Skip to main content
unite the left?

B.C. MP Nathan Cullen announces his candidacy for the NDP leadership at a Vancouver news conference on Sept. 30, 2011.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

One of the men who hopes to lead the federal New Democrats says he would try to defeat Stephen Harper by proposing to Liberals and Greens that the three parties hold joint nomination meetings and run a single candidate in ridings currently held by Conservatives.

"Today I am asking New Democrats for a mandate as leader to co-operate with other progressive Canadians," Nathan Cullen, a British Columbia MP, told reporters on Tuesday.

"I am not interested in a merger," said Mr. Cullen, who explained that he accepted that the cultures of the three parties were too disparate for them to exist happily under the same banner.

"I am interested in working with others who share broad policy objectives with an eye on removing Stephen Harper from office as soon as humanly possible and replacing him with a government that truly reflects Canadian values of co-operation and consensus building," he said.

Mr. Cullen said he fully expected the Liberal and Green leadership to reject his proposal. But he said he is looking past the parties to progressive voters who are frustrated when they try to decide who to vote for to defeat the Conservatives.

His plan would be to let grassroots members of the three parties decide in each riding currently held by the Conservatives whether they wanted to hold a joint nomination meeting. If they agree, all parties could run candidates at that meeting and all card-carrying members of the three parties would get a vote, but only the winner would go on to run for a seat in Parliament under the banner with which they ran in the nomination.

"I believe now is the time to respond to the call from people from all walks of life who hate that Stephen Harper can change our country for the worse with the support of less than four in 10 voters," Mr. Cullen said.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said this is a question for New Democrats to discuss among themselves at this point. "The election is very far in the future," Mr. Rae said, and "frankly this is not a question that we are discussing at this moment."

But Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was intrigued with the proposal.

"I am pleased to see a discussion opening up for greater cooperation between parties," she said. "While we may not all end up on the same page as Nathan Cullen, it is certainly encouraging to see a more collaborative approach within opposition parties. Too much is at stake to continue down the road of blind partisanship."

Mr. Cullen, who represents B.C.'s Skeena–Bulkely Valley, entered the leadership race saying he wanted to do politics differently. This proposal could serve to distinguish his campaign from presumed frontrunners Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair.

Mr. Mulcair said Tuesday that he did not support joint nominations.

Mr. Topp, meanwhile, said he was impressed that Mr. Cullen is looking for innovative ideas but, like Mr. Mulcair, he could not support this one.

"I hope that more and more Liberal and Green party supporters will support our party's candidates. But our party owes New Democrat voters and all Canadians a clear, coherent platform and a unified team of candidates – who know what team they're playing on – in every riding in the country," the former party presdient said.

Mr. Cullen has not rolled out the number of endorsements from NDP MPs that have gone to Mr. Topp and Mr. Mulcair. He said there were some members of his party who wanted to stand with him as he made this policy announcement but he urged them to wait to assess the reaction.

Pat Martin, an outspoken member of the NDP caucus from Manitoba, gave Mr. Cullen's proposals a thumbs up. Mr. Martin at one time said he would join the leadership race himself of none of the other candidates was willing to explore co-operation with the Liberals as a way of defeating the Conservatives.

Mr. Cullen said the success of his party in the spring election placed it in the ideal position to lead a discussion about co-operation with the other parties.

"We clearly know that our voting system is broken," Mr. Cullen said, "and the same broken voting system that we have is not going to change things for the better and get us out of the mess with respect to climate change, poverty, and Canada loss of its place in the world."