Nathan Cullen

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Nathan Cullen
26th Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons
In office
April 20, 2012 – March 20, 2014
Leader Thomas Mulcair
Preceded by Joe Comartin
Succeeded by Peter Julian
Member of the House of Commons of Canada
Assumed office
Preceded by Andy Burton
Constituency Skeena—Bulkley Valley
Chair of the Standing Committee on
Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
In office
16 June 2011 – 3 October 2011
Minister Peter Penashue
Preceded by Shawn Murphy
Succeeded by Jean Crowder
Personal details
Born (1972-07-13) July 13, 1972 (age 43)
Toronto, Ontario
Political party New Democratic Party
Residence Smithers, British Columbia
Alma mater Trent University
Occupation Private consultant
Religion Roman Catholicism

Nathan Cullen, MP (born July 13, 1972) is a Canadian federal politician. He is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley and a member of the New Democratic Party. While he was raised in Toronto and worked for several years in Central and South America, he moved to Smithers, British Columbia in 1998 working as a private consultant. He entered politics in 2004, as the NDP candidate challenging the Conservative Party incumbent Andy Burton. Cullen won the 2004 election and was re-elected in 2006, 2008, and 2011, allowing him to serve as a Member of Parliament in the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Parliaments. Cullen introduced several private member's bills, though none were adopted, such as the Phthalate Control Act and the Canada's Clean Air and Climate Change Act in the 39th Parliament, as well as the Bicycle Path Promotion Act and An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 in the 40th Parliament. In the 41st Parliament, Cullen tabled a motion to improve civility in the House of Commons, as well as the "Act to Defend the Pacific Northwest" to defeat the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. He was a candidate in the 2012 New Democratic Party leadership election, and came in third. From April 20, 2012 until March 20, 2014 Cullen served as the House Leader for the Official Opposition. He served most recently as the Finance critic in Thomas Mulcair's Shadow Cabinet, and was voted Most Knowledgeable Parliamentarian at the Maclean's Magazine 2014 Parliamentarian of the Year Awards.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Cullen worked in several countries in Central and South America, during the 1990s, on community economic development projects.[2] After returning to Canada and moving to northwestern BC, he started a private consulting business focussed on strategic planning and conflict resolution.[3] While working in Latin America, Cullen learned Spanish and named his company Maravilla Consultants after the town (the Spanish word for wonder) in Costa Rica in which he worked.[4] He has lived in Smithers, British Columbia since 1998.[4]

Cullen completed high school at Martingrove Collegiate Institute, Toronto, Ontario, and is a graduate of the Comparative Development Studies Program at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario.[5]


At the age of 31, in the June 2004 federal election, Cullen was elected to his first term as a Member of Parliament. He had won the NDP nomination in the Skeena—Bulkley Valley riding three months earlier against a Prince Rupert social worker.[6] In the general election, he challenged the Conservative incumbent Andy Burton, Liberal Miles Richardson who was chair of the B.C. Treaty Commission, Rod Taylor of the Christian Heritage Party, engineer and photographer Roger Benham of the Green Party and Marxist-Leninist Frank Martin. The election was seen as a tight three-way race between Burton, Richardson, and Cullen.[7] Cullen made support of the federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling part of his campaign and a magnitude 6.7 earthquake off the Queen Charlotte Islands during the campaign helped highlight Cullen's arguments.[8] Cullen went on to defeat the Conservative incumbent Burton by a margin of 1,272 votes. In each subsequent federal election Cullen has increased his share of the popular vote from 37% in 2004, to 48% in 2006 and 49.6% in 2008. In 2011, Cullen was elected for a fourth term with 55% of all votes cast - the highest plurality in the riding since 1962.[9]

The riding represented by Cullen - Skeena—Bulkley Valley - covers over 323,000 square kilometres of northwestern British Columbia, which is nearly the size of Norway. The largest urban areas in the riding are Prince Rupert, Terrace, Kitimat, and Smithers, with a population of approximately 12,000, 11,000, 9,000, and 5,500 people, respectively. The riding also includes Haida Gwaii, Hazelton, New Hazelton, Vanderhoof, Stewart, Port Edward, Houston and the villages of Masset, Burns Lake, Granisle, Telkwa and Port Clements. The region's economy is predominantly resource-based, especially fishing, forestry, and mining.

