Federal New Democrats in the Skeena - Bulkley Valley riding are set to do something they haven’t had to do in 15 years — find a candidate for the next election now that NDP MP Nathan Cullen has decided to retire from federal politics.
Party officials expect to have the machinery in place within a few months to select a candidate leading up to the Oct. 19 federal election date, says Smithers resident Dan Mesec, the president of the NDP’s Skeena - Bulkley Valley federal riding association.
The plan is to have a candidate in place before summer, he said.
“It’s going to be a big decision,” Mesec said of the challenge to find a replacement for Cullen who became a national presence for the NDP as well as a strong riding representative.
Mesec’s hoping the party will attract strong nomination candidates.
“What will happen is that each candidate [for the nomination] will be encouraged to sign up members for the party and to have those members then support them,” he said.
Still to be worked out is how the actual vote will take place — whether there will be one central voting location on one specific day or whether there will be a travelling ballot box covering several communities, Mesec continued.
The latter method takes into account the large size of the riding and its spread out population.
Cullen was first elected in 2004, ending a federal drought for the NDP that began in 1993 after another veteran NDP MP veteran, Jim Fulton, retired.
Reform Party candidate Mike Scott won the 1993 election and was re-elected in 1997 before he decided not to run again in the 2000 election. Conservative Andy Burton won the 2000 election, only to be defeated by Cullen in 2004.
Of Cullen’s five election wins, he captured more than 50 per cent in the last two elections of 2011 and 2015, continuing a tradition of NDP federal representation in the region. Frank Howard, first with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation before it became the New Democratic Party, won six elections beginning in 1957 and Fulton won four elections, the first of which took place in 1979.
Several names quickly surfaced as possible candidates for the NDP nomination following Cullen’s announcement, with one acknowledging he’s thinking about it.
Taylor Bachrach, elected to a third term as Smithers mayor last year, said he and his family are giving the possibility “some careful thought” stressing it has to be the right decision for his wife and two daughters, one 11 years old and the other 14.
“Since Nathan’s announcement ….. several prominent people from across the region have approached me about the opportunity,” he said.
Bachrach described the position of being the MP for Skeena - Bulkley Valley as “tremendously challenging for anyone who fills the seat.”
”It’s a riding the size of Poland and it’s a long way from Ottawa. People who live in this region deserve a strong voice and a representative that works hard for them,” said Bachrach.
A second northwest mayor, Prince Rupert’s Lee Brain, said that while he is being encouraged to enter federal politics he has no intention to do so “given the number of exciting initiatives underway in Prince Rupert.”
Those initiatives include far-reaching plans at replacing the city’s aging infrastructure and improving its citizens’ quality of life, framed around building up its profile as a growing global port of call.
“Mr. Cullen will be a difficult person to replace on many fronts. For any new prospective candidate to build credibility and trust in the region, I would encourage them to focus on achieving results that will enhance the economic, social and environmental prospects of Northwest BC,” Brain said.
North Coast NDP MLA Jennifer Rice’s name also surfaced as a potential candidate but she also quickly took her name off the list.
While saying she was flattered, Rice said she is “passionate about my role as MLA and Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and I am committed to seeing this work through. We have accomplished so much as government in BC and there is still work to be done.”
“Mr. Cullen is an outstanding MP well-serving the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding for many years and is also recognized as a distinguished parliamentarian. Of course, these will be big shoes for any candidate to fill,” said Rice.
A Terrace resident has also contacted party officials and expects to receive a candidate nomination package to fill out.
Amanda Ramsay, a writer and UNBC grad, was born in Kitimat and has lived in Terrace for four and a half years.
“I have a kid and I don’t really like where politics is heading and I don’t know what it will be in 20 years and what will be passed on to her,” said Ramsay of her reasons for seeking to be a nomination candidate.
“I would like to leave her a more compassionate society.”
While the NDP begin their search for a candidate, two other parties have already lined up their choices for this October’s election. Claire Rattee from Kitimat is running for the Conservative Party of Canada and Rod Taylor from Smithers is running for the Christian Heritage Party of Canada. He’s the party’s leader and has run several times in the riding already.