Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen is "warming up" to the idea of making a bid for leader of the provincial NDP.
During a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Cullen said he's tempted to consider running for the soon-to-be vacant job after receiving encouragement from some sitting MLAs and other high-ranking members of the party.
"I've been kind of surprised, I keep thinking they're talking about somebody else," Cullen said. "I don't know how this happened, I certainly didn't conspire to put myself into this conversation but it seemed to happen anyway."
The NDP will vote on a new provincial leader sometime next year after current leader Adrian Dix announced last week he intends to step down from the post, but will stay on as a MLA. Public opinion polls had given the Dix-led NDP a big lead heading into May's provincial election, but once the votes were counted, Christy Clark guided the Liberals back into power for a fourth straight term in office.
Cullen, the federal NDP house leader, is in his fourth term as the representative for the riding that reaches from Fort St. James in the east to all the way to the north coast. He ran for the leadership of the federal party in 2012, placing third.
Cullen said he enjoys the work he's doing federally, especially on the future of B.C.'s resource-based economy, but he also likes the idea of being able to be in a leadership position and bring the change he thinks is required to the province.
"Some [people] have made some pretty persuasive arguments that to really affect that immediate change, turning that dial provincially and being in that conversation at the leadership level is a more direct way to get at things rather than searching for national policies," he said. "That could be true - and for some of these projects it is true."
Family considerations as well as his Ottawa workload remain barriers to Cullen making his final decision to shift from federal politics to the provincial arena. He said some party "elders" have told him not to rush the process, but he still hopes to make an announcement within the next month or two.
"I'm trying to be calm about it, not get too excited and make the right call," he said. "It's a 15-year commitment at a minimum and those type of decisions you shouldn't make lightly."
No candidates have formally declared for the leadership race, some hinting that they may wait until the party's post-election convention in November before officially putting their names forward. Among those being bandied about are veteran MLAs Mike Farnworth and John Horgan, who finished second and third respectively to Dix in the 2011 leadership race; and rookie MLAs David Eby, who defeated Clark in a Vancouver riding on election night, and George Heyman, who bested Liberal cabinet minister Margaret MacDiarmid.
Cullen said he has a lot of respect for the calibre of the field that could be shaping up.
"There's not a great worry in my mind that if I don't go, it's going to be Bad News Bears," Cullen said. "I think the team is amazing there and I think there's also a potential for someone outside to take a run at it as well."
All things considered, if he was forced to make a decision today, Cullen said he would pass on running for the provincial leadership. But he said that could change the more he talks with people in the party and his local supporters.
"I'll absolutely listen, I can certainly say I'm tempted because it seems like the offers are somewhat unique and important," he said. "I hear Jack [Layton's] voice in my head saying, 'never shut doors on things, always be listening.'"