Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen was home for the holidays, spending time with family and constituents before heading back to Parliament in what is sure to be a busy session.
He also took time to chat with local media at his Smithers constituency office on his feelings for what’s in store for the Bulkley Valley, B.C., Canada, and the direction of the federal NDP.
The full audio is at the bottom of the story with time codes to skip ahead to your topics of interest.
Cullen was first asked about the name of his riding itself.
A minor social media storm was conjured after Cullen said he wanted to change the name to Skeena-Pacific Northwest. He first suggested British Columbia Northwest, but the House does not like having the name of provinces in riding names.
Cullen has since retreated on the name change for the moment.
“We got notice from the House of Commons in October that — I didn’t know about this — that there was an option within a month, month-and-a-half, if we wanted to submit a name change for any of the ridings in Canada, this was the time to do it. I thought about it for a couple of weeks but didn’t really crank it up the priority list; And I though, you know, the name has never really worked for me simply because Skeena-Bulkley Valley … only covers about 30 per cent of the riding itself,” said Cullen.
“There isn’t [a name] that captures the whole idea of what this riding is because it’s so big.”
He pointed out the name for the riding has only been around about 14 years. But he acknowledged he did not consult constituents enough.
“What you call yourself to the rest of the country matters,” said Cullen.
He added that another opportunity for a re-branding will come up after the next election when Elections Canada looks at the boundaries again.
But the top issue he’s heard touring the region has not been a name. It does vary on where he is, though relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is top of mind — especially when it comes to resource development.
“That conversation continues to evolve from where it was five years ago, 10 years ago. There’s still conflict but I’d say a deeper understanding within the Northwest that First Nations need to be far more involved in the day-to-day decisions, and that we need new models to figure out how we approve mines, do logging in a better way … all those things,” said Cullen.
With LNG, Cullen said the Shell-led LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat and its TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline that runs south of the Bulkley Valley has received mostly positive support from First Nations.
The Wet’suwet’en house group Unistot’en has set up a permanent camp with several buildings along the Morice River. The original intent was to stop the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, and has expanded to stop LNG lines with the oil pipeline denied by the federal government.
Cullen suggested some options for TransCanada.
“One is if the Wet’suwet’en and in particular the Unistot’en never, under no conditions, no route through that territory will work, is re-routing a possibility? The company has done some re-routing but not the fundamental one that would answer the Unistot’sn question,” he said.
“I actually think the conversation needs to increase between First Nations … Because often times one group is pitted against another, sometimes within a nation. These things aren’t easy but we’re making up for a lot of damage within our history, just incredible breaking of trust between government, industry and First Nations.”
Basic service on how to travel and communicate is always there, he added, pointing to improvements like the airport in Smithers while at the same time saying the region is under serviced compared to how much money is sent out.
Cullen said the balance on funding is getting better.
“I know we’re closer to balance than we were 15 years ago,” he said.
Infrastructure of a more basic sort is needed in Telkwa, which has been tring to improve its water system for some time. It received approval for a cost-shared grant where it would be responsible for one-third the price, but council turned it down because it said it could not afford it.
The Village is trying to get up to 100 per cent paid by other provincial and federal levels of government.
Cullen agreed the formula needs changing for municipalities that lack a large tax base to pay for big projects.
“My worry is that it — I don’t want to exaggerate it too much — but it could easily go wrong, right? A couple of basic failures and then Telkwa is looking at a real water crisis. And the irony is then all sorts of funding opens up. This is so often the case with emergency management, rivers, forest fires, that kind of stuff. Paying the money to avoid the problem is often harder than it is to get the money once a problem exists,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s human nature or just the way governments are built, but it’s really frustrating because it’s usually way more expensive, plus the crisis.”
FULL AUDIO INTERVIEW
0:20 Riding name change
4:38 What residents are telling Cullen are priorities including resource development
5:52 First Nations and non-First Nations working together
6:38 Basic services better but under serviced
7:20 How to build LNG with strong LNG opposition
9:52 Telkwa water
12:40 Site C dam
14:30 Opportunity with Site C including electric cars
16:00 On new NDP leader and his possible visit to Northwest
19:10 Diversity on ideas and people in NDP
19:45 Need for NDP to be themselves
21:40 2018 predictions including LNG decisions
22:08 Deciding on running in next election
23:27 Legislation on Internet service