In Northwest fashion, Nathan Cullen took a walk by the river.
The Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP will not be seeking re-election.
He made the announcement Friday afternoon beside the Bulkley River in his hometown of Smithers.
“I’ve had five elections and I’ve been humbled by the love and support that I’ve received across the Northwest for all that we’ve tried to do in our politic. I’ve been incredibly proud in some of our accomplishments; not just protecting the Sacred Headwaters, achieving the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, defending the North Coast from oil tanker traffic and fish farms, but also attracting more attention, putting Skeena back on the map, bringing national attention to what we’re doing in the Northwest because I think we have an incredible story to tell,” said Cullen
He added he made his decision around Christmas but wanted to wait on announcing his intent until after NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s byelection win in Burnaby to avoid taking away some of the attention.
“I can’t really properly articulate how much being the member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley has meant to me and my family. It is one of the most incredible honours I’ve ever had; it’s been humbling almost each and every day. Work has been challenging and it’s really been a vocation; it’s been a life’s calling.”
Voted by his colleagues across party lines as Maclean’s 2018 parliamentarian of the year, Cullen is the party’s critic for Democratic Reform, B.C. liaison and a veteran of 15 years for the NDP caucus.
He joins fellow NDP MP Murray Rankin from Victoria in a growing line of party members choosing not to run, but plans on helping whoever runs for the NDP. Rankin was appointed by the Province to help with reconciliation negotiations on Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ rights and title claims.
Cullen insists the number of NDP MPs not running again is simply cyclical. For the father of twin eight-year-olds, it was a family decision.
“I’ve talked to my colleagues and all of us not presenting again share a very similar story: It’s about things going on in life. Some of my colleagues are at retirement age or similar to me have served quite a few years either in federal or provincial politics, and now is the time.
“If I were only looking at the political environment right now … I would run again because I think we have a real shot of this government coming down and having a real opportunity,” said Cullen.
He said having a leader who is now an MP matters.
“I have great hope and optimism for Jagmeet Singh and our caucus going into the next election. It’s good to see him in the House [of Commons] finally. And with the current government having the troubles that it’s having, I think we’ll have more than a better offer come 2019[’s election],” said Cullen.
He expressed appreciation for the people who have reached out to him during this time of change and reflection.
“Support from the Indigenous elders not just from the Wet’suwet’en but across the Northwest, personally for me and my family, has been so humbling,” said Cullen.
“I’m more than excited for the future. This has been a wild 15 years in federal politics. I’ve seen quite a few things and continue to be amazed by the strength and fortitude of the people of the Northwest. I look forward to serving and continuing to fight for them in a different way.”
According to Cullen, some prominent people from northwest B.C. are considering taking a run at his seat.
Smithers Mayor Bachrach was at the announcement Friday. When asked he said he was busy running a small town, but seemed a bit dodgy, joking he was walking not running down the trail in Riverside Park.
Cullen said he does not know what’s next for him.
“Over the last couple of years people have approached me about some particular projects, some things about a deeper form of reconciliation and teaching, but no I haven’t locked in, which is terrifying. I’m a working class kid. I grew up that way: you always work,” said Cullen.
“But I feel good. I made a promise to myself that if I could leave in a way that I could maintain my health, my family and what integrity I had, then I would be successful.”
He was in the non-profit and small business sector before being convinced to run 15 years ago by the late Bill Goodacre, a Smithers councillor and former area MLA who recently had the assisted living facility meant to combat homelessness in Smithers named after him.
Goodacre was prominent in the Bulkley Valley for working towards reconciliation with Indigenous people, and that area is also something Cullen highlighted as an important part of his tenure.
“Largely and underneath all [my efforts] was a conversation with Indigenous peoples. Back in 2004, there was not a lot of willingness to come to some agreements on the land, on decision making. We’ve got a long way to go but I think what we’ve been able to do here in the Northwest is just be on the leading edge of what the country needs to see,” said Cullen.
“Some people say that may be more philosophical, but this country can’t be what it promises to be until we reconcile that conversation between the Crown, the governments and Indigenous peoples.”
He was asked if politics is still in his future.
“I’m hearing Jack Layton’s voice in my head right now and his advice to me was to never say never. This is me saying I’m not running this fall, but who knows what the future will bring.”
— Nathan Cullen (@nathancullen) March 1, 2019