Three articles on the Leap and the NDP


[Webpage editor's introduction: Below are three articles about the Leap Manifesto and the NDP, first from the Jacobin.]


The impossible Dream

By Todd Gordon, Jacobin, April 15, 2016 

With the removal of Thomas Mulcair and a leadership race soon to come, there is renewed energy around Canada’s New Democratic Party. Adding to the excitement, the party delegates voted over the weekend — against the protests of members from Alberta, home of the tar sands — to debate the “Leap Manifesto,” a document with a number of high-profile supporters, including Naomi Klein.

Issued in 2015, the Leap Manifesto was written with contributions from environmental, indigenous, faith-based, and labor activists. It calls for public resources to effect a “just transition” to an environmentally sustainable economy, greater respect for indigenous self-determination, good-paying green jobs, and better public services.

Among its most controversial features within the NDP (and beyond) is its call for a moratorium on pipeline construction and its claim that Canada could be, with proper public investment, completely carbon-free by 2050.

Mulcair’s defeat in the leadership review is certainly something to be celebrated, and the motion to study the Leap Manifesto is a positive step.

But it is also unlikely that this represents the beginning of a new NDP. The problems with the party go much deeper than Mulcair, and pose serious questions for activists who may now be contemplating trying to build a more progressive project through it, whether through the Leap Manifesto or otherwise.

Indeed, opposition to Mulcair came not only from the party’s left, but from its right, which was angry that he didn’t sufficiently criticize the Leap Manifesto.

A center-right politician with a track record of publicly praising Margaret Thatcher, Mulcair was trounced in the Canadian federal election last fall by an electorate clearly searching for something outside the now three-decades old neoliberal orthodoxy. Mulcair embraced that orthodoxy wholeheartedly, just as the NDP had long before he came onto the federal political scene.

In fact, the NDP’s shift from its social-democratic roots to supporting laissez-faire capitalism, balanced budgets, free trade agreements, and NATO was presumably central to his decision to join the party in the first place.

It’s worth remembering that, despite the hagiography of him after his death, the leader most heralded as sympathetic to the Left in recent memory, Jack Layton, did more to move the party to the center than any previous leader.

And it was Layton who, with the support of the inner circles of the party leadership, recruited Mulcair to run for the NDP. At the time, Mulcair was the environment minister in the center-right Liberal Party cabinet in Québec, which was led by Premier Jean Charest (himself a former federal Conservative cabinet minister).

Thus, if we’re going to be honest, Mulcair was low-hanging fruit. The principal public face of the party, he was easy to dislike for his conservative views, his apparently hyper-controlling ways, and his extremely wooden demeanor (“he was a good parliamentarian” is really the most anyone can muster in his defense).

But despite the excitement the convention’s outcome has generated among Canadian progressives — many of whom seem to think there’s now meaningful space in the party for more progressive, perhaps even radical, transformation — the rot is much deeper than Mulcair.

It is decades in the making, the product of the party’s history and structure more than that of individual personalities. So before embracing the NDP as a serious left force, Canadians committed to an emancipatory political project need to take a critical look at the party.

The challenges before progressives are enormous. We are all familiar with the grave effects of climate change; worsening inequality; the state’s war on people of color and indigenous peoples; and the inability of either monetarism or Keynesianism to solve global capitalism’s worst crisis since the Great Depression.

On all of these counts, the NDP is woefully outmatched. We need a project that is bold, militant, and creative; the NDP is tepid, scared of meaningful change, and reluctant to think beyond established political-economic strategy. We need hope; the NDP offers pessimism.

This isn’t a new problem — the NDP has sought to inoculate itself from movement influence since its founding.

The NDP was formed in 1961 out of a merger between the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) — which had moved rightward through the Cold War — and the Canadian Labour Congress. Affiliated unions, whose leaders had grown more conservative and structures more bureaucratic in the postwar years of labor-capital compromise, gained more formal influence over the new party’s decision-making structures.

The NDP’s political outlook reflected this rightward drift: whereas the CCF’s 1933 founding document, “The Regina Manifesto,” called for the replacement of the “capitalist system … by a social order from which the domination and exploitation of one class by another will be eliminated” and for “social ownership” of industry, the NDP — while not completely jettisoning “socialism” — accepted the existence of capitalism and private enterprise, instead calling for its regulation.

