christian Heritage Party’s Don Spratt drew in 1.8 per cent.