Four New Democrat MPs consider switching to provincial politics

OTTAWA — Four B.C. New Democrat MPs have confirmed they are seriously considering a move to provincial politics — even though success would mean a pay cut.

Nathan Cullen, who surprised the political world with a strong third-place showing in the 2012 federal leadership race, said he’s talked about the option with federal leader Tom Mulcair and B.C. party members who are urging him to consider a bid to replace outgoing leader Adrian Dix.

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“I’m taking the time to seriously consider this with friends and family,” he said.

The 41-year-old Cullen, who many saw as the most charismatic candidate in the 2012 federal race won by Mulcair, is one of at least four federal MPs considering a leadership bid.

The others are Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster), Fin Donnelly (New Westminster-Coquitlam) and Jinny Sims (Newton-North Delta).

Their potential rivals are expected to include provincial caucus members such as John Horgan and Mike Farnworth, who both ran unsuccessfully against Dix in 2011.

“I’ve been approached by a lot of people and I’m giving it serious consideration,” Sims said Tuesday.

An Indo-Canadian and former head of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, Sims could be a formidable candidate.

She already has considerable heft in the politically powerful Indo-Canadian community, and many party members would be inclined to support a female candidate.

And at the BCTF, Sims got some first-hand experience taking on Premier Christy Clark, who served as former premier Gordon Campbell’s education minister.

Sims, 61, wouldn’t discuss her candidacy beyond confirming her interest.

Julian, the NDP’s caucus chairman and one of Mulcair’s strongest House of Commons performers, said he’s being courted by B.C. New Democrats inside and outside the provincial caucus.

He said his strengths include a strong background as a business manager, his experience as an oil refinery labourer who later worked closely with unions when he ran the Council of Canadians advocacy group, and finally his status of what he calls the MP for Canada’s most ethnically diverse riding.

“More than 100 languages are spoken, so I’ve got a lot of those communities approaching me,” he said.

“I think all of the potential candidates have some real strengths. So I think over the next few weeks we’re going to see folks having conversations, and after that we’ll see who decides to step forward.”

Donnelly, who like Cullen is closely aligned with the environment movement, confirmed his interest in a leadership bid but, like Sims, wouldn’t elaborate Tuesday.

Dix and the NDP suffered a crushing defeat in the May election, causing some in the party to look for a fresh outsider to lead a party renewal. Dix announced last week he would step down.

The next B.C. election is scheduled for 2017. An NDP leadership contest is expected in the first half of 2014.

A move to B.C. politics would be financially, if not politically, costly for MPs. Clark’s salary is $193,532, while Dix’s is $152,788.

Cullen, with his $39,800 stipend for serving as House leader, earns $200,000.

Julian, who gets a smaller bonus for serving as caucus chairman, earns $171,500. Donnelly and Sims get the base salary of $160,200.

Federal MPs also have a more attractive pension plan than MLAs.

Cullen, MP for the remote Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding, said if he runs he’ll seek a mandate to renew the party’s operations – and its relationship with organized labour.

He cited research from a previous federal election indicating that union members don’t show a higher rate of support for the NDP than other demographic groups.

“We’re seen to be close allies and we get some benefits and some negatives from that, and yet we’re not getting their votes, and that doesn’t help us nor the labour movement.”

However, he didn’t spell out what form the new relationship between the provincial party and the B.C. labour movement would take.

Cullen, first elected in 2004, is a former environment critic who is closely associated with opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat that runs through his riding.

Former B.C. provincial campaign director Brian Topp, in an internal analysis of the failed May election strategy, argued that the NDP tends to be hurt by giving high profile to environmental issues, since that helps draw attention to the Green party.

Topp’s analysis also discussed the damage caused to Dix’s credibility by the mid-campaign decision to oppose Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of its pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.

The Toronto-born Cullen, a former small businessman who didn’t become a party member until about a year before he sought the nomination in 2004, portrayed himself during the federal leadership race as someone on the centre-right within the NDP.

He said he hasn’t yet taken a public position on the Kinder Morgan proposal.

Julian said he’s firmly opposed to the Kinder Morgan proposal as currently formulated because raw bitumen is destined for overseas markets rather than for local refineries.

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