Why the next leader of the NDP should have been Nathan Cullen
// Julian Legere

Just less than a year after the NDP saw historic electoral success in winning the position of official Opposition, Canada’s political landscape is still experiencing one of the most turbulent years in our history. With Jack Layton having tragically passed away last August, there is a vacuum in the NDP organization at possibly the most crucial time in the party’s history. This month, the party faces the painful task of replacing its irreplaceable fallen leader, and the only candidate who can really be expected to fill Jack Layton’s enormous shoes is B.C.’s own Nathan Cullen.

Another runner-up is Thomas Mulcair, a Quebec native and the province’s longest standing NDP MP. CBC News cites his “defense of the French language” and Mulcair himself is quoted saying he “fought hard and passionately to keep Quebec in Canada” and he almost guarantees continued Quebec support. However, Nathan Cullen has also demonstrated that he is fully aware of the importance of Quebec and has a plan to maintain the NDP’s goodwill by getting MP’s to “spend a lot of time on the doorsteps and attending events in their ridings.” Although Mulcair was elected as the new NDP leader at the recent party convention, a comparison of the candidates illustrates the value of what could have been, had Cullen been elected instead.

Mulcair’s plan to beat the Conservatives also involves what Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin describes as “[broadening] the NDP tent,” which would result in “crowding [the Liberals] for votes in the middle,” leading to a repeat of the left-wing split that led to the Conservatives managing to attain a majority government. Cullen has instead suggested the idea of Liberal/NDP co-nominees in the next election, which would unite the left to defeat the Conservatives rather than encouraging the split.

Meanwhile, Peggy Nash is focused on proving that the NDP are “the best party to manage the economy.” She has described the economy as “the central issue” of Canadian politics and says “it ought to be [the party’s] strength.” Her support among unions, fostered when she worked as a union negotiator, lends credibility to her economic platform, especially among the NDP’s working-class base, but her largely one-track focus appeals to a narrow portion of NDP supporters; this is in stark contrast to Cullen’s diverse agenda on democratic reform, the environment, and also his economic plan to address NAFTA, increase domestic trade instead of relying of exportation, and continue his work to help small businesses create jobs.

Brian Topp’s campaign has been largely based on party tradition. He says the NDP must stay connected to its “fundamental identity as a social democratic/democratic socialist party.” In his policy papers, Topp has described economic inequality as “the central economic and moral issue of our time” and pledged to increase governmental presence in the economic market to ensure distribution of “wealth and income more evenly.” He has also promised to cut corporate tax breaks and to work with small businesses, which he says “drive our economy,” to foster job creation and economic growth.

Topp has also criticised Mulcair’s desire to make the NDP a more centrist party, saying that if there are two liberalised parties, voters will choose “the real one” come election time. The problem with this hard-lining is that it fails to acknowledge those Canadians who are not diehard social democrats, which risks nullifying the progress made under Jack Layton, and returning the NDP to a fourth-place party. Nathan Cullen’s co-nominee idea, although controversial within the party ranks, will show that the NDP is ready to cooperate and to represent the entire country, not just its own base.

Cullen is the only candidate to have defeated a Conservative incumbent MP. “I know how to beat these guys,” he said in the final debate in Vancouver, but still he recognizes the Conservative threat for what it is. “Mr. Harper is many things,” he says, “but not stupid.” By not underestimating the Conservative party, Cullen shows that he is prepared to tackle the complex challenges facing both the party and the nation.

As the Vancouver Sun’s Peter O’Neil says in his recent column, “Jack Layton is going to be on the mind of every New Democrat during this vote.” Given that, the new leader must be someone who can live up to Layton’s reputation. O’Neil agrees that “Cullen is by far the closest of the seven candidates to the late leader in terms of personality and charisma” and that “his message … also echoes Layton’s style.”

Whoever is elected must be someone that the party, and the country, will rally around with the devotion and enthusiasm that Jack Layton inspired, and it is Cullen, with his fresh and charismatic vision, who can create that inspiration.

//Julian Legere, writer
//Graphics by Desiree Wallace

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