Cullen calls for co-operation to loosen Tory’s grip

A self-professed pragmatist arrived in Penticton Wednesday, and found himself in friendly territory.

Around 150 people crammed into the Cannery Stage Wednesday night to hear what Nathan Cullen, the would-be leader of the federal NDP, offers in the name of bipartisan politics.

Former Kooteney MLA Corky Evans introduced the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, and explained why he emerged from retirement on his farm to endorse Cullen’s leadership bid.

“How cool is this? Social democrats have filled a hall in the Okanagan,” he said. “I heard Nathan say once, ‘I’m in the business of ideas.’ I’ve waited a long time to hear that.

“Ideas mean there’s a chance of being wrong. That’s not normally OK. But in a leadership race, for the 60 or 100 days it takes, politicians are actually encouraged to have thoughts.”

One of those ideas fleshed out was Cullen’s concept of one-time electoral co-operation, which he would allow should he become NDP leader. He said it would allow joint nomination meetings with NDP, Liberal and Green party members to choose a candidate the riding could support and feasibly defeat an incumbent Conservative candidate.

“If you think eight months of Stephen Harper is a nightmare, think about eight years. We must put country ahead of party,” he said, noting that the additional Parliament seats are being weighted in areas of Tory strongholds. “The system’s rigged, and he’s going to rig it more.”

Cullen regaled the crowd with several humorous stories, particularly about his initial foray into politics in a historically conservative area, winning to the amazement of himself and his community.

He said the riding was experiencing “economic seizure,” with some areas posting 90 per cent unemployment and youth suicide rates nine times the national average. With more mills shutting down and canneries closing, Cullen said he was tired of his Conservative MP always reporting back to the riding about guns and gay marriage.

“Win lose or draw, we’re going to change the conversation,” Cullen said.

Now having been in office since 2004, the MP said he has watched the country’s reputation whittle away on the international stage on issues like Kyoto and trade negotiations with the United States.

He added Canadians have to revisit the electoral system, given the current government was elected with only 39.6 per cent of the popular vote. He went further, noting if he had been given the power to distribute 5,000 votes in a few ridings across the country, Cullen stated the Conservatives would not only lose their majority, but would not be in power.

“That’s not a good system. If we were to choose a system today, we would not choose this one. It was created before the light bulb,” he said.

Cullen took questions from several local residents on making evidence-based decisions, environmental policy and the possibility of merger between the parties. Cullen said he wasn’t interested, noting the Bloc is a “funky animal on its last legs,” and that the Liberals are too “entitled” to co-operate fully with others.

“We may turn into a two-party state. For the NDP, if we’re one of those parties, we may think that’s great. But I’m not sure it’s all that it’s cracked up to be. You look at what’s happening in the south, and it’s Dumb and Dumber,” he said. “I think merger is a distraction.”

He got several laughs when asked what he would like to do with the Senate.

“I think the Senate would make a wonderful day care. It’s a lovely room,” he said, to which someone in the audience suggested it already was a day care.

“Yes, but it’s not affordable,” Cullen replied with a grin.

Julia Pope, a member of the federal NDP provincial executive, said at the end of the discussion that the party would vote on the leadership on March 24, and people had until mid-February to join and support Cullen’s leadership bid.


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