That some well-intentioned activists are drawn to the NDP, or that the official labor leadership plays a central role in the party, doesn’t make the NDP a party of movements.

Organized labor’s role in the party doesn’t represent a structural space for grassroots democracy or incorporate bottom-up militancy. As we saw with the attempt to build support for Mulcair from some of the leaders of the largest unions (Unifor, CUPE, and the Steelworkers, for example), it often forecloses more radical alternatives.

Mulcair’s ouster doesn’t change that one bit. If history is any guide, the grassroots movement activists who do go into the NDP will meet one of two fates: isolation in a bureaucratized, undemocratic party without any organic link to movements, or sucked into a party machinery singularly focused on election organizing. In both instances, their militancy and bold vision are the casualties.

From its inception, the NDP has been plagued by an undemocratic, anti-activist, bureaucratic leadership culture that leaves little to no space for ongoing debate and political development of its membership. The pervasive anti-activist ethos treats defiance from below with disdain and as anathema to what the party ostensibly stands for (a safe, tightly controlled social democracy wary of upsetting the status quo).

This helps explain the failure of past projects to reshape the NDP, like the Waffle (a New Left effort) and New Politics Initiative (which occurred during the global justice movement). And it is why the Leap Manifesto, and the politics inspiring it, will again fail to meaningfully change the NDP, whether the party leadership, under pressure from the base, concedes to it or not.

Any comparison to the British Labour Party and rise of the Jeremy Corbyn, moreover, is badly misplaced: whatever its warts, the Labour Party is far more democratic than the NDP. A Jeremy Corbyn–like figure in the NDP would get shut down by the Party’s leadership and kicked out of caucus for voting against the party line — long before the upstart had an opportunity to become a genuine threat.

The NDP doesn’t treat independent-thinking members of parliament favorably: step out of line and you get slapped down. Witness the party bigwigs’ removal of MP Svend Robinson from a shadow cabinet position for declaring solidarity with the Palestinians in the 2000s. Or the leadership’s muzzling of the MPs who expressed support for the 2012 Maple Spring student general strike in Québec.

Those at the top of the NDP treat elections as an end in themselves rather than a means —among other much more important means — to win a broader transformative project.

Of course, strictly electoralist strategies don’t work. Left policies and movements — for example, the welfare state and other interventionist economic and social policies, the feminist revolution, the gay rights movement, and antiwar movements — haven’t been rooted in elections, even if their demands have been taken up in important ways in the electoral sphere, but in serious and sustained (and typically confrontational) mass-movement building.

An electoralist institution, the NDP treats people as static, opting to move to where it thinks public opinion is at rather than to stake out principled ground and do the hard but necessary work to win people to this ground.

This is a recipe for defeatism, and an incredibly cynical understanding of consciousness (people are who they are and can’t be changed). Transformative projects build, deepen, and transform consciousness through struggle — precisely what the NDP was created to avoid.

Asking the NDP to root itself and its electoral approach in an emancipatory politics is asking it to forsake its DNA. It would require not just adopting a new policy like the Leap Manifesto, or getting more activists to join, but transforming it so dramatically that the party would be unrecognizable — and to do so in the face of an entrenched leadership that has successfully repelled previous challenges.

To those who will respond that building something new is hard, or that perhaps it’s a pipe dream: absolutely, it will be hard; but ultimately not harder — and no less of a pipe dream — than reshaping the NDP. And I’d rather participate in building a truly inspiring politics than resign myself to yet another attempt to transform the untransformable.

A new political project will be built on the shoulders of those movements we see growing around us — against climate change, racism, war, and inequality — and those yet to come. It will develop organic links to these movements, while constructing a political culture that fosters debate, democracy, militancy, and creativity. And it will subordinate electoral politics to movement building.

Some activists aspire to create those very things in the NDP, capitalizing on Mulcair’s defeat and the (very partial) success of the Leap Manifesto. I’m afraid those efforts will, ultimately, come to naught. But my hope is that even as they enter the party they won’t get lost in it — and that, remaining rooted in movements and carrying forward a transformative vision, they’ll be alert to the necessity of building something new.