First term[edit]

Cullen was the youngest of 19 New Democratic Party candidates elected to the 38th Parliament, a minority parliament led by Paul Martin and the Liberal Party.[10] He became the party's national critic for youth issues, the environment and national parks. Cullen opened constituency offices in Smithers and Terrace.[11] He continued to support the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling despite Prime-Minister Paul Martin opening a cabinet level review of the moratorium; the review ended with the conclusion that lifting the moratorium was too politically divisive.[12][13]

By the end of 2004, he got engaged to his girlfriend, Diana Dahr, who was studying at a teacher's college,[14] and he was voted "Favourite Up-and-Comer Rookie Politician" by fellow Members of Parliament.[15][16] He was also awarded the US Ambassador's Award as one of only two Canadian recipients. In the first half of 2005, Cullen toured western provinces with other MPs to promote a private member's bill (Bill C-261) which would lower the voting age to 16.[17] In February he made a motion in the House of Commons to "recognize the public health impacts of smog" and require improved emission standards of light duty vehicles sold in Canada, though it was not supported by the Liberal Party or Conservative Party.[18] In summer 2005 Cullen co-sponsored, along with several credit unions, a series of Youth Entrepreneur Awards within the Skeena/Stikine/Bulkley Valley to recognize local young persons' entrepreneurial achievements.[19] In the fall, Cullen challenged the Minister of the Environment Stéphane Dion to take a blood test to illustrate the level of toxins present in the environment. He also spent time lobbying the Liberal government to publicly disclose the bids for Ridley Terminal; the proposed sale of the Prince Rupert Port Authority coal loading terminals by the federal government to a private firm was criticized by opposition parties as undervaluing the facility and likely to restrict fair access by competing coal companies[20] (the sale was blocked by the Conservative Party after they won the subsequent election).[21]

Second term[edit]

Cullen was unchallenged as the NDP candidate going into the 2006 election[22] where he faced Conservative Party candidate and former Member of Parliament Mike Scott, Liberal Party candidate and Prince Rupert mortgage specialist Gordon Stamp-Vincent,[23] Green Party candidate Phil Brienesse of Smithers,[24] and Rod Taylor of the Christian Heritage Party. The election was seen as a two-way race between Cullen and Scott.[25] Their party leaders both visited the riding, Stephen Harper in late-December to Prince Rupert[26] and Jack Layton with a mid-January stop in Terrace.[27] Scott ran an aggressive campaign attacking the Liberal candidate,[28] filing a request with Elections Canada for an investigation into Cullen's campaign finances,[29] and using signage saying "Re-elect Scott", despite the fact that Cullen was the incumbent.[30] Cullen was effective at forcing Scott to defend issues from his time in office during the 1990s[31] while Scott made Cullen defend his vote to support the Canadian Firearms Registry despite promising to vote against it.[32] Cullen went on to win by an unexpectedly large margin, 15%, over Scott while the NDP elected 29 of its candidates nationwide to the 39th Parliament, which was led by Prime-Minister Stephen Harper with a minority government.,[33]

In April 2006, Cullen introduced a Private Member's Bill (Phthalate Control Act Bill C-307) to ban phthalates, a chemical in many plastics, from products intended for infants and toddlers.[34] The bill passed through all stages in the House of Commons but died on the order paper in the Senate when the 39th Parliament was dissolved. The proposal was subsequently adopted by Government and in June 2009 new regulations were introduced to place restrictions on six phthalates.[35]

As Environment Critic for the NDP, Cullen sat on the committee that largely re-wrote the Government's Clean Air Act (C-30). The new act was called the Clean Air and Climate Change Act (Bill C-468).[36] The Government refused to reintroduce the bill after Cullen's revisions and the act died on the order paper in the House.

On June 4, 2008, the House of Commons passed C-377, a private member bill introduced by Jack Layton. Cullen presented the bill to the Environment committee. However, Bill C-377 also died in the Senate when the NDP and Liberals withheld its confidence, causing the 2008 Canadian federal election.[37] The bill was reintroduced in the 40th Parliament as Climate Change Accountability Act (Bill C-311).

