Skeena-Bulkey Valley MP Nathan Cullen took the stage this morning at the NDP’s national leadership convention being held in Toronto to give his last speech before the party decides who will be the first ever NDP Leader of the Opposition.
Political commentators from all over the Canadian media scene are still saying that Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair will most likely be the winner, but in the same breath they say if the party leadership isn’t decided on the first round of voting, Cullen could win as a consensus candidate or end up being the king-maker if he drops out and endorses another candidate.
Cullen has based his whole leadership campaign on his idea of electoral cooperation with the Liberal Party to avoid vote-splitting of progressive voters. He started his speech off with a call to action for those voters.
“We are going to recognize this today: that there is a progressive majority in this country. And that progressive majority feels that it is high time we had a progressive government that reflected our values. And by working together and coming together that is exactly what we will do.”
Cullen then moved on to address the strife within the NDP over the party’s new direction which could take it closer to the political center in order to appeal more broadly to Canadian voters. This conflict was epitomized in an attack by former NDP Leader Ed Broadbent (who is supporting Brian Topp) on frontrunner Thomas Mulcair.
“There are some folks that think there are good New Democrats, and there are bad New Democrats. I fundamentally disagree with this my friends. . . over the course of this race I have defended my friends Thomas Mulcair and my friend Brian Topp from such attacks because this is about family my friends.”
“The real battle is not in this room, the real fight is with a government who doesn’t like science and doesn’t believe in climate change when it’s happening. The real fight is growing inequality in this country. The real battle that we must draw is with a government that thinks government isn’t necessary. We must be clear with one another today, in this room and across the country, as a progressive movement, as New Democrats.”
Cullen told the crowd of party delegates at the Toronto Convention Centre that he knows that his co-operation idea is controversial to many within the party (the idea has been flatly rejected by every other leadership candidate). Cullen then moved to try to mitigate those concerns.
“We should never be afraid of ideas. We should never be afraid of having a conversation. Now, there are some that like it and some that don’t, that’s cool. Know this: if I am chosen as your leader . . . we will have an open, we will have a respectful, we will have democratic conversation about co-operation, that is my promise to you here today, because that is what we do.”
He then moved on to describe the ruling Conservative Party as being a new kind of conservative movement that is unscrupulous in it’s pursuit of power.
“These are people who are willing to do anything, say anything to get into power. These are people who are willing to do anything, say anything to keep power. We must respond to who they are, we must think differently, we must become that alternative that Canadians are looking for. I know in my heart of hearts that they way to respond to this cynicism is not with more cynicism, but with hope.”
Ever since the leadership campaign began, Cullen has never been the favourite to win nor has he been the most recognizable name out of all the candidates. In fact, it wasn’t until the last few weeks of the campaign when Cullen began gaining momentum and emerged in the media as a credible alternative to Thomas Mulcair. Cullen told the delegates that he didn’t mind being called an underdog.
“At the beginning of this race there were a lot of people that said ‘your odds are pretty long, you’re an underdog, you’re a dark horse, you’re a long-shot,’ I said, ‘I don’t mind any of those names. They sound okay to me because I’ve seen long odds before. I’ve seen underdogs before and I’ve seen those underdogs come together and do remarkable things together if they have truth on their side.”
To illustrate his point, Cullen then turned his speech to talk about Northwest BC, specifically about the resistance to a Shell Petroleum plan to frack for methane in the Klappan Valley located north of Prince Rupert, where the Skeena, Stikine and Nass rivers all meet and about the Tahltan First Nation’s successful fight against the project.
“[The Tahltan} are small, they are not rich, but they are powerful. They came together with allies from across the region, across the province and across the country. With right on their side – even though the odds were long – they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with friend and neighbour to stop this poisonous idea. And we have kept Shell out of the Sacred Headwaters, knowing that the odds were long but that we were right.”
Cullen told the delegates that they have an opportunity to unite progressives and bring real change to Ottawa that he says is something Canadians “hungry” for.
“We will respond to this desire. We as New Democrats will unite together and we will bring something to this country something that it is so long wanted but never had: a progressive government that reflects our progressive values.”
Cullen then left the stage to go over to his wife and two young sons sitting in the crowd and all four of them waved to the crowd before walking together backstage.