From: :

Climate justice movement shakes Canada’s New Democratic Party

By Richard Fidler,  Life on the Left blog, April 11, 2016

In a stunning rebuff to the party establishment, delegates to the federal convention of the New Democratic Party, meeting in Edmonton, Alberta April 8-10, voted to reject Thomas Mulcair as their leader and to begin reorienting the party to become a leader in Canada’s climate justice movement.

They voted overwhelmingly, in the face of vehement opposition by the NDP’s revered Alberta leader Premier Rachel Notley, to endorse the “Leap Manifesto,” a radical statement opposing Alberta’s tar sands petroleum industry and its associated pipelines and advocating a “great transition” in energy conversion — a leap — to “prevent catastrophic global warming.” The Manifesto denounces Canada’s record on climate change as “a crime against humanity’s future.”

The NDP takes a flying Leap — off a cliff

The convention vote was correctly interpreted as a “turn to the left” in the business media, which until now, like the NDP leaders, had ignored the Manifesto, first published in the midst of last year’s federal election campaign.

“The leap,” says the Manifesto, “must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land. Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of protecting rivers, coasts, forests and lands from out-of-control industrial activity....

“Moved by the treaties that form the legal basis of this country and bind us to share the land ‘for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow,’ we want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land. Technological breakthroughs have brought this dream within reach. The latest research shows it is feasible for Canada to get 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades; by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy.”

Among its demands, the Manifesto calls for “a universal program to build energy efficient homes... training and other resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs,” a “far more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system,” and an “end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies.”

“Rebalancing the scales of justice, we should ensure immigration status and full protection for all workers. Recognizing Canada’s contributions to military conflicts and climate change — primary drivers of the global refugee crisis — we must welcome refugees and migrants seeking safety and a better life.”

The Leap Manifesto has attracted broad interest and spawned some related campaigns among working people. An example is the bold campaign recently launched by Canada’s militant postal workers union to convert the post office to a “revolutionary green make-over” through such innovative measures as conversion of its vehicle fleet to 100% electricity, creation of vehicle charging stations at post offices, along with postal banking to provide financial services in under-served communities and low-cost credit for renewable energy installations.[1]

The convention met amidst widespread dissent over the NDP’s disastrous election result in last October’s federal election when the party, by appearing to be to the right of the victorious Liberals, turned a promising lead in the polls into a rout that demoted it to third-place standing in Parliament. Members’ anger was stoked by Mulcair’s failure, until the eve of the convention, to acknowledge his own responsibility for the setback. A “Campaign Review Report” by federal NDP officials, a narrowly conceived analysis that failed to placate party critics, added to the criticism.

And the convention came on the heels of a disastrous showing in Saskatchewan’s provincial election and following the party’s previous loss of government in Nova Scotia, disappointing results in both British Columbia and Ontario, and with the prospect of the likely defeat next April 19 of Manitoba’s NDP government. The surprise election last May of an NDP government in Alberta is the sole exception in this pattern.

But Premier Notley’s impassioned plea to federal convention delegates to support her government’s promotion of “pipelines to tidewater” for export of tar sands products left many cold.[2] As did Thomas Mulcair when, in a last-minute attempt to save his job, he promised to endorse whatever program the convention adopted — even if it included opposition to the Energy East pipeline, which he has consistently supported. On a leadership review motion, only 48% supported Mulcair’s continued leadership of the party. The affiliated unions were divided; Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff had called on Mulcair to step down while some major union leaders publicly supported him.[3]

The forthcoming leadership campaign will be difficult. Mulcair, when all is said and done, was in NDP terms the best the party could come up with at this point. Fluently bilingual, excelling in the repartee of parliamentary debate, he was the leader this parliamentary party deserved in 2012, the party having become in 2011 the Official Opposition with a majority of its MPs newly elected in Quebec. None of the party MPs now being publicized in the corporate media as potential leadership contenders can come close to him in these respects — and none of them came out publicly in support of the Leap Manifesto.

