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Avi Lewis

Sorry, pundits of Canada. The Leap will bring us together Add to ...

Avi Lewis is a journalist, filmmaker, and one of many people behind the Leap Manifesto

In the past week, I’ve been called a “downtown Toronto political dilettante,” and “a millstone around the neck” of Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley. The Leap Manifesto, which I helped write and launch with dozens of others from across the country, has been called “ungenerous, short-sighted and…a betrayal of the people who voted NDP” in Alberta.

And that was just from people I consider friends.

It’s time to speak some truth about this controversial document. In fact, the Leap Manifesto came out of a meeting (yes, held in Toronto) that brought together dozens of social-movement activists from six provinces: Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Alberta. It is a consensus statement – literally written by committee – that reflects a common vision from across a spectrum of different causes.

That meeting was attended by First Nations living downstream from the tar sands and leaders from some of the biggest trade unions in Canada. There were refugee advocates, anti-poverty activists, and environmentalists of many stripes (yes, there is a huge range.)

While much has been said about the Leap Manifesto’s controversial call for no new fossil-fuel infrastructure, the other 14 demands in the document reflect a strong progressive consensus in Canada. The need for a green energy revolution, massive reinvestment in health, education and child care, big spending on transit and housing and respecting indigenous land rights – these may be framed with urgency in the Leap Manifesto, but they are hardly controversial.

What makes the Leap different is that it connects the dots, showing how all these demands are integral to a fair and ambitious response to climate change. It’s not a list – it’s a story.

The Leap’s least controversial idea is that we need to wean our economy off fossil fuels as quickly as possible – certainly by mid-century – which means an immediate energy transition. This view has been voiced in recent years now by latte-swilling hipster celebrity activists like former governor of the Bank of Canada Mark Carney, the U.K.’s Sir Nicholas Stern, and principal secretary to the Prime Minister Gerald Butts (before he got his government job).

And yet, the passage of a resolution at the NDP convention merely to debate the Leap Manifesto at the riding level has pierced some underground reservoir of resentment, and toxic sentiment is spurting everywhere.

How do we make sense of this committed misrepresentation of the Leap? Easy: it’s just politics.

For the Alberta NDP government, associating with a document that opposes new fossil fuel infrastructure is clearly seen as political suicide. So it is asserting some distance. Fair enough.

But there are many others with an interest in mischaracterizing the document as a road map to NDP irrelevance. Hence the echo of this message from the front bench of the federal Liberal cabinet to the back bench of the Wildrose Party.

The Very Serious Pundits of Canada agree, and are vigorously stoking the tired narrative of heartless environmentalism threatening beleaguered resource workers.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Workers in carbon-intensive industries are at the very heart of the Leap Manifesto, which calls not only for retraining and resources for them, but also for the transition beyond fossil fuels to be driven by the democratic participation of the workers themselves.

Taken together, the policies in the Leap amount to what my father Stephen Lewis, in his NDP convention keynote address, called a “Marshall Plan for employment.” The Leap’s fiscal agenda would restore federal government spending capacity – now at a 60-year low – so we could embrace this historic moment with a truly unifying project for the country. We could build a cleaner and fairer economy, guided by the best science, and grounded in deep principles of social justice and no worker left behind.

Instead, we’re lapsing into a fossilized conversation that pits us against each other, morphing compassionate Canadians across regions into ugly caricatures painted with a malevolently broad brush.

The Leap Manifesto emerged from a process in which groups with different interests came together across historic divides to articulate a shared agenda. Despite the many competing constituencies in the room, we met on common ground: an ambitious future that we can start building together right now.

Canada could, and should, be doing the same.

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