Left politics

The NDP can Leap into relevance

Leap Manifesto debate can engage youth who want to believe in the future again
Photo: Graham Perry

We are living in radical times. From the United States to the United Kingdom, Iceland to Spain, old scripts are being thrown out the window as grassroots insurgencies are breaking open electoral politics. This global resurgence of the left is propelled by millennials, who are fighting to reclaim their democracies from insular establishments whose decades of slavishness to corporate elites have now endangered life on earth.

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This is the context in which the New Democratic Party voted to launch a conversation in riding associations on the Leap Manifesto as part of its policy renewal process leading up to the next election. In doing so, the party has embraced the more than 200 grassroots organizations that initiated or have endorsed the Leap, including Indigenous, labour, environmental, democratization, food security, and social justice groups from every corner of the country.

Unfolding in tandem with the leadership race, the riding-level debates have the potential to blow wide open the doors of the party, serving as a catalyst for the rallying and reinvigoration of the Canadian left, and placing a newly emboldened NDP on the path to renewed relevance.

The bubble of the establishment

Following the vote, the mainstream media leapt swiftly into their role as patronizing chorus, hurling ridicule and warnings at the NDP for having supposedly abandoned electability in a retreat to the “loony left.”

It’s hard to suppress a smile at the histrionics. Canada’s chattering classes still dine on the same outmoded presumptions that once dismissed Bernie Sanders in the United States, Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, and the new leftist people’s parties surging across Europe. One would think that being so frequently and spectacularly wrong in recent years would have taught the punditocracy some humility, or laid a seed of a thought in their minds that the ground beneath them might be rapidly shifting. But one would be wrong.

In fact, the establishment media are exposing their own increasing obsolescence. It’s surreal to witness their howling omission of climate science in all discussions of the Leap Manifesto, the NDP resolution, and new pipelines that would lock in rising emissions for decades to come.

Notley of all people must know that it is the oil execs and their servants on the opposition benches who dug the hole that Albertans are in.

The science, however, is unequivocal: the UN says the world must attain net-zero emissions by the latter half of this century in order to stave off a climate catastrophe. For Canada, this means that 85 percent of tar sands reserves will have to stay in the ground if we’re to get a fighting chance of limiting the global rise in temperatures to even 2 C. The world, pushed by Canada, agreed at the Paris Conference to aspire towards 1.5 C in an attempt at averting dangerous tipping points in the earth’s atmosphere and sparing low-lying countries from oblivion.

That is the real world. Yet in medialand, the Alberta government’s new climate change plan, which allows for oil sands production to actually grow by another 43 per cent, is the epitome of audacity. We can credit the governments of Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau for pulling Canada out of the Stone Age, but we’ve not yet caught up to the present. It’s time the political and media establishments moved out of their parallel universe.

Radical change is coming, one way or another. Who is more relevant in this new world, the ostriches who stand content in their easy incrementalism as the climate clock strikes minutes from midnight? Or the lucid pioneers who look out to the horizon and plot a path away from the cliff?

Courage or calamity

Global corporate capitalism has bred a planetary emergency. A collective failure of courage and imagination, however, has hobbled the struggle for alternatives. The Leap Manifesto answers this challenge. Its central narrative, while not perfect, invites us to reimagine the diverse crises we face as a common problematic, and weaves studied solutions into an inspiring vision premised on caring for one another and the planet we rely on for life. Utopian? Only relative to the dystopia of self-destruction that we term the status quo.

Placed against the science, the Leap’s call for a halt to all new fossil fuel infrastructure is the baseline for sane public policy. Its calls for 100 per cent clean electricity within 20 years and an end to all fossil fuel use by 2050 are not wild-eyed fantasies, but urgent necessities, which study after study have shown are already feasible with current technology.

What’s radical today is mainstream tomorrow.

The Albertan government’s harsh rhetoric portraying the Leap Manifesto as a betrayal of workers is deeply disappointing. Notley of all people must know that it is the oil execs and their servants on the opposition benches who dug the hole that Albertans are in. To dig deeper now would betray their children. No one is underestimating the headwinds Albertans face, but only massive and immediate investments in the next economy can come to the aid of workers — and Notley’s government.

The Leap’s proposals are the solution, not the problem. To cite Stephen Lewis, they amount to no less than a Marshall Plan for green employment, with funds and retraining targeted at workers in carbon-intensive sectors. The fact is that clean energy investments produce seven to eight times more jobs than equivalent investments in oil and gas. Oil sands workers themselves have begun organizing to build support for the transition, and more Albertans will come onside if the job situation improves.

Our leaders parrot platitudes about merging environmental and economic goals, precisely as they continue pushing the old zero-sum model of resource extraction that comes at the direct expense of the planet. The Leap’s more holistic vision, inspired by Canada’s Indigenous traditions, charts a path beyond this self-defeating ambivalence to a world where environmental stewardship and economic development are interdependent.

Take a deep breath — and debate

The NDP can now engage with communities across the country and begin the challenging work of translating the Leap’s vision into a thoughtful and responsible political program that connects with Canadians from all walks of life. Those who think the NDP has let go of the steering wheel should take a deep breath.

When they exhale, they should set their sights to the historic moment at hand. For if the rise of the anti-establishment tells us anything about our times, it is that people are hungry for bold alternatives, and a hopeful message premised on telling the truth — and heeding the science — can travel far if it’s delivered with empathy, authenticity, and common sense.

If nothing else, the NDP’s Great Leap Debate could reignite Canadian politics by re-engaging youth, who want nothing more desperately than to simply believe in the future again. And if we’re fortunate, the bottom-up pressures it unleashes could reshape electoral politics across the land.

Because what’s radical today is mainstream tomorrow, and limits are only limits until you leap past them.

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