Third term[edit]

Following the election of October 2008, Cullen was named the New Democrat Critic for Natural Resources and Energy. In this role he chaired the NDP's Green Economy Taskforce, working on ways to help create employment while meeting our responsibilities to the planet’s future generations and promoted sustainable energy development through a study of Canada's Energy Security at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources.[38] Cullen also led an NDP effort to secure a bulk oil tanker ban on the north coast of British Columbia which led to the passage in the House of Commons of a motion calling for such a ban by a close vote of 143 - 138.[39]

In 2009 Cullen created a contest in his constituency called Create Your Canada which challenges students between grades 5 and 12 to submit proposals for federal legislation. Two winners are picked each year and are flown to Ottawa to watch their submissions introduced in the House of Commons as private member's bills. In 2009, two bills were introduced including Bill C-399,[40] which proposed a ban on the mining and export of asbestos, and Bill C-400,[41] which encouraged the Government of Canada to support the development of cycling friendly infrastructure.[42]

Fourth term[edit]

In the 41st Parliament, Cullen served as Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Privacy, Access to Information and Ethics.[43] He was also the Associate Critic for Natural Resources, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and Environment and Sustainable Development before resigning from his roles to participate in the NDP Leadership race.[44] The 2013 Hill Times Annual Most Valuable Politician & All Politics Poll awarded Cullen 3rd place in the "Best Up-and-comer MP" category tied with Elizabeth May.[45]

NDP leadership race[edit]

Nathan Cullen during a candidates debate on February 12, 2012 in Québec

Following the death of party leader Jack Layton, the NDP began a leadership race. Cullen announced his official candidacy on September 30, 2011.[46] In his opening speech, Cullen stated his vision for a new and progressive kind of politics, saying "now's the time for an honest discussion about the direction our politics is going in...and how we must change it for the better." [47] Cullen has been an advocate for the environment, arguing the choice between the economy and the environment is unnecessary, but that a green economy is a balance between creating jobs and protecting the environment.[48] He has cast himself as a pro-business candidate[49][50]

Cullen proposed that joint primary nominations should take place in Conservative-held ridings to determine the best possible local candidate to avoid vote splitting among 'progressives'. Cullen is suggesting that each constituency association would have the choice of whether or not to run their respective campaign in this way, and that there would be no "top-down" directive to do so. In his policy papers thus far, Cullen has also advanced a number of other ideas such as: creating a national public transit strategy, instituting carbon cap-and-trade pricing, putting a moratorium on new genetically modified organisms, redefining the Canadian Wheat Board, and holding a referendum on voting reform (Nathan supports Mixed-member proportional representation as currently utilized in New Zealand and Germany).[51][52]

Cullen's candidacy has been endorsed by three fellow NDP MPs, Alex Atamanenko, Fin Donnelly,[53] and Brian Masse (NDP trade critic), former Toronto-Danforth MP Lynn McDonald, four BC MLAs, Robin Austin, Gary Coons, Doug Donaldson, and Norm Macdonald, former BC MLAs Corky Evans, Lois Boone, and Joan Sawicki, as well as Ontario MPP Taras Natyshak, and Manitoba cabinet minister Jim Rondeau. Slam poet Shane Koyczan has also supported Cullen's candidacy, as well as author and former Ottawa city councilor Clive Doucet and author/explorer-in-residence/ethnobotanist Wade Davis.[54]

Observers and commentators have noted that Cullen's performances in the debates have increased his profile. Whereas at the beginning of the race Cullen was considered one of the "also-rans", he has since been given considerably more attention, with the CBC, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and National Post all running articles on his candidacy.[55][56][57]

On March 24, the day of the convention, Cullen surprised many by placing third in the first round of voting with 16% of the vote ahead of Peggy Nash, Paul Dewar, Martin Singh and Niki Ashton, with Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp in first and second respectively (30% for Mulcair, 21% for Topp). He continued to hold third place after the second and third counts, eventually being eliminated at the third count with 24.6% of the votes (Mulcair had 43% of the vote, Topp had 31%). He declined to endorse another candidate.

House Leader for the Official Opposition[edit]

On April 20, 2012 Cullen was named House Leader for the Official Opposition in Thomas Mulcair's first Shadow Cabinet Shuffle.[58][59] Cullen replaced long time Ontario MP Joe Comartin as House Leader, with Comartin being named Critic for Democratic Reform.

