Cullen, Scott, or Stamp-Vincent, that’s the question on Monday
The election race in this riding is so tight, say some political observers, that every vote could count in Monday’s federal election.
The Vancouver Sun last week named Skeena-Bulkley Valley as among BC’s closest races, and a riding which could potentially change hands on Jan. 23.
In the last federal election in June 2004, Nathan Cullen won the seat for the NDP by less than 1,300 votes over Conservative Andy Burton. His biggest rival this time around is Conservative candidate Mike Scott, who was MP for the area between 1993 and 2000, and who has come out of political retirement to try to defeat Mr. Cullen, who he has criticized for being an environmentalist opposed to oil and gas development and other industrial projects.
Mr. Cullen was in full campaign mode when we spoke to him this week, saying he had already knocked on over 1,000 doors in the vast riding and expected to knock on 1,000 more in the final days of the campaign.
“I’m pumped,” he said. “I’ll be putting in 17 or 18 hour days until election day.”
Mr. Cullen said he wasn’t tired by the intense schedule, because it’s similar to what he’s been doing for the past year and a half as MP, with one big advantage: no jet lag.
But he did admit that this campaign has taken on a different tone, compared to 2004.
“They took this nasty edge on right from the get-go,” he said about the Conservative campaign. “I’ve never seen it before. They’ve been really nasty, for sure.”
Nasty enough that, according to Mr. Cullen, he’s even getting support from a few Conservatives who don’t like their candidate’s negative tone.
And nasty enough that Liberal candidate Gordon Stamp-Vincent got up and left an all-candidates debate in Houston last week, after Mr. Scott said Liberals are corrupt.
“I took exception to that,” Mr. Stamp-Vincent told the Observer Monday as he arrived in Terrace after campaigning in the Nass Valley. “I just got tired of it. There are good and decent people who are members of the Liberal party.”
Mr. Stamp-Vincent said he asked Mr. Scott for an apology, and left the debate when he didn’t get one. However, two nights later the candidates were together again at a debate in Terrace, and “the tone of discourse was considerably improved,” he said.
For the remaining few days of the campaign, Mr. Stamp-Vincent was planning to split his time between the vote-rich communities of Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Terrace, talking to as many voters as possible.
The voters he’s spoken to, especially in First Nations communities, share a concern about the Conservative Party and leader Stephen Harper, especially about his lack of commitment to the Kelowna Accord, an agreement reached between the federal government and First Nations in November which outlined a multi-year spending plan.
The fishing industry on the north coast is also a concern for Mr. Stamp-Vincent, who released a discussion paper on that issue this week.
“The fisheries up and down the coast is in a shambles. We need to see compensation paid, EI paid,” he said. “People are in bad, bad shape.”
Compensation is a short-term solution, and the longer term solution is more local control over fisheries, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cullen said he’s hearing from voters who have bad memories of Mr. Scott’s previous terms as MP.
“He didn’t show up much when he was MP here and I think he had a pretty ruinous relationship with the First Nations,” Mr. Cullen said. In fact, Mr. Scott was one of the most vocal opponents of the Nisga’a treaty, which was signed during his tenure. “It’s a much more divisive way of doing politics.”
Mr. Cullen said one of the biggest surprises of his time in office has been that it is possible to get a lot done in Ottawa, even if you aren’t a member of the ruling party, if you concentrate on developing friendly relationships.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley received much more federal attention during the last government’s term and federal funding to the area has increased, he said. The achievement he is most proud of, he said, was working with others to secure federal money for Prince Rupert’s container port project.
Mr. Scott has criticized Mr. Cullen for not being “from” the north, as he is, and out of touch with rural values. Mr. Cullen, who grew up in Toronto and has lived in Smithers for the past eight or nine years, said it seems Mr. Scott thinks there are two classes of citizens, those who are “from” here and those who are not from here.
“What an awful message to send to the young families moving up here,” he said.
In the larger context, he said, First Nations have occupied the area for thousands of years, and other residents are all more recent arrivals.
Mr. Cullen also said his experience in Toronto has given him valuable skills in Ottawa.
“I like having both the rural and city perspectives,” he said. “I’ve lived both realities and I know how to talk to the city politicians and business people.”
Mr. Cullen, who visited the islands in November and December, said he doesn’t expect to have time to come back again before election day.
However, a couple of candidates are expected to be here in the final days. Rod Taylor of the Christian Heritage Party was scheduled to be in Queen Charlotte on Wednesday to meet with voters. We didn’t hear back from Mr. Scott before our deadline, but his campaign manager told us that there is a good possibility Mr. Scott will be coming to the islands on Friday (Jan. 20), depending on weather conditions.