For Nathan Cullen, it’s not goodbye, it’s farewell.
On June 6 the Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP addressed the House of Commons for the last time in a career that has spanned 15 years and four re-elections.
“I had some reluctance to giving this speech — I didn’t want to do it at all and my wife Diana said, ‘don’t be stupid,’ — [it’s] often the advice she has for me,” Cullen said.
“How do you, in a 10-minute speech, sum up 15 years in politics? How do you properly, in 10 minutes, sum up all of the … people that support us and make what we do possible?”
Recalling his first ever speech in the house (which he arrived late for), Cullen recollected almost missing his cue to speak.
“As soon as my backside touched my seat the speaker said, ‘the member from Skeena-Bulkley Valley,’ so I popped up and I started to read the text that had been prepared.”
But beyond almost missing his chance to speak, Cullen found the speech itself left much to be desired.
“Within the first paragraph I was bored out of my mind and I thought, well, if I’m bored, it’s very unlikely anybody else is interested.”
Thus began one of many moments that would see Cullen cast as an unconventional politician, one well-known for his commitment to a region that would re-elect him four times before a March 1 announcement that he would not seek re-election as the NDP candidate for Skeena-Bulkley Valley this year.
“The great writer Thomas King [said], ‘The truth about stories is, that’s all we are,’ I firmly believe this,” Cullen said, discussing how the late Bill Goodacre convinced him to run in the overall context of his own political career as “improbable.”
“I said the appropriate thing to Bill, I said, ‘you’re crazy, that’s a terrible idea’,” said Cullen, amongst laughter.
“It’s not a job, it’s not something you show up to — it’s something you’re called to do.”
But that thought grew on him and eventually Cullen would rise to become one of the up-and-coming stars of the New Democrats from an admittedly unconventional career trajectory.
“I was a working-class kid growing up with a single mom in Toronto, [a] cashier at Dominion Foods, no political inclinations in our family whatsoever, and I ended up in the northwest of British Columbia through a very strange series of fortunate events.”
For Cullen, the final speech was also an opportunity to call out and acknowledge some of the often-overlooked, darker aspects of politics.
“This can be a brutal place. This can be hard on families, it can be hard on relationships, it can be hard on us as individuals and we don’t often talk about the strains that we have being away, the mental health struggles many of us have,” Cullen said.
But despite the challenges and sacrifices the job requires, he said the experience was more humbling than any other he’s ever had, using the final sentences of his speech to thank his constituents.
“In this strange life I’ve had these opportunities to meet great powerful men and women, presidents and kings and queens and they’re all impressive in their own way, I guess, but the most impressive people, to me, have been the leadership that I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter in the northwest of British Columbia.
“I believe we are actors passing across a stage, Mr. Speaker. We all have our moment here and we can lose perspective that we pass across this stage but others will pass behind us. May we, in all of our efforts, seek to not only leave Parliament a better place [but] leave this country a better place … for sure, Mr. Speaker, I have been left better by this experience — thank you.”