I first heard of Nathan Cullen when I read his blog, which was featured on rabble.ca on December 1st, 2011. This blog briefly outlined his plan to cooperate with Liberal and Green Party members and hold joint nomination meetings in Conservative held ridings. This would leave only one candidate to face-off against the Conservative incumbents for certain seats, making it, at least, less likely that they could get a majority government with only 39% of the vote, as in the last federal election.

A few days later, the first leadership debate was held in Ottawa. 8 other candidates joined Cullen, including Thomas Mulcair, Peggy Nash, Brian Topp, Paul Dewar, Niki Ashton, Martin Singh, Romeo Saganash, and Robert Chisholm. Saganash and Chisholm have since dropped out of the race.

In this debate, Cullen clearly stood out as one of my top choices. It was his charisma and passion for the environment that caught my attention the most, plus, he made me laugh a couple of time, which is always good.

As former NDP environment and natural resources critic, and with his strong opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline – which would pass through his Skeena-Bulkley riding in BC – it is clear that environmental issues are one of Nathans top priorities. With the current Conservative governments total neglect of the environment, this is exactly the kind of leader we need to get our country back on the right track. Also, being a 4th term MP, he has more parliamentary experience than any other candidate in the race, and he is the only one to ever defeat a Conservative incumbent.

On top of his experience in parliament, Nathan Cullen has also operated a successful small business, spent time as a community organizer, and has done development work in Africa and South America. He has worked with diverse groups, from business executives to indigenous elders, and speaks 3 languages (English, French, and Spanish).

With his small business background, Cullen is also less likely to be feared by more moderate Liberals who might otherwise vote Conservative if they were cooperating with the NDP. In an interview with the Star, he calls himself “a pro-business New Democrat” who believes “in the private sector’s capacity to innovate and create the kind of wealth we need to pay for the social programs we deserve”. He also believes in protecting small and medium sized businesses from unfair interest rates imposed on them by large banks an credit card companies, as he explains in the clip from a debate below.

Nathan has come under attack for his joint nomination plan, mainly from his opponents and other die-hard NDP supporters. He addresses many of these criticisms in an interview with MacLeans magazine.

The main criticism is that his plan is undemocratic. Opponent say that it would prevent them from getting the unexpected victories that led to their success in Quebec on May 2nd. Cullen points out that he was not proposing this in the last election. Also, it’s difficult to say what would have happened in May if the parties had held joint nomination meetings. Perhaps the NDP would have given up some of their victories to the Liberals, but at the same time, both the NDP and the Liberals would most likely have taken some victories from the Conservatives. And maybe the Green party could have even won a seat or two.

This is nothing like a coalition government, like the the Canadian (Reform/Conservative) Alliance that existed from 2000 to 2003. It is also nothing like the imaginary Liberal/NDP coalition that Harper used to scare people into voting for him in the last election.

Furthermore, it’s not as if candidates would be forced to drop out of the race. Every candidate would have the choice, and if their polling numbers are low, they would be encouraged to get behind another progressive candidate, so that Conservatives don’t benefit from the splitting of the progressive vote.

Some NDP and GPC supporters would argue that Liberals are not progressive. This is a misunderstanding of the diversity of the Liberal base. I, like many progressives, have voted Liberal in the past because in my riding they were the only ones able to beat the Conservatives. Strategic voting, or voting for the lesser of two evils, although you don’t necessarily get to vote for the party that best represents your views, is smart. A vote for a party that has no chance of winning the seat, while it does give a dollar or two to the party of your choice, has no effect on the outcome of the election, and is essentially wasted. The Cullen plan is not strategic voting, but strategic nomination.

As Prime Minister of Canada, Nathan Cullen would also introduce proportional representation, where the number of seats won are proportional to the number of votes received. This would erase the need for joint nominations and strategic voting.

The bottom line is, progressives are starting to realize, after less than a year of a Harper majority, that we can’t keep going in this direction for much longer. Harper once said “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m done with it”, and people are starting to see what he meant.

With a new and expensive crime bill (C-10) at a time when crime is at it’s lowest point in decades, attempting to pass an internet spy bill (C-30) that would allow the government to monitor peoples online activity without a warrant, abandoning the Kyoto protocol, and advocating tar-sand pipelines that put communities in danger of a spill, it’s becoming clear what kind of vision he has for the country. If we don’t want a police state, controlled by oil companies, we need to do whatever we can to stop Harper before our country becomes completely unrecognizable.

Nathan Cullen started his campaign for NDP leader as a virtual unknown, but has now gained a considerable amount of momentum, mainly because of his joint nomination plan, and also his charismatic performance in the debates. Unlike many of the other front-runners, he is not backed by large labor unions. His support comes from people coming together to support progressive values over partisan politics.

The NDP leadership election is March 24th, but in order to vote, you must become a registered member of the NDP before February 18th.