When NDP official opposition leader Jack Layton announced his shadow cabinet Thursday, Nathan Cullen’s name was not on the list.
He was natural resources and energy critic prior to the May 2 election.
But far from being downcast, the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP is delighted with being named instead as chairman of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, commonly referred to as the ethics committee.
Cullen said that when he talked to Layton about the appointment, “It was pretty clear he was handing me something that was a pretty precious commodity, being in the spotlight, being at a place where decisions get made (and) holding the government to account.”
And Cullen made it clear he had a choice. “I could have taken on other roles. This one I felt will not leave my constituents with any less influence in the conversation on Parliament,” he said.
Cullen said the position puts him at the level of many cabinet ministers “and being able to talk to them as equals.”
He also described the job as giving him a voice “a bit above and to the side of the usual to and fro of Parliament.”
Saying the role can be one of influence depending on how you handle it, Cullen added, “The plan we’re putting together will allow me to be as forceful, if not more forceful than ever.”
The Parliament website describes the committee’s task thus: “the Committee studies matters related to reports of the Information Commissioner of Canada, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, with respect to the last-mentioned official’s responsibilities under the Parliament of Canada Act relating to public office holders; and reports tabled pursuant to the Lobbyists Registration Act.”
And, like all standing committees, it can “examine any matters referred to them by the House of Commons or as required in legislation. They can report to the House, send for persons or records, and may delegate their powers to subcommittees. They can sit whether the House is sitting or adjourned, and may sit jointly with other standing committees.”
Cullen’s new position does come with a slight pay increase. On top of his current base MP’s salary of $157,731 a year, Cullen will now receive an additional $11,165 a year for a total salary of $168,897.
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The Conservatives gaining a majority does not mean the halibut allocation issue is dead, says Cullen.
“They got a real scare during the election,” he said of the Conservatives. “They had a lot of voters move away from them in BC, particularly in rural BC, long-time supporters.”
Referring to Randy Kamp – the Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP who has been reappointed parliamentary secretary to the Fisheries minister – Cullen added, “I know Randy did.”
Given it has a majority now, he hoped the government would be less “jittery” and would focus on the long term policies the country needed.
And one of those was a halibut allocation policy done “in a more fair and equitable way.”
Cullen said he would be sitting down with Kamp and the new Fisheries minister Keith Ashfield and telling them they had to make changes because the issue was not going to go away.
“People are still furious”, he added.