With the federal NDP leadership race heating up, the party’s direction hangs in the balance, as does the future of Canadian electoral politics. Thomas Mulcair’s attempt to push the party towards the political centre resulted in a resounding defeat during the last election, and the New Democrats must make a choice: will they continue with a brand of politics which the electorate found to be tepid and uninspiring, or will they seize this opportunity to take a bold new course of action? Such a debate has the potential to give new life to the Leap Manifesto, a document which spells out an alternative political vision, one that challenges the socio-economic status quo.
Spearheaded by figures such as author Naomi Klein and filmmaker Avi Lewis, the Manifesto calls for a rapid shift away from fossil fuel extraction, towards a more sustainable economy built upon renewable resources. According to this plan, all of Canada’s electricity would be derived from renewables within two decades, and by 2050 the country would have what the Manifesto refers to as “a 100 per cent clean economy.” Such a shift would be based on an economic platform that rejects austerity measures, instead funding its proposals by ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, increasing corporate taxes, cutting military spending, and taking other measures which the Manifesto signatories believe would help lead to the long-term goal of a “bottom-up revival” of democratic principles.
Such proposals may seem unrealistic to some, and within the context of a stagnant electoral system built upon an underlying base of capitalist values, its seemingly idealistic sentiments clash with the prevailing mood of political cynicism. Yet its suggestions seem to be largely in line with mainstream scientific opinion, as represented by various reports released by organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such bodies articulate the catastrophic severity of the risk, and call for a similarly drastic reduction in fossil fuel usage and carbon emissions. Therefore what may appear to be a radical plan is actually fully grounded within the empirical research of many of the world’s most respected scientific figures.
In spite of this, the Manifesto has yet to be endorsed by any of the NDP’s leadership candidates. Niki Ashton has come closest to embracing it, saying that she “agree[s] with the principles in the document,” but there continues to be substantial opposition within the upper echelons of the party bureaucracy. Key officials at the provincial level, such as B.C.’s John Horgan and Alberta’s Rachel Notley, have publicly asserted their hostility towards many of its proposals. Nevertheless, if they wish to achieve success at the federal level, and if they plan to truly fulfill their social and environmental mandate, New Democrats should look to the thousands of signatures the Manifesto has amassed as a sign of its grassroots support.
Moreover, the Leap Manifesto seems to capture a growing movement for change across the globe, one which is signified not only by the work of activists who operate on the fringes of the democratic system, but also by recent efforts which have sought to revitalize the possibility of electoral change. The popular campaigns of figures such as Bernie Sanders in the United States, Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K., and Jean-Luc Melenchon in France demonstrate the growing resentment towards a global neoliberal agenda that has placed corporate profits above social and environmental prosperity. The increasing success of these movements, especially among younger voters, sends a clear signal that the ecologically sensitive, socially conscious measures within the Leap Manifesto are gaining international popularity.
The question, then, is not whether the plan is too radical, but whether it goes far enough. Within an economic system which remains firmly dominated by wealthy elites, and within an ideological climate which still emphasizes private control of the means of production, the Leap Manifesto represents an important attempt to move the dialogue of social revitalization forward. It may fail to fully challenge the structures which have thus far prevented its adoption, but its growing popularity nevertheless indicates a desire for change, and demonstrates the Manifesto’s ability to fill a vital need within the citizenry for the sort of hope which all too often remains absent from the political sphere.
With the country stagnating under a Liberal government which remains more concerned with style than substance, the NDP would be wise to adopt such a bold new approach so as to reassert its progressive credentials. In doing so, it would make an important move towards participating in a globally resurgent left, pushing back against the dominant neoliberal centre, and more effectively combatting the rising populist right represented by figures like Donald Trump. In doing so, the party could make the vital issue of climate change the cornerstone of its platform, while demonstrating that such a discourse can resonate with disenfranchised populations in Canada and around the world.