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Writer’s Block: On a leadership shuffle

The Free Press Columnist Bill Phillips muses on the change in leadership at the BC NDP

Darn … I was really looking forward to a John Horgan/Kevin Falcon dust-up during the next provincial election campaign. It would have been great.

Horgan, in case you missed it, has decided to step down as premier following his second bout with cancer. He says he’s healthy now but also that he feels he can’t commit to another six years – two years of his current term and then another four years, should he win the next election (which is very likely).

It’s a politically unselfish move as he probably could have easily stayed on through the next election and then stepped down. Another win would cement him as one of the most successful B.C. premiers ever by winning three elections. He’s certainly one of the most popular premiers and leaving now puts him in very, very rare company, that being a premier who left on his own terms. We have to go back to Bill Bennett in 1986 for the last one of those. Every premier since then has left either because of a palace revolt, scandal, electoral defeat or a combination of all three.

Horgan is more popular now that when he took office, which is indeed a rare feat.

But stepping down now gives a new leader time to get ready for that inevitable dust-up with BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon.

So who will the new leader be?

A few names have surfaced immediately such as Attorney General David Eby; Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation; Josie Osborne, Minister of State for Infrastructure; and Bowinn Ma, Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship.

The one thing they all have in common, other than being in Horgan’s cabinet, is that they are all from the Lower Mainland.

The person the NDP should pick as their new leader, but probably won’t, is Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen. After all, he comes from Smithers, deep in the heart of rural B.C. Sadly, if the Liberals passed on Ellis Ross, the NDP will likely pass on Cullen.

But they should take a closer look at him. He won the federal riding of Stikine four times for the federal NDP. In 2012, he ran for leadership of the federal party, placing third, losing out to Tom Mulcair. Many federal NDP’ers, after stabbing Mulcair in the back, saw the error of their ways and pushed for Cullen to take another shot at being leader. With a young family then in tow, he declined. In addition, when the provincial New Democrats were looking for a leader prior to picking Horgan, Cullen’s name again popped up but he didn’t run.

After a short hiatus from political life, he entered provincial politics in 2020 and is now a cabinet minister. In addition to being the party’s finance critic and house leader, Cullen was named Most Knowledgeable Parliamentarian at the Maclean’s Magazine Parliamentarian of the Year Awards in Ottawa, edging out Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who placed second in votes.

Maybe I’m just biased because of all the contenders, he’s the one I’ve interviewed the most. Or maybe, as someone who has lived their entire life in the Interior of B.C., I’m partial to candidates who don’t hail from the Lower Mainland. Or maybe, just maybe, he’d be a good leader.

I had to laugh at Horgan saying it’s time for him to make way for the next generation as he’s 63 years old and then pointing out Falcon is the same age (and a throwback to the Gordon Campbell Liberals). Cullen will be turning 50 this year.

And, a Cullen/Falcon dust-up will still be pretty good.

-Bill Phillips is a 30-year veteran of journalism. He grew up in Fernie, and began his career at The Free Press in the 1980’s.

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