Finance Critic for the Official Opposition[edit]

On March 20, 2014, Cullen replaced Peggy Nash as Finance Critic for the Official Opposition just days after former Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver was named Minister of Finance.[60] Upon taking up the post, Cullen emphasized his previous occupation as a small business owner in northern British Columbia against Oliver's previous career as a Merrill Lynch executive and promised to bring a "Main Street" perspective to challenge Oliver's "Bay Street" background.[61] In March 2015, Cullen attacked Joe Oliver over his avoidance of Question Period after repeated delays in introducing the budget after the drop in oil prices.[62]

Bill C-628, An Act to Defend the Pacific Northwest[edit]

On September 23, 2014, Cullen tabled Bill C-628 (short-titled An Act to Defend the Pacific Northwest) in the House of Commons, which would ban supertankers from the Queen Charlotte Sound, the Hecate Strait and the Dixon Entrance, as well as modify the National Energy Board Act to require any pipeline review to take into account the impact of any proposal on employment in the refining and upgrading sectors, and require the National Energy Board to deepen its consultations with communities and First Nations. The bill was a response to the National Energy Board's approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Cullen toured dozens of communities around British Columbia's north, interior, lower mainland and across Vancouer Island promoting Bill C-628 and raising awareness about the potential impacts of a pipeline or supertanker spill from Northern Gateway on fisheries, tourism and communities. In total, Cullen held 35 townhalls and an online petition in support of the bill gathered over 70,000 signatures. Support for the bill came from unions, environmental groups and First Nations alike, with endorsements from the Alberta Federation of Labour, Coastal First Nations, Environmental Defence, and Canada's largest private sector union, UNIFOR.

On April 1, 2015, the bill came to a vote at second reading in the House of Commons, and was defeated by a count of 141-120. Every Conservative Member of Parliament in the House of Commons that day voted to defeat the bill. "The result of tonight’s vote is disappointing," said Cullen. "But we take heart in the unity that has grown from this struggle to defend our coast, rivers and communities against Northern Gateway. The question before Parliament tonight was not a matter of left against right, but right against wrong."

Most Knowledgeable MP[edit]

On November 22, 2014, Cullen was named Most Knowledgeable Parliamentarian at the Maclean's Magazine Parliamentarian of the Year Awards in Ottawa, edging out Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who placed second in votes.

Election results[edit]

Canadian federal election, 2004: Skeena—Bulkley Valley
Party Candidate Votes %
New Democratic Nathan Cullen 13,706 37.14
Conservative Andy Burton 12,434 33.70
Liberal Miles Richardson 7,965 21.59
Christian Heritage Rod Taylor 1,408 3.82
Green Roger Colin Benham 1,225 3.32
Marxist–Leninist Frank Martin 161 0.44
Total valid votes 36,899 100.0  
Total rejected ballots 140 0.38
Turnout 37,039
This riding was created from Skeena, Prince George—Bulkley Valley and Cariboo—Chilcotin, which each elected a Canadian Alliance candidate in the last election. Andy Burton was the incumbent from Skeena.
Canadian federal election, 2006: Skeena—Bulkley Valley
Party Candidate Votes % ∆% Expenditures
New Democratic Nathan Cullen 18,496 48.33 +11.19 $90,144
Conservative Michael Scott 12,630 33.00 -0.70 $71,817
Liberal Gordon Stamp-Vincent 4,845 12.66 -8.93 $19,599
Christian Heritage Rod Taylor 1,235 3.22 -0.60 $23,835
Green Phil Brienesse 1,064 2.78 -0.54 $7,533
Total valid votes 38,270 100.0  
Total rejected ballots 122 0.32 -0.06
Turnout 38,392 63.13
New Democratic hold Swing +5.25
Canadian federal election, 2008: Skeena—Bulkley Valley
Party Candidate Votes % ∆% Expenditures
New Democratic Nathan Cullen 17,219 49.84 +1.51 $68,962
Conservative Sharon Smith 12,561 36.36 +3.36 $78,636
Liberal Corinna Morhart 1,916 5.54 -7.12 $11,687
Green Hondo Arendt 1,613 4.66 +1.88 $511
Christian Heritage Rod Taylor 1,125 3.25 +0.03 $28,231
Canadian Action Mary-Etta Goodacre 112 0.32 $120
Total valid votes/Expense limit 34,546 100.0     $97,941
Total rejected ballots 106 0.31 -0.01
Turnout 34,652 56.51 -6.62
New Democratic hold Swing -0.92
Canadian federal election, 2011: Skeena—Bulkley Valley
Party Candidate Votes % ∆%
New Democratic Nathan Cullen 19,431 55.33 +5.49
Conservative Clay Harmon 12,117 34.50 -1.86
Liberal Kyle Warwick 1,268 3.61 -1.93
Green Roger Benham 1,102 3.14 -1.52
Christian Heritage Rod Taylor 1,038 2.96 -0.29
Canadian Action Maggie Braun 165 0.47 +0.15
Total valid votes/Expense limit 35,121 100.0  
Total rejected ballots 116 0.33 +0.02
Turnout 35,237 58.86 +2.35
New Democratic hold Swing +3.68


