Election cooperation needed for NDP and Canadians: Nathan Cullen

He's been criticized and celebrated, both for his vocal opposition to oil sands pipelines, and his controversial call for the NDP, Liberals and Greens to work together. VO sat down with B.C.'s hopeful to replace Jack Layton.

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“Canadians are looking for a bridge – the false choice between jobs and the environment is killing us.”
What Cullen offers, he said, is a vision of how NDP can win the confidence of Canadians with a few key values: “Confidence with the economy, openness to progressive business, a modern and progressive tax plan, demonstrating how the environment and economy are intertwined.”
Electoral cooperation is not Cullen's only unique platform among the NDP leadership contenders, nor is it his only attempt at political reform. In 2005, he introduced a private member's bill to lower Canada's voting age to 16. He created an initiative for youth to develop legislation which he introduced to Parliament.
“I see too many politicians just giving young people platitudes – but they don't really listen,” Cullen said. “How can we demonstrate that we're listening and acting upon the hopes of young people? So we created a context that allowed young people to be involved.
“We need to innovate. I'm not into politics – I'm into the business of ideas.”

Opposing Enbridge
And while policy and vision are important, Cullen admits his political fortunes have had the benefit of some luck – perhaps even the blessing of Mother Nature. During his first election run in 2004, Cullen's campaign swelled after an 6.7-magnitude earthquake drew attention to his support of a federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling, which was opposed by other his competitor.

The convergence of social movements and First Nations against the Enbridge pipeline is another example of an unexpected confluence of events during a political campaign. Cullen, a prominent opponent of the project, is one of the most vocal among the NDP against the project.
“It's a convergence of stars,” Cullen said. “It's a perfect convergence to have – it puts Canada at the crossroads of what kind of future we want.
“(The pipeline) locks us into a certain path – the oil sands – and it locks us into a raw export economy. This one's a loss for the environment and the economy. It's all in one project – it's a storm Enbridge never expected.”
Turning to the subject of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Cullen said that he and Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver's accusations of “foreign-funded radicals” among pipeline opponents ramped up opposition to the project.
“Real fuel was thrown on the fire by Harper labelling everyone a radical,” he said. “That really got people upset.
“It's not just labelling people radicals – they're going to go after charitable groups that oppose their views. They're making it a war between civil society and government. These are not your grandparents' Conservatives. They're much angrier, more sinister about their politics. They see conspiracies everywhere, under constant threat even when they're in power.”

Breaking the ranks
Cullen has some positions unconventional for the NDP. Although he voted today against scrapping the federal long-gun registry, he also opposes the criminalization of rural gun-owners, telling the Vancouver Observer that moving from urban Ontario to rural B.C. in 1998 taught him a lot about the issues of farmers and hunters.
He'd limit the use of party whip to discipline dissident members of the party to a few core values issues, such as “a woman's right to choose,” and confidence motions.
“It's a blunt instrument; it's very harsh,” he said. “It can have unintended consequences. It's a form of leadership but it's certainly not my preferred one.”
Ultimately, Cullen has staked his candidacy on some unconventional proposals, a willingness to risk controversy, and a youthful campaign energy. But at his fundraiser concert this week, it wasn't only twenty-somethings (though they made up perhaps 90 per cent of the crowd).
“Nathan's a down-to-earth, principled person,” said 25-year NDP member and Cullen supporter Ren Morley at the campaign event. “He's articulate, intelligent, and knowledgeable. It all works for him.”
When asked if he supported Cullen's controversial proposal for election cooperation with the Liberals and Greens, Morley paused.
“As yet,” he said, “I'm still undecided.”
Cullen admits cooperation goes against ingrained partisanship, especially as the NDP has risen into Official Opposition – bringing it closer than ever to governing.
“I get it, I get why people resist it,” he confessed. “But it's also the politics I learned in northern B.C.
“If I ran rabidly partisan campaigns, I would only get 17 per cent of the vote. Our campaign found common ground and built up from there. The progressive majority in this country has common-ground issues: affordable child care, the environment, women's issues, restoring our place on the international stage.

