Skip to main content

Avi Lewis is arguing that the Leap that seemed to scare the party in 2016 makes good NDP strategy in 2021.Handout

Is it safe for New Democrats to Leap now? The candidacy of Avi Lewis, scion of a legendary NDP family and half of a progressive power couple with No Logo author Naomi Klein, raises a question that was left behind in 2016.

That’s when Mr. Lewis was a key proponent of something called the Leap Manifesto, a left-wing call for bold action on inequality and climate change, including barring the construction of new pipelines. It caught the imagination of many New Democrats, raised the ire of then-premier Rachel Notley’s Alberta New Democrats, and helped toss Tom Mulcair’s leadership of the federal party into a wood chipper.

All that wasn’t Mr. Lewis’s fault, but the Leap Manifesto was blamed for stirring up a lot of muck in the NDP in 2016. The Leapers were labelled radical. The activists were taking on the pragmatists. You have to wonder whether the NDP is ready to leap now.

Avi Lewis to run for NDP in West Vancouver-area riding

Mr. Lewis is. He hasn’t sanded down his views to run for Jagmeet Singh’s federal NDP in a Liberal-held riding. He argues politics have caught up to him, and the Leap Manifesto’s thinking.

That, he said, is the idea that we live in a time of “overlapping crises” that must be addressed with ambitious solutions – and that climate change, and inequality, have to be treated like crises.

“The last 15 months have made that glaringly obvious,” Mr. Lewis said in a telephone interview.

It’s not obvious that everyone sees it that way. Or that it will be seen that way by the voters in the sprawling riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky Country, which has been won by Conservatives and Liberals since it was drawn in 1997.

But maybe the NDP will be a little more comfortable with it. Mr. Lewis thinks voters already are.

He is heir to a party legacy. His grandfather, David Lewis, was a founder of the NDP and its second leader. His father, Stephen Lewis, currently ailing with cancer, was leader of the Ontario party. Both were gifted speakers. Avi, certainly, is never at a loss for words.

He is also part of the progressive public intellectual set. His wife, Ms. Klein, is a globally known author and activist. Avi Lewis is a filmmaker. In 2019, he co-wrote a short film with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young star of the U.S. Democrats’ left wing, about her Green New Deal. But at home, some in the NDP criticized him as a bit of dilettante who endorsed manifestos that threw a wrench into the party but didn’t roll up his sleeves to run.

Now that he is running, the Leap ideas probably won’t seem as divisive to the federal NDP.

When it was issued in 2015, it worried the party’s moderates, who feared it would scare voters. It seemed to reopen divides between the New Democrats’ “browns” – the unionized workers who built pipelines and gas plants – and its green wing. It clashed with the Alberta NDP government’s campaign for a new pipeline. Mr. Mulcair’s efforts to endorse both just before the 2016 party convention where his leadership was on the line sealed his loss.

But the NDP isn’t really vying for power now. The Alberta NDP lost. Nearly half of the federal party’s seats are in British Columbia. And in many places, the biggest threat it faces is the rising strength of the Green Party.

And in many ways, urgent calls for climate action are commonplace now. Canada has a carbon tax. U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate rhetoric borrows from AOC’s Green New Deal, which reads a lot like – the Leap Manifesto.

You could see the federal New Democrats run on a lot of Leