Earlier this week, local MP Nathan Cullen spoke to northern BC reporters for the last time before the NDP selects its new leader at the upcoming convention. Cullen says that despite the naysayers, his is now one of the leading campaigns in the race, even if he is not considered to be the frontrunner.
“Despite some early assessments that we wouldn’t get out of the gate or wouldn’t make it to the end, we’re certainly one of the leading campaigns now. . . We’re spreading the Skeena message and it’s resonating,” says Cullen.
“We’re still the underdog, there’s no doubt about that. We’re not a big institutional campaign, but we’ve been having a lot of fun, speaking truth-to-power and just enjoying it.”
Cullen points to Elections Canada fundraising data that shows his campaign has caught up to the fundraising levels of presumed frontrunner Thomas Mulcair. Cullen says that this is an important indication of the momentum his leadership bid has going into next week’s convention.
But, that same data shows that 74.8 per cent of that fundraising has all come from inside BC. When asked what that indicates for his Canada-wide appeal, Cullen said that being from BC this was to be expected, but also says that percentage used to be higher and has been falling as more donations come from NDP members in other parts of the country.
“Its kind of natural. First, the most members in the party are in BC, if you’re not fundraising in BC you’re not a factor. Second, I come from BC, but it’s also been spreading out across the country as we spent more time there and gained momentum,” says Cullen.
If Cullen wins the leadership contests at the convention he will become the Leader of Opposition, which would make him one of the most important political figures in the entire country and saddle him with more responsibilities than just looking after the interests of Northwest BC. But even if he and his family end up moving into Stornoway, Cullen says he will still make himself available to constituents and media in northern BC.
“I know where I come from, and where I come from is the Northwest. Whether I’m the leader or not the leader, that’s my first loyalty. I’ll still be talking to [the media] and coming home, because my home makes me who I am.”
But being Opposition Leader has its own set of new political dangers that no NDP leader has faced before and the onslaught can be brutal – just ask Michael Ignatieff or Stéphane Dion. The Conservatives have successfully bulldozed the popularity of the last two Opposition Leaders using attack ads, Cullen was asked what makes him think he’ll fair any better.
“First rule is don’t get bulldozed. Make sure you’re introducing yourself and setting your own standard and not allowing the conservatives to do it for you. I’ve already had discussions with the party about what that would look like,” says Cullen.
“I’ve been in the Parliament for eight years, so it’s not like I don’t know the place. I know exactly what the Tories’ plans will be and that they’ll be prepared to do just about anything to sully my good name.”
But what if he doesn’t win? Cullen himself admits he’s not the favourite going into the convention, and if he doesn’t come out on top, he says it will have been worth it.
By running for the NDP leadership and gaining the media attention that he has, there’s little doubt that Cullen will have raised his standing within his own party, but he believes that it has also the profile of Northwest BC and its issues on the national level, and created a influx of passionate new members to the NDP which will give the party more political momentum.
“I feel that it has certainly raised my profile, but more importantly, it raised the profile of the riding. We’ve been able to have a much, much larger audience due to this race. So that’s positive, but the question will be: what do we do with all of that energy and motivated people? And trust me when is say this, there’s a lot of them,” says Cullen.
The NDP convention starts next Friday in Toronto.