It was the Leap Manifesto that dominated the program debates from the outset of the Edmonton convention. An ad hoc grouping, “New Democrats for the Leap Manifesto,” formed in advance to agitate for making the Manifesto the major programmatic issue at the convention. Some two dozen constituency associations endorsed it in one form or another. In reaction, other New Democrats, led by former MPs Craig Scott (Toronto Danforth) and Libby Davies (Vancouver East), mobilized in support of a proposal to postpone a direct endorsement of the Manifesto pending a membership discussion and further debate at the next convention, in 2018. They worked closely with Avi Lewis, a co-author of the Manifesto, partner of ecology activist and author Naomi Klein, and a scion of past party leaders.[4]

The final resolution adopted at the convention praises the Manifesto as “a high-level statement of principles that speaks to the aspirations, history and values of the party.” But it stipulates that specific policies advocated in the Manifesto “can and should be debated and modified on their own merits and according to the needs of various communities and all parts of Canada.”

Intended to placate NDP critics of the Manifesto in Alberta and elsewhere, this formulation leaves wiggle room for tar sands and pipeline advocates in the party to postpone meaningful action to end fossil fuel dependency. However, there is no denying that environmental activists and ecosocialists now have a major opening to further and deepen the debate on climate justice in as well as outside the NDP. An ecosocialist left might well develop within and around the NDP — a left with supporters qualitatively more rooted in their communities than the perennial Socialist Caucus that has long laboured for recognition and support in the party. (The Socialist Caucus sponsored no fewer than 29 resolutions for the Edmonton convention, not one of which cited the Leap Manifesto, although the Caucus inserted a one-page endorsement of the Manifesto in its convention pamphlet.)

This is not the first time in the NDP’s history that the party has become a focus for attention and participation by social movement activists. In the late 1960s the Manifesto for an Independent and Socialist Canada (the “Waffle Manifesto”) expressed within the party the popular and youth radicalization stimulated in part by opposition to the Vietnam war. While the Waffle was later driven out of the party (under the aegis of Avi Lewis’s father Stephen), its candidate Jim Laxer came a close second to David Lewis (and far ahead of Ed Broadbent) on the fourth ballot in the 1971 contest for federal NDP leader.

In 2001, the New Politics Initiative won the support of about 40% of delegates at an NDP federal convention. It reflected the radicalization then developing around the global justice, feminist, gay rights and environmental movement. Despite this promising beginning, the NPI was arbitrarily disbanded by its steering committee, without even a consultation with its members, when its leaders decided to support Jack Layton’s bid to become federal party leader.

Will the Leap Manifesto suffer a similar fate in the NDP? That’s an open question at this point. All signs point, however, to deepening climate crisis and increasing consciousness among broad layers of the population of the need for radical anti-capitalist solutions. This consciousness is reflected in Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected albeit fragile victory in the British Labour Party leadership, and even in Bernie Sanders’ surprising support for his “socialist” advocacy in the U.S. Democratic party primaries.

A strong ecosocialist presence in the coming NDP debates could anticipate similar responses (and, as the Edmonton convention shows, opposition) to radical anticapitalism if some of the major ideas sketched in the Leap Manifesto can be pursued in the direction of developing an explicit and radical strategy and program. Surely, ecosocialists have every interest in investigating and where possible pursuing this development in the months to come.

[1] See also “Canada’s post office could get a revolutionary green make-over,” The Guardian, March 9, 2016.

[2] See also “Notley calls on NDP to support new pipelines, takes aim at Leap Manifesto,” The Globe and Mail, April 9, 2016.

[3] See “NDP delegates divided on Mulcair ahead of leadership review,” The Globe and Mail, April 9, 2016.

[4] Avi Lewis’s father is Stephen Lewis, a former leader of the Ontario NDP (and former United Nations ambassador for Brian Mulroney’s Tory government). David Lewis, a former federal NDP leader, was Avi Lewis’s grandfather.


Leap Manifesto builds climate justice campaigns

By John Riddell, Marxist Essays and Commentary blog, April 4, 2016

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has acknowledged shocking details about the violence of Canada’s near past. Deepening poverty and inequality are a scar on the country’s present. And Canada’s record on climate change is a crime against humanity’s future.” —The Leap Manifesto


Five hundred Toronto-area supporters crowded into a west-end school auditorium March 27 to support the Leap Manifesto, launched early this year in support of a rapid, “justice-based” energy transition to a renewable economy.

