BY BILL PHILLIPS
Next year will be an important for the federal New Democrats.
In the fall of 2017, they will choose a new leader. The race for the party’s top job will begin in January and one name familiar in northern B.C. won’t be among them.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, who ran against current leader Thomas Mulcair last time, took himself out of the leadership race earlier this year … a decision he’s not going to revisit. However, he is looking forward to the leadership race and, while he hasn’t endorsed anyone yet, will do so in due time.
“Once the field forms up, it’ll be strong and it’ll be a tough choice,” he said during a year-end scrum with local reporters Thursday. “Once the candidates put themselves forward and start to declare policies, that’s when I will officially make up my mind. But I do intend to get involved, I don’t want to sit on the sidelines.”
The Conservatives are also seeking a new leader and with both opposition parties in transition, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has enjoyed an extended ‘honeymoon’ period, Cullen said.
“We have a lot of different challenges between the two parties (NDP and Conservatives), but a lot of excitement on both,” Cullen said. “For both it will be vital. You can see Mr. Trudeau’s popularity already starting to slide as he’s unable to be all things to all people, as he promised. There’s opportunities both on the left and the right to articulate a different vision of Canada, perhaps a stronger one than the Liberals are doing.”
Looking ahead to 2017, Cullen said if there is one thing he hopes can be achieved its electoral reform. Cullen was part of the all-party committee the Liberals established to examine electoral reform and suggest alternatives. Trudeau promised last year’s election campaign that the 2015 election would be the last using the first-past-the-post electoral system. The committee, after holding public meetings across the country, suggested moving to proportional representation. Its recommendations have been essentially dismissed by Democratic Reforms Minister Maryam Monsef, who is now conducting an online survey to gather Canadians.
“It’s a clear promise from the government, yet one they really, really mishandled,” he said. “… It’s also just fundamental, try to bring as many Canadians in. This doesn’t belong to politicians, it belongs to people.”
Another big event coming up in 2017 will be the provincial election in May. Cullen said he is cognizant of being a federal politician and shouldn’t get too involved in provincial politics. However, he points out that he is a British Columbian so the election is important to him. He said he will likely attend some nomination meetings and do some door-knocking for candidates.
“I think the current (provincial) government has failed us on resource policy and a whole bunch of other things … ethics,” he said.
Cullen said he believes the provincial race is closer than most people think.
“Governments don’t age well,” he said. “This one hasn’t. I like (NDP leader John) Horgan’s ability to connect with people … It’s frustrating to watch how often (the Liberals) are unaccountable and feel that they can be unaccountable.”
One of the disappointment from this year, for Cullen, has been the Liberal government’s inability to renew the softwood lumber agreement with the U.S. Last month he teamed up with Conservative MP Todd Doherty to hammer home the message to the Liberals that an agreement needs to be negotiated, along with the bigger trade issues with new administration in the U.S.
“Trade issues, particularly regarding softwood lumber and pipelines, will be front-and-centre, never mind the intriguing relationship that will establish, at some point, between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump.”
He said the current government is dragging its feet on the softwood lumber agreement adding there are “very worrisome” signs coming, regarding trade, from the incoming U.S. administration.
One of the highlights of the year, for Cullen, was the federal rejection of the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.