  1. ^ New Democratic Party of Canada. Mulcair announces changes to the Shadow Cabinet; March 20, 2014 [Retrieved March 21, 2014].
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  3. ^ "Cullen pins hopes on energy, experience". Houston Today (Houston, British Columbia). January 11, 2006. p. 7. 
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  5. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Venis, Rodney (March 15, 2004). "Cullen takes NDP ticket". Daily News (Prince Rupert, British Columbia). p. 2. 
  7. ^ Kellogg, Alan (June 2, 2004). "Haida leader looks ahead to better days". Edmonton Journal. p. 3. 
  8. ^ Skelton, Chad (July 3, 2004). "B.C.'s new faces in Ottawa". The Vancouver Sun. p. C1. 
  9. ^ Funke, Alice (2010). "Nathan Cullen (M)". Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  10. ^ "Layton raves about Cullen". The Interior News (Smithers, British Columbia). August 26, 2004. p. 1. 
  11. ^ "MP opens Terrace office". Terrace Standard (Terrace, British Columbia). October 27, 2004. p. 12. 
  12. ^ O'Neil, Peter (November 23, 2004). "Liberals must oppose offshore exploration, MP says". The Vancouver Sun. p. 11. 
  13. ^ O'Neil, Peter (January 12, 2005). "B.C. Liberals' political concerns put offshore oil on back burner". The Vancouver Sun. p. 3. 
  14. ^ "Emerson, Cullen learning tricks of the parliamentary trade". The Province (Vancouver). December 12, 2004. p. 51. 
  15. ^ "The Hill Times All Politics Poll (2004)". The Hill Times. December 2004. Retrieved June 8, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Cullen is rookie of year in Ottawa". Daily News (Prince Rupert, British Columbia). December 22, 2004. p. 3. 
  17. ^ O'Connor, Elaine (March 1, 2005). "New bill to lower voting age to 16". The Province (Vancouver). p. 11. 
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  19. ^ "MP puts his money where his mouth is". The Northern Sentinel (Kitimat, British Columbia). May 11, 2005. p. 5. 
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  23. ^ Ritchie, Leanne (December 5, 2005). "Local Liberals select candidate". Daily News (Prince Rupert, British Columbia). p. 1. 
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  27. ^ Zimmerman, Sarah (January 19, 2006). "Jack Layton visits Terrace". Terrace Standard (Terrace, British Columbia). p. 1. 
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  29. ^ Ritchie, Leanne (January 9, 2006). "Mudslinging starts in close campaign". Daily News (Prince Rupert, British Columbia). p. 1. 
  30. ^ Zimmerman, Sarah (January 5, 2006). "Scott defends decision to run campaign for re-election". Terrace Standard. p. 1. 
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  35. ^ Canada Gazette Vol. 143, No. 25 — June 20, 2009 'Phthalates Regulation'
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  40. ^ "Legislative Summary of Bill C-399 in the 40th Parliament (2nd Session)". 
  41. ^ "Legislative Summary of Bill C-400 in the 40th Parliament (2nd Session)". 
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  62. ^ Maher, Stephen (26 March 2015). "Joe Oliver avoiding Question Period so he can provide the federal budget: spokeswoman". National Post. Retrieved 14 August 2015. 

External links[edit]