The movement was launched in January 2016 to popularize the ideas of Naomi Klein’s influential book on climate change, This Changes Everything. Klein pointed to the need for a mass social movement addressing both the urgent need for climate action and an agenda for social justice.

Participants at the rally represented a wide range of social movements, particularly in the city’s West End. Featured speakers included three members of parliament (two New Democratic Party, one Liberal), union leaders (postal and public sector workers), environmental groups (Greenpeace and, and Indigenous groups (Idle No More).

The Leap Manifesto, with more than 34,000 signatories, calls for varied measures toward the goal of a society “caring for one another and caring for the planet.” The list is headed by respect for Indigenous people’s “inherent rights and title” to the land; immediate action for a 100% clean economy by 2050; and a halt to “infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future.”

Other points highlight longstanding goals of the workers’ movement, such as investment in public infrastructure, “an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies,” a national childcare program, and expanded and affordable public transit.

The Manifesto’s diverse goals are interlocking and mutually supportive, its supporters explain. Thus at the March 27 meeting, lead-off speaker Bianca Mugyenyi described achieving the target of 100% renewable electricity generation in 20 years as “a healing process from colonization.”

Our calendar’s leap year itself is “a recognition that it’s easier to change our human systems than to alter the cycles of nature,” Mugyenyi said. Shifting her metaphor, she pointed out that bringing climate change under control requires “thinking big”: “Small steps are no longer enough. 2016 is our year to leap.”

Mugyenyi stressed the need to hold Canada’s Liberal government, headed by Justin Trudeau, to the sweeping promises made when it was elected to act on climate change. “They are not connecting with our sense of the urgency of the moment,” she said. For example, the Liberals have promised $3.4 billion over three years for mass public transit, “which won’t even meet the outstanding transit repair budget in Toronto alone.”

Mugyenyi noted that the Leap Manifesto has sparked interest in the social-democratic New Democratic Party. More than 20 NDP local constituency groups have called on the party to adopt the Manifesto.

Megan Whitfield, president of Toronto’s postal workers, presented a program worked out together by her national union and Leap to convert the threatened Canadian postal service’s unequalled network of 6,800 retail outlets into centres of community service and community action on climate issues, as for example through the introduction of postal banking. When the government acts on its decision to cease sending cheques through the mail, she said, “this will provide a way to receive pension payments for all those who can’t get an account in a conventional bank.”

Leap’s March 29 meeting in Toronto – the most effective held here on climate justice issues in several years – embraced an impressive range of activist forces that could lend support to the Leap/postal worker program and similar projects. Inevitably, a text aimed at encompassing such diverse viewpoints must be more limited in scope than the bold measures presented in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. But to focus on the manifesto’s omissions would miss the point.

The manifesto has proved its capacity to unite a broad range of social forces and to pose the challenge of climate justice within the mainstream organizations of Canadian working people. It is an eloquent contribution to the debate the Trudeau government is initiating on a national climate action plan.

Moreover, pubic attitudes in Canada to climate-related issues are radicalizing, encouraging us to elaborate key issues that the Leap Manifesto touches on only briefly. For example, the Manifesto’s third point states, “There is no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future….” Prime examples of such projects are the oil industry’s unpopular projects to build pipelines across the country.

Pipeline opponents include the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. They are taking their legal suit against Line 9, which runs from Sarnia to Montreal, to the Supreme Court. At the Toronto rally, climate activist Jesse McClaren appealed for donations to meet their legal costs.

In response, Avi Lewis, a co-founder of the Leap effort and facilitator of the Toronto meeting, saluted the positive work of coalitions against pipelines and the importance of the Chippewa case. Referring to Naomi Klein’s chapter on pipeline activism, entitled “Blockadia,” Lewis continued, ”It is super clear that we have to stop the veins and arteries of the fossil-fuel economy.”

Lewis called for an end to subsidies for the fossil fuels industry and highlighted a new Alberta-based website, “Iron and Earth,” established by tar sands workers committed “to incorporating more renewable energy projects into our work scope.” “The workers should be supported, not the corporations,” Lewis said.

The March 27 Toronto rally shows that the Leap Manifesto has become an effective organizing tool that deserves support from all sectors of Canada’s climate justice movement. The pending debate on national climate policy should enable us to greatly expand support for the Manifesto and its goals.

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