Question & Answer with Nathan Cullen

  • Aug. 9, 2013 12:00 p.m.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen was on the islands recently, meeting with councils, talking with residents and enjoying himself at Skidegate Days and the pole moving. We caught up with him on a Saturday afternoon to get an update on his activities and perspective.Observer: How long have you been here and what are you doing??Mr. Cullen: I’ve been here for…six days in total this time, it’s a mix of just being at public events, Skidegate Days, farmers’ market, that kind of thing. Except people have the chance to informally tell me what’s going on. And then a pile of formal meetings with town councils, RCMP, the Haida, on various levels, and some structured conversations about what’s happening on the Island and any help that’s needed federally right now.? I’ve had (formal meetings) around Skidegate and Charlotte, so we’ve talked of course about sewer hookups and the hospital and, some of the developments. Part of my not-hidden agenda is to see ways the two communities can do things together to mutual benefit, because, they’re just too isolated, too small, to allow a lot of divisions. And I think people-to-people, it’s always been pretty connected, people are, you know, married and have lots of friends, but politically there’s sometimes strains because we live in these two systems. Even though we’re neighbours. I’m glad to see the hospital finally getting built, it’s been a topic every year I’m over here. Some things remain a constant frustration, federally, you know, dealing with Canada Post, provincially with the ferry service, you got to find ways to make it easier for people to get here and live here, not harder. But you know, the provincial election was, I mean, of course, as a partisan, was disappointing but more disappointing were certain issues that I hoped would get addressed, and I thought the ferry was one of the ones that there was some hope. Really what the provincial government’s view is on it, my guess is status quo, which is not very good. And I’d hoped another government would have another point of view. In general, I’m looking for trends, trying to understand what the story is, is the community doing better, worse, is it trending up or down? And it’s a bit subjective, (it) depends on who you ask. But my feeling here is that in some ways, things are getting better.OBS: We did want to talk about Canada Post. Have we given up on that, we islanders, and you as our MP?Mr. Cullen: Here’s where the challenge came down to, the campaign I thought was really good off the island, people got really engaged, we had lots of post cards and letters coming in, we had proof, albeit, relatively small numbers, of how long it took to get mail off the island and to the island. The challenge is that Canada Post holds all the data, they have the records, and are able to, from their own point of view, justify they’re making things happen on time even though in the real terms they’re not. Right now, with this current Canada Post leadership, they seem to have dug in their heels firmly. Initially I had some hope, I thought they would respond to public pressure, some negative media, or some exposing media. We thought we gave them some solutions too, right? Trying to use the floatplane system, just a bag of mail, for certain items that were really important. (But) they are just very concerned about creating any precedent that gets used in these other 65 communities across the country that are in the same situation. As it is right now, unless someone can come to me with an idea that we haven’t thought of yet, and we’ve tried most things, I don’t like giving up on campaigns though, especially when it’s one that can be solved, we’re not asking for the world here. We’re asking for something that’s just reasonable and something that we used to have. Canada Post’s point of view was always ‘well you had a service that was above and beyond what any other Canadian would have had’. It’s like you have to understand how people work, and if you’re used to a certain service, and suddenly it gets reduced dramatically, um, but the cost doesn’t get reduced, then you’re natural to feel upset. So, I still feel upset with the corporation, they turn a healthy profit, it’s not like we’re going to run them out of business by doing this. They just seem very tone deaf to the communities. Every time we book meetings, they bring their data and say 96 percent (is) within our own expectations. We’ve looked at even changing the Canada Post Act, too, because we can prescribe through parliament what those expectations are, but it’s incredibly difficult. I don’t want to do tokenism, I want to do something that would work and I thought what we were doing would work and so far it’s been a disappointment and I don’t like to be disappointed.?OBS: What’s up with Enbridge from your perspective?Mr. Cullen: (The Joint Review Panel) will submit (their report) to the government by December, the government will take it to cabinet, and my expectation is that the JRP will likely approve, with conditions. The government will then ignore half of the conditions and then Enbridge will ignore the other half and pretend like they have support to operate this thing and build it. I don’t see the resistance going anywhere, this it’s not a passing thing for us, it’s the way we live, it’s our quality of life, it’s our economy. It’s not as if we’re suddenly going to not care about those things one day just because Stephen Harper tells us to. Usually Conservatives are pretty aware, even cynical about timing, and they’ve landed the decision right on the eve of the next likely federal election. So, one of my goals has always been to make this a ballot box issue, not just here in the north, but have the people come and vote on it at least within BC, if not with other parts of Canada. I think we’ve had some success in getting it to a stature where people are aware. It’s not just one of those issues that happens to a remote place and nobody else cares. This one’s not one of those.So, that’s how the timeline goes. I’m not sure how it will proceed, but, uh, it can’t proceed well.OBS: Your campaign for more civility in Parliament, where did that go?Mr. Cullen: It manifested into something I didn’t expect, which is a question on the basic right to speak. I was trying to address the tone and the lack of respect that goes on in the house, and some of that is actually rooted in the overwhelming control you get from the leader’s office, the prime minister’s office in particular. That is actually a more important conversation to have, because when MPs go to Ottawa, you elect someone to go to Ottawa with this certain expectation. They’ll speak. Speak their minds, speak on behalf of you. Not in the system how it’s built right now. So the mini-revolt that happened in the spring under Harper, here’s a strange moment where I’m up as (NDP) house leader…defending the right of Conservative back benchers against their own party to speak. I mean that’s the basic level of civility you can expect in any workplace if you just decided that so-and-so is not allowed to speak, unless they speak what I want them to say at all times, you couldn’t call it a very healthy place. Our parliament is not healthy right now, how good can the decisions be if they’re coming out of a place like that?OBS: That’s something that’s been ongoing since Trudeau was prime minister, is it not.Mr. Cullen: Yeah, it’s kind of gone on steroids in the last little bit. There are MPs, especially on the government side, who have never uttered a word of their own making or some MPs who don’t speak at all. Ever. I mean, you can literally count you know, a hundred words spoken in a year with one of these guys. You say what’s the point, who do they work for? Who are they responsible to? And under the system we have, as it’s been accelerating, probably started under the prime minister’s office. It used to be a place for correspondence. People could write a letter to the prime minister and they would organize a response. It’s now the only department that continues to grow every year. While we slash pensions and DFO, and everything, the PMO never gets smaller, it always increases. I’m encouraging my party to make some commitments going to the next campaign, that we diminish the power of that place, and increase the role of MPs, because that is actually our system. That is what we built this around. We have to get back to some basics.?OBS: Are you on top of the outhouse issue yet??Mr. Cullen: No, tell me about it! If it’s poop, I want to know!OBS: There’s been a kind of falling apart outhouse on north beach, on Department of National Defence property. It’s for berry pickers, people in off the beach.Mr. Cullen: It’s not against national security to go and pick some clams. Oh my gosh. Hold on, so they’re claiming that it’s in violation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act? Enbridge Pipeline is fine, and an outhouse is a threat to the environment? Holy jumping… you gotta be kidding me. Wow. Are they shooting on sight?OBS: Not yet.Mr. Cullen: I hope they’re talking. We have a new Minister of Defence, he’s a reasonable guy, if it goes to that level, I’ll certainly engage him about an outhouse. I’m sure he will find it as humorous as most people would. DND’s gotta have something better to do with itself than this. That’s wild. If you really care about the environment, thank you, getting lectured from the Harper government about the environment about an outhouse, come on, goodness gracious.? But Skidegate Days was great this year. We’re going spend some time with the marathon group and see if we can help promote it. I think with the right promotion package, hotel… I think this could be a real beacon. I mean, other communities of relatively small size and distance have turned either marathons or bike races into five, six thousand person events. You wouldn’t want it that size here, but certainly be a nice little… well, you get someone running up and down that road for an hour or two, they’ll come back. Right, you get hooked. So people need an excuse to get here. I want to find ways to give them an excuse to get here.?OBS: Okay, let’s leave it at that.? Thank you.Mr. Cullen: Thank you.