NDP MP Nathan Cullen not ruling out a provincial run in B.C.

Longtime NDP MP Nathan Cullen isn't ruling out a provincial run after he steps back from the federal scene later this year.

'It's in my blood, man,' one-time federal leadership hopeful says of possible turn to provincial politics

Then-NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh walks with NDP MP Nathan Cullen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (The Canadian Press)

Longtime NDP MP Nathan Cullen says he is taking advice from the late NDP leader Jack Layton in not ruling out a run at a provincial seat after he leaves federal politics before the fall federal election.

"Never say never, Jack Layton told me, so that's what I'm saying," Cullen said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.

"It's in my blood, man. I think it's always been there and these last 15 years [in federal politics] have only confirmed that I love it."

And while B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan might welcome a seasoned player like Cullen to his caucus, the high-profile parliamentarian said he is looking forward to taking a break before making up his mind about wading back into politics.

"I won't speak for the premier. I do think that I need a break from what I've been doing," he said. "Maybe one day. But I haven't made any plans and I haven't made any promises, nor have any promises been made to me."

On March 1, Cullen announced that he wouldn't run for re-election this fall — adding his name to a growing list of NDP MPs who have resigned or say they will not be running again.

In his interview with The House, Cullen — who was first elected in 2004 — told host David Cochrane the time was right to step down.

"My kids are eight ... and it's a 30-hour commute every week [to Ottawa]," he said. His northern B.C. riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley borders Alaska and Yukon.

"It's stunning, and I've never ever wanted to complain about it," he said. "Representing a place that is that big and diverse is a challenge, but it's what I signed up for and I love it.

"It's a question of sustainability and making sure you're doing right by your family. I came in with my family, my physical health and my integrity, and the plan was always to leave with those three things intact as well."

Changing nature of politics

Cullen said that, after 15 years on the Hill, he's seen a lot of changes to how politics gets done.

"The Internet and social media have picked up the pace for everything, from a story breaking to it having significance in people's minds and hearts. That distance has shortened," he said.

"We can move from the political to the personal very quickly. If you really want to crank up your numbers on social media, getting personal and making things seem much larger than they are is one way to gain that notoriety," he added, admitting he's had "more than a few conversations" which ended in him apologizing to colleagues after a debate.

"I've known right away when I've screwed up, when I've crossed that line. Representing the north, sometimes we talk pretty directly to each other."

Cullen also discussed a trend he said he's noticed during his tenure as an MP.

"I think Canadians seem to have a willingness to change their moods and attitudes towards who they want to elect on a more frequent basis," he said.

Whether that means a switch from a Liberal government to an NDP one remains to be seen, but Cullen for one is optimistic as he prepares to leave the party he's represented for a decade and a half.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh celebrates his Burnaby-South byelection win in Burnaby, B.C., Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

"I think there's nothing but opportunity actually for the party," he said. "Politically, the circumstances are looking up. I don't think Mr. Scheer has fully connected yet with Canadians, and I think Mr. Trudeau obviously is having some fair and serious difficulties of his own."

NDP's federal fortunes

Cullen admitted that puts some pressure on NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who won his first seat in the House of Commons in a byelection Feb. 25.

"If Mr. Singh is able to redefine himself, because I think the first year – as he admits – wasn't as good as he wanted it to be, now he has this opportunity. It's a short runway but it's one I've seen people land before."

Focusing specifically on Quebec, a province the NDP dominated in the 2011 federal election in what was known as the 'Orange Wave', Cullen said he's not placing any bets.

"I think essentially Quebec is up for grabs," he said. "I think you're going to be looking at a lot of three, four, five-way races.

"I think the expectation of Jagmeet has been lowered. I think his possibility to rise above that is almost guaranteed, and just how far above it he goes is really the question for me."

Listen to the interview with Nathan Cullen on The House below. This week's full episode can be found here.

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