Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, pictured here talking to residents in Terrace last fall, says he will be holding town halls in the near future to set the agenda for 2019. (Black Press archive photo)

Main issue is Indigenous rights and title: Cullen

MP reflects on upcoming election as new session starts; thinks Trudeau is vulnerable in 2019.

As Parliament was on the verge of resuming last week, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen reflected on what is ahead in 2019.

“It’s not just the start of this session obviously, it’s the start of the election year and in my experience that’s the best time to get things done, get things on the agenda that we care about, for opposition, for government, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

What those specific agenda items are, he said, he is going to leave up to the people of the riding. Starting in February he is planning what he described as a “big outreach program,” which will include a town hall tour — both physical and by telephone — and possibly a poll.

“Too often, I think, the party headquarters are trying to set the agenda for the country rather than the people themselves,” he explained.

One thing Cullen does expect will be front and centre is Indigenous rights and title.

“It comes to me from both sides, people who want to see more extraction, people who want to see less, people who are strong supporters of Indigenous rights and title and people who aren’t,” he explained.

“For me, it has always felt like the main issue, because, at least in rural Canada, many roads lead through this question, literally sometimes, as well as figuratively.

“How do you reconcile band and hereditary leadership? How do you get from a-to-b on a decision that respects title cases that have gone before?

“That’s a big one for me, and I think for many others because it allows us to set a lot of things, such as the vision for the country, and I think national leaders and national parties have to be able to answer that one more thoroughly than they have in the past.”

Other things Cullen expects to hear about are electoral reform and climate change, as well as the housing crisis — which he believes exists as much in northwest B.C. as it does Vancouver or Toronto, although in a different way.

With an election on the horizon, Cullen believes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is vulnerable on these issues.

“From my perspective as a New Democrat, Trudeau was very successful in the last campaign in arguing for the progressive vote in Canada, so he was able to do that, but then wasn’t so great at following through on a lot of those things,” the MP said.

“I think there’s a fair amount of buyer’s remorse out there and whether we can tap into that or not, that’s a question for us as a party, I think it’s an outstanding question.”

He also sees relations with China as a big issue.

“The issue of China is long overdue in my mind,” he said. “We haven’t had a grownup conversation about how to deal with the Chinese government, in particular, but China as a whole as we’ve signed trade deals and tried to have deeper integrations with a totally different political culture, a totally different economic culture.

“I think we’ve had some very naive approaches from our federal government, particularly this prime minister, to what is obviously a more complicated question.”

Turning to the election, Cullen believes it is going to be an interesting one.

“I can’t see anyone that I would bet on right now, that I would say they’re for sure in or not, including ourselves,” he said.

“Everyone faces challenges. [Conservative leader Andrew] Scheer’s will be his right flank. I don’t know what to make of [People’s Party of Canada leader] Maxime Bernier yet, I don’t know if he’s for real or not, but he could be, and if [he] is, Andrew’s going to have to have some very conservative policies to try to offset that.

“Justin’s challenge is that he over-promised and has under-delivered on some pretty big things, energy being a big issue where he promised all sides all things and, lo and behold, couldn’t pull that off.

“For us, Jagmeet’s got to get in the House and show himself to have a presence and be able to hold [Trudeau] accountable and that’s been hard because getting into the House is the first difficult step and made more difficult by Justin.”

Parliament resumed sitting Jan. 28. Cullen will be back in the riding the week of Feb. 10.

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