Middle-of-the-road Leap Manifesto hardly loony

Thomas Walkom

It may scare some New Democrats, but this sketchy recipe for fighting climate change is not particularly left-wing.

The short document, available on-line, can arouse fierce passions.

Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley has called its centrepiece recommendations naive and ill-informed.

Writing in the Star, former party official Robin Sears has dismissed it as the product of “loony leapers.”

In the media, it is usually described as radical. When delegates at the NDP’s Edmonton convention last weekend voted to debate the manifesto at the riding level, some fretted that the party was about to ride off into a Quixotic dead end.

In fact, the Leap Manifesto, which first surfaced last fall, is neither radical nor uniquely left-wing.

Its authors, including filmmaker Avi Lewis and writer Naomi Klein, present it as a non-partisan document that aims to influence all Canadian political parties.

They note that the manifesto has been endorsed by the Greens. They praise Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for moving on some of its recommendations and criticize him for being slow on others.

While Lewis and Klein both have close links to the New Democrats (Avi’s father is former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis), neither has been active in the party.

Indeed, Avi Lewis didn’t join the NDP until he decided to go to Edmonton to try and sell his manifesto.

The document begins from the assumption that climate change poses a grave threat to the future of the world.

This might have been a radical position once. It is not now. Politicians, including those running Canada’s federal and provincial governments, accept it.

So do virtually all climate scientists.

In December, the world’s governments declared in Paris that unless fossil fuel emissions are reduced to zero by the latter half of this century, climate change will result in catastrophic damage — including flooding, famine and massive population displacement.

The authors of the Leap Manifesto agree. They argue that Canada’s carbon emissions can be reduced to zero by 2050.

How is this to be done? So far, Canada’s political leaders haven’t said. But the manifesto’s authors have some ideas. They take the perfectly logical position that if Canada is to do its bit, the country must stop spending billions on infrastructure designed to accommodate fossil fuel production.

In practical terms, that means no more oil and gas pipelines.

Is that radical? In Alberta, it certainly is. But other parts of the country are more amenable to anti-pipeline arguments.

Both the federal Liberal government and the federal NDP have been dodgy on whether they support an east-west oil pipeline — largely because such projects are unpopular in Ontario and Quebec.

Like Ottawa and virtually every provincial government, the manifesto calls for investment in clean energy projects. As Ontario has found with its windmill policy, this isn’t always a politically painless process. But except for the manifesto’s suggestion that, (as in Germany and Denmark) such projects be community-controlled, it is hardly novel.

In fact, the Trudeau Liberals have already promised to undertake many of the manifesto’s recommendations. They have said they will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; they have pledged to invest in public transit and green infrastructure.

Like the federal NDP, the manifesto calls for a national child-care program. Like the federal NDP (sometimes) and both U.S. Democratic presidential candidates, the manifesto opposes trade deals that limit government’s ability to regulate in the public interest.

Like former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, the authors favour imposing a financial transaction tax to help pay for all of this.

They also call for a carbon tax (like that levied by British Columbia’s right-of-centre government), higher taxes on the wealthy (like those imposed by the Trudeau Liberals) and higher corporate taxes (as suggested by the federal NDP).

Workers displaced by the move away from the carbon economy would be retrained.

In short, much of the Leap manifesto is not particularly new. What the authors have done is stitch together, largely from current practice, a sketchy but relatively coherent plan for immediate action against climate change.

If the NDP chooses not to embrace some form of this plan, the Trudeau Liberals probably will.

Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim