Big changes have been afoot since the last time MP Nathan Cullen was in the House of Commons when his party, the NDP, was the smallest party on Parliament Hill, falling behind the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois.
Then in one of the biggest political upsets the country has seen in decades, maybe ever, the NDP is bigger, more powerful and more Francophone than it has ever been in its 50-year existence, and the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP says he’s excited to get back to work when the House reconvenes this month.
“Our caucus met for the very first time at our first caucus meeting and it was incredible to see 103 New Democrats with such diverse backgrounds and perspectives . . . We’re feeling quite renewed and strengthened in our mandate and position, and I’m thrilled to be back as the MP for Skeena Bulkley Valley,” said Cullen.
The demographics in the NDP caucus have changed from a party where most of their seats were from western Canada to one where over half the MPs are from Quebec. This has led some political commentators to ask if the party’s priorities will be centered on keeping those seats in Quebec at the expense of issues out west. Cullen says he rejects the very idea that addressing one region’s concerns must come at the expense of another’s.
“I think the ‘western versus eastern’ idea is one that has to go away, quite frankly. We’ve seen some of the parties use that idea over time, like the Bloc or the Reform Party; it’s a divide-and-conquer strategy. It was an easy way to get votes but made the country weaker. I’m feeling fantastic that the NDP has so many members from Quebec, I think it’s what a national party ought to do,” says Cullen.
Even with the NDPs new position as the Official Opposition, a Conservative majority means that actually legislating their ideas isn’t going to be any easier than it was when they only had 37 seats. But Cullen says the Tories are vulnerable on issues such as
Halibut allocation, with Conservative MPs such as Randy Kemp losing long time supporters during the election over the issue.
“I think they got a real scare during the election. They had a lot of supporters move away from them particularly in rural BC. So they got shaken up politically over it, I know Randy was. So I’m hopeful, actually…This government needs to focus on the long-tern policies that this country needs, and one of those is a more equitable allocation of fish,” said Cullen.
Many progressive Canadians are worries that a majority government will allow the Conservatives to start legislating more right-wing policies that the Party’s base is calling for, such as abortion restrictions, despite the fact that the PM promised not to do so during the campaign. Cullen believes that Harper is more likely to keep moving towards the ideological center in order to try to win the next election.
“If Harper’s smart about this and doesn’t get drunk with power, he’ll try not to box himself into a very conservative corner. That’s if they’re smart…We’ll know that in the next few weeks when they bring out their budget and first set of legislation,” says Cullen.