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bruce anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC's The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. Other members of his family have worked for Conservative and Liberal politicians, and a daughter currently works for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. He writes a weekly digital column for The Globe and Mail.

Few things are more Canadian than wondering if we should be less dependent on resource exports and at the same time wondering if we could find even more foreign customers to sell to.

Or wondering if we are doing right by our environment while believing that we live in one of the cleanest, healthiest, most pristine places anywhere.

These tensions play out constantly, ebbing and flowing with the health of the economy, with accidents that harm the environment, and with our angst about our legacy to future generations.

None of this has figured prominently, yet, in this election campaign. But that may be about to change.

Last week's release of the Leap Manifesto was a direct challenge to progressive parties, in particular the NDP. No doubt intended to ratchet up pressure on Thomas Mulcair, it raised the stakes in the fight for the centre and left.

The authors of the Manifesto believe that Canada has made only small steps to improve our environment. And that small steps are getting us nowhere. Bigger, more rapid, disruptive actions are essential.

These sentiments reflect well the views of a vocal minority of Canadians, which in my polling over the years is about 15 per cent of the population.

Many other people, beyond the 15 per cent, share some of the aspirations contained in the Leap Manifesto, but part ways on other points. They think we've been making progress in improving energy efficiency, reducing waste, protecting water, air and forests.

Most, the vast majority, of Canadians think that you can improve the environment and strengthen the economy at the same time. It's a question of creating the right conditions and being thoughtful about the pace of change and adjustment. Too slow is no good. But too fast, if the economic effects are too severe, would set the agenda back a generation or more.

Furthermore, there's a growing consensus that the best performing economies in the world will be those that excel at managing resources with care, developing cleaner technologies, and limiting pollution.

From the time Thomas Mulcair became leader of the NDP, he's found himself cross-pressured, in a way that no other leader experiences. His early argument that Canada's economy was too leveraged to the resources sectors made some in his party, especially union workers, feel uneasy with where that language was going.

He's faced huge pressures to oppose every oil pipeline from those who want to shut down the oil sands. But he knows that as PM, his room to deliver on program promises would be severely compromised if he had to make do despite a rapid decline in the revenues that oil sands energy means for Canada.

The latest pressure point has to do with water exports. A few years ago, Mr. Mulcair dared touch something of a third rail in Canadian politics. He allowed as to how it would be better if we could discuss and evaluate ideas like water exports without overheated rhetoric preventing such a discussion.

Whatever you think about water exports, it's hard to argue with that point.

But, the harsh reality for Mr. Mulcair is that the group in Canadian society who would most take issue with that idea, forms part of the base vote of his party. He felt heat on this point during his leadership campaign.

Among the three main party leaders, Thomas Mulcair may be the one who has thought the most about sustainable development. He is certainly the closest Leap Manifesto signatories will find to someone who embraces their world view. It's hard to imagine them finding a better champion.

When all is said and done, Mr. Mulcair's success in this election rests on his ability to convince Ontario voters that he can be trusted to manage the economy well.

His party would win no new votes, and probably lose plenty, if he even tried to meet the Leap Manifesto crowd half way. His skills as a political leader will be tested as he works to satisfy the anxieties of the greenest New Democrats while attracting new voters from the red tent next door.