Some of those are shared across people who vote NDP, Liberal or Green.” 

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Great article

Great article, I 'm a huge fan of Nathan Cullen's  he's exactly the type of leader Canada needs.

Nathan Cullen

Thank-you for this article and the statement that said that Nathan is not a front-runner YET . . . the more people who take the opportunity to truly listen to what he says and feel the depth of his committment to the country and people of Canada, the better.  His idealism, based in common-sense and obvious ability to see past partisan politics is a breath of fresh air.  I too am a great fan and will be supporting him fully in his bid for the leadership of the NDP.

Cullen article

Great article, VO. I've had the chance to meet 4 of the 7 remaining candidates in person, as well as watch three of the debates, and Cullen stood out in all of them. He talked with me, not to me (like the others did), and he wowed me in the debates. I'll admit his cooperation plan seems unconventional, but we've got an unconventional government (and not in a good way). Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Cullen's Liberal plan

Cullen’s cooperation plan with the Liberals really means an NDP/Liberal merger. You cant engage in joint nominations and not have it go further. Jack Layton took Quebec and made opposition status without the help of the Liberals. The NDP does not need to be Liberal, to win the next federal election. Please see my blog at: http://ndpleadership.wordpress.


not only youth!

I'm 63, and re-joined the NDP so I could vote for Nathan Cullen.  What Harper is doing to Canada breaks my heart, and the only reason he can do it is that the NDP and Liberals and Greens keep splitting the left/center/Red Tory vote.  I encourage every Canadian who cares more about this country than one political party to join the NDP today and vote for Cullen.

Nathan Cullen

I've been an NDP supporter all my life, and I absolutely agree with Nathan Cullen's proposal for trans-partisan cooperation. I do not see it as heralding a Liberal-NDP merger. Rather, I see it as a necessary first step in replacing our current Neanderthal government with a progressive alliance that sees beyond party walls, and then hopefully - hopefully! - paving the way for a truly representative electoral system, likely some form of proportional representation where every individual's vote will truly count! Go Nathan! 


Peggy Nash is flat wrong on cooperation; I can't vote for the party I want to NOW, under this stupid system that was designed for two parties, not five or more. I have had to vote strategically every time, for decades! I'm sick of it. Nathan simply has the guts to point out the Emperor's clothes for what they are.


Peggy Nash's comment sound to me too much like 'old boys club' thinking which is what we need to overcome if we want to change this country for the better. Our leaders need to be thinking 'outside the box' if we are going to realize the change needed.

pre election cooperation

Nash and the others purposely misrepresent the joint nomination idea because they realize if people otally understood it many would get behind it. Everyone still has their chance to support their candidate of choice, they just get to do it sooner. Any candidate that is confident they can beat the entire field combined should have no problem raiseing enough support at the run off to claim the nomination! This idea really sets Nathan apart from the others who are all really just up there agreeing with each other on the same old plank.

join more than one party?

Thanks for this article and comments. Like Bruce B, I've been voting strategically for decades, and I'm tired of it. But I'm struggling with the idea of joining the NDP just to vote for Nathan. I really object, that in joining, one must pledge support for the party to the exclusion of others. Next year I will have a similar motivation to join the Liberals if one of their leadership candidates promotes co-operation, and I suppose that party will have a similar demand for exclusive support. Does anyone else have this inner conflict? I think it's so much more important to rid ourselves of this terrible draconian goverment than it is to pledge enduring loyalty to one of the centre/left parties.

Nathan:  I'm a fan. Just one

Nathan:  I'm a fan. Just one thing. Please stop using the word "suck" to indicate the verb associated with something is unworkable or wrong. Originally using the word suck in that way was a obvious straight putdown of gay men; now common usage has veiled the meaning. For many of us, in and out of the gay community, using that word in that way has always and will always be heard as vulgar and unnecessarily hurtful. I know that is not your intent. Thanks for considering the effect of your words.

Doing it right

One thing for sure - if we keep doing what we have been, we'll keep getting the same results - neo-con fascists leading Canada.  Nathan is the only candidate with a doable plan to remove Harper.