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NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen and his son react with supporters after the second ballot vote results came in during the NDP leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday, March 24, 2012. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen and his son react with supporters after the second ballot vote results came in during the NDP leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday, March 24, 2012. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Gary Mason

Spring date too soon for B.C. NDP leadership convention, Cullen says Add to ...

Leadership races are often the best time to reinvent and reinvigorate a stagnant and troubled political party. But for his part, federal NDP MP Nathan Cullen doesn’t think the spring date that B.C. New Democrats are eyeing to elect a new leader would allow time to launch the kind of campaign of renewal he envisions undertaking.

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That is why Mr. Cullen is hoping the B.C. NDP’s governing council rejects a motion recently passed by the executive committee of the party to hold a leadership convention on May 25. That recommendation, the party announced Monday, apparently came after consultation with the provincial caucus, local constituency presidents and current leader Adrian Dix.

A final decision is expected to be announced in the coming days.

NDP MLA John Horgan announced last week that he was not going to seek the leadership, a move that caught many off guard as he was considered an early favourite for the job. At the same time, he rejected the idea of a spring leadership convention, saying it was more important to get the right person than to fill the job quickly.

If the party does go with the May date, Mr. Cullen says it will definitely rule out him, and likely many others outside the NDP caucus who simply would not have the time to put together a feasible bid. However, if the party put the vote off until the fall a leadership shot becomes more feasible, he said.

“So far I haven’t heard a ton of names linked to the leadership,” Mr. Cullen said in an interview from Ottawa. “That is another reason why I was pushing for a longer time frame, especially if you’re looking for some external candidates to round out the field.

“You probably want a wide and deep field for something like this, that would include good candidates from within the caucus but also good candidates from without and who aren’t MLAs.”

Mr. Cullen’s surprising third-place finish in the federal leadership race gave him national name recognition within the NDP, although he still remains somewhat of an unknown commodity in his own province. But his potential candidacy represents enough of a threat that those backing prospective contenders from inside the NDP caucus have been phoning journalists with a list of reasons why Mr. Cullen would not be a good choice for leader.

Those reasons include everything from his perceived lack of visibility in B.C. to a reputation for being anti-development. Mr. Cullen, who represents northwestern B.C., laughs at the assertion.

“I represent a resource community,” he said. “There are tons of resource projects I support. You couldn’t be an anti-resource MP from Skeena-Bulkley. It wouldn’t work. Being anti-Enbridge pipeline, as I was, doesn’t make you anti-resource. It just makes you anti-stupid.”

Launching a leadership campaign is a massive undertaking, said Mr. Cullen. And it’s certainly more difficult for anyone working outside the province, as he does.

“Campaigns are not turn-key operations,” he said. “They are massive undertakings that take incredible planning. But beyond that, I think to properly describe your vision to people, you need to visit a community more than once. This is a big province. To talk to all the people you should talk to, more than once, in a few months over Christmas is asking a lot.”

Which may sound like Nathan Cullen stalling for time to consider the question: Should I or shouldn’t I? But it’s also realistic; a May date does give those inside the NDP caucus considering the leadership a massive advantage. That would certainly include Mike Farnworth, who finished second to Mr. Dix the last time around and could easily reassemble his campaign organization.

That kind of inside advantage is something every potential outside candidate has to be thinking about: Is it worth the trouble? Is the party intent on giving an edge to sitting MLAs?

It would seem an odd choice for a political institution in as desperate a need of renewal as the New Democrats: Time your convention to limit the scope and quality of candidates as much as you can. Yet at this point, that is what the party seems determined to do.

“If they go with the May date, then they’ll have decided to have a conversation with members that is different than the one I wanted to have and that’s fine,” said Mr. Cullen. “It’s free market politics.”

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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