Richardson first on islands, Cullen first overall

  • Jun. 29, 2004 5:00 p.m.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley elected a 31-year political newcomer as its new MP Monday, overturning 11 years of Reform-Conservative representation.

Nathan Cullen, a consultant from Smithers, topped the polls in a close race with Conservative incumbent Andy Burton, eventually winning with 13,501 votes to Mr. Burton’s 12,082. Islander Miles Richardson, running for the Liberals, finished third with 7,924 votes.

Here on Haida Gwaii, Mr. Richardson received the most votes of any candidate, topping local polls with 721 votes – 41 per cent of the votes cast on the islands.
Voter turnout across the riding was slightly over 60 percent, said returning officer Bill Smith. It was impossible to compare turnout in this election to the 2000 federal election because the riding boundaries have been changed, he said.

“I feel disappointed. I felt a lot of support throughout the riding,” Miles Richardson told the Observer Tuesday afternoon, “but I also feel really thankful for all of the effort that went into this election campaign.” He said the campaign was strong, and that his team focused on their vision and opted to take the high road in putting their message out.
“I feel really thankful for all the people who pitched it in, it was an excellent effort,” Mr. Richardson also said, noting that he still has confidence in Prime Minister Martin and that, because it is a minority government, there could be more changes coming. “The way I’m thinking right now, this is not over. This phase is. It is a minority government, we will see how it unfolds,” Mr. Richardson said.
Reached in Vancouver Tuesday morning, former Skeena MP Jim Fulton told the Observer that it was a great day for Canada, and a fabulous one for this riding. Mr. Fulton, who held this seat for the NDP for more than a decade, predicted that Mr. Cullen has the energy and skills to make sure the concerns of the region are not ignored by Ottawa.

“This guy just lights the place on fire,” Mr. Fulton said. “Having a voice like Nathan is going to make a huge differenceÂ… I’ve found him well-informed, and he’s not someone who would be elected and then suddenly want to represent the NDP point of view. He is going to represent everybody.”
He added that Mr. Cullen’s youth will be an asset, particularly given the geography of the riding. Skeena-Bulkley Valley is the second largest riding in Canada, and travelling around it can take a toll. The riding now includes towns like Houston, Burns Lake and Bella Coola which weren’t part of the territory when Mr. Fulton was MP.
“Skeena is so much larger now,” he said. “The travel schedule – you need a young hellion like Nathan Cullen to do it.”

Mr. Fulton said the offshore oil issue played a big role in this campaign, with voters appreciating the clear stand taken by the NDP. Surprisingly, Mr. Cullen topped every poll in Rupert, usually thought of as a bastion of support for lifting the moratorium, he said.

As for the third-place finish of Miles Richardson, the high-profile former Haida Nation president and BC’s chief treaty commissioner, Mr. Fulton blamed the Liberal Party for not giving him enough resources.
“Miles has been a good friend of mine and associate for 25 years,” Mr. Fulton said. “The first advice I gave him was he was running for the wrong partyÂ… I think the Liberals really let Miles down.”
Mr. Fulton, now the executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver, said he will be coming back up to the islands in a couple of weeks, and can’t wait to get here and see how his garden is doing.
Mr. Richardson did not return the Observer’s call Tuesday, but he did tell CBC radio that he was proud of his campaign and grateful for all the volunteers who worked with him. He also said he thought his candidacy had led to more discussion of economic prospects in the riding and opportunities for cooperation.

“I’m going to look at the situation for a few days,” he said when asked about his future. “I still feel very excited about the opportunities in Skeena-Bulkley Valley.”
Mr. Richardson topped the polls in Skidegate and Queen Charlotte by a wide margin, and also came first in Old Massett. Mr. Burton received the most votes in Port Clements and Sandspit, while Mr. Cullen came first in Tlell and in Masset, where the three main candidates were almost tied.

The number of voters was up seven percent on the islands despite a population drop, with 1,757 islanders casting a ballot Monday, compared to 1,639 in the last federal election.
The Liberals, NDP and Green Party all received more votes on the islands than last time around, at the expense of the Conservatives. Mr. Burton received 505 votes in 2000 (and Conservative candidate Kent Glowinski a further 70) – on Monday he received only 383.

The NDP, on the other hand, which received 300 votes here last time, saw a huge increase to 498. The Liberals received a more modest increase, rising to 721 votes from 651 in 2000.

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