If you ever wondered if a regular guy had a fighting chance in federal politics, you wouldn’t have to look any further than Nathan Cullen.
Stepping into Caffé Americano on Bay Avenue in Trail Tuesday, the candidate for the leadership of the federal NDP looked as at home and comfortable in the small town café as he has in four terms of office in Parliament for the northern riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley.
He sunk into a chair, ordered a cup of coffee and threw his wallet and cell phone down on the table in front of him as if to say, “I’m settling in.”
And settle in he did. As part of his prolonged tour of B.C. in his leadership bid, Cullen is assembling his campaign precepts the old fashioned way: he is listening to what people are saying.
Several people showed up to talk politics and everything else under the sun with the 39-year-old married father of two, and he listened.
In the end they walked away feeling they spent an afternoon chatting on coffee row, forgetting they were in the presence of a man who could conceivably be the next leader of the nation’s Official Opposition.
“My standard is I want (a leader) who can walk into any room, whether it’s a room on Bay Street, in Northern B.C., or in Atlantic Canada or the depths of Quebec. Can you walk into a room and talk to people?” he said to the group assembled.
Not to say he doesn’t have views of his own. In fact, his proposal to hold joint nomination meetings among federalist, progressive parties in Conservative-held ridings is raising eyebrows amongst long-time political pundits.
It’s not coalition, it’s co-operation, something you would expect from a regular guy from humble roots: son of a single mom, raised in a working class neighbourhood in Toronto, now living in working class Smithers in northwestern B.C.
But that’s all grist for the biographical mill, an easy way to pigeon hole a guy who took it upon himself to bring a western voice — the only western candidate — to the NDP leadership race, to raise the question of divisive politics and disparate party beliefs and throw back the response: “Why can’t we be friends?”
It was the feeling of cooperation, inclusion and nationhood that drew Canadians to former NDP leader Jack Layton and the NDP in the late stages of the last federal election.
It was that sense of cohesiveness that allowed the NDP to dissolve much of the separatist Bloc Quebecois’s support in Quebec, and it was the impetus for Cullen to embark on a prolonged tour of B.C.
Cullen admitted he never had designs on running for the party’s leadership, he just saw a gap in the current field of leadership candidates and thought he could fill it.
“I looked at the field I suspected would come together and I didn’t see anybody in that field that was a runaway person to lead the country,” he said.
So many people beyond partisan lines were engaged with the NDP and Layton in the last election. They were reflecting their better selves, said Cullen, their own hopes that we were decent people, that we were generous people.
“When they gave admiration and credit to Jack, they were expressing their own better nature,” he said.
Cullen is part of the nine-horse NDP leadership race. In March the NDP will elect its new leader at their convention in Toronto.