NDP leadership hopeful aims to bridge partisan divide

Nathan Cullen is hosting a forum in Penticton that will cover climate action, electoral reform and cross-partisan co-operation - Photo submitted
Nathan Cullen is hosting a forum in Penticton that will cover climate action, electoral reform and cross-partisan co-operation
— image credit: Photo submitted

Nathan Cullen is in the ring, but has left his political boxing gloves at home.

Today (Wednesday), the NDP leadership candidate and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP will host Re-think Politics: Bridging the partisan divide to change and build a sustainable economy, a free forum in Penticton that will cover climate action, electoral reform and cross-partisan co-operation.

One of eight candidates in the running for the NDP leadership to replace the late Jack Layton, Cullen will present his proposal for the cross-partisan approach in looking to defeat the Conservatives in 2015.

Although Cullen suggested many controversial policies, he says the NDP merging with federal colleagues from the Liberal and Green parties is not in his plan.

“It would consume such an amount of energy and would distract us from other things,” he said. “The merger, it’s a topic of interest for some in the parties on both sides, but not one I’m promoting. It doesn’t accomplish what I want to accomplish. You spend a lot of time talking about yourselves, and not enough talking about the country.”

He is suggesting a “one-time electoral co-operation” is needed, and wants to bear the theory out in tonight’s forum.

“Any time someone suggests reaching out beyond partisan boundaries, in talking and working with other parties, Canadians like it,” he said. “Sometimes the party members themselves take a little bit of time getting used to the idea. It’s not typical. It’s not common for a candidate for leadership to say, ‘I want to put Canadians ahead of my party.’ And not just say it, but do it.

“This is not a set of platitudes to make people feel we’re non-partisan. I want to demonstrate it, show it and mean it in everything I do. It can take some time.”

He said there is an appetite in the Canadian political landscape for those types of discussions, noting he’s getting “great reviews” from discussing solutions to problems people face with childcare, affordable housing and the environment. While he wants to cover energy, environmental and natural resource issues, Cullen adds the evening is also about him listening to people who turn out.

“I want to talk about this region and want to talk about what people live, what their hopes are and how is it we can have politics again that is hopeful and purposeful and not just all about the parties and the polls,” he said. “I long believed that we’re not just in opposition, we must be in proposition. We must propose as much as we oppose, if not more.”

Cullen is the only leadership candidate from B.C., and says hailing from Smithers has informed his awareness on how natural resources can dominate the provincial discussion. It’s also what helped him carve out a small slice of orange in a conservative region.

“As somebody who represents a rural place that was painted blue for a long time, to New Democrats I offer a plan,” he said. “Penticton’s a bit different, it has some of its own issues. But one of the commonalities is feeling shut out from the conversation in Ottawa.

“It feels like a long time since the Reform Party and their efforts to make the west more heard. I feel the current Conservative batch is becoming increasingly fixated on Ottawa and less so on places they come from. It’s a pendulum swinging thing, and it happens sometimes.”

The event is drawing interest from a variety of circles, including cultural: slam poet Shane Koyczan is slated to attend and open the evening. Julius Bloomfield, a provincial Green party organizer, said he accepted an invitation to attend the event in part to hear what Cullen has to say about bipartisan politics.

“I’ve always been interested in talking about political process and ways to improve democracy and listening to what ideas he’s got,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what colour political stripe they have. If they’re having an open discussion about the process, I’m all ears.”

The NDP campaign wraps up on March 24, when party faithful meet to vote for a new leader.

“I want this party to have the right leader and I want this party to be ready to govern in four years. That might be me, but it might be someone else. I want to ask those tough questions today,” Cullen said.

Cannery Stage doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the forum begins at 7 p.m. Admission is free, and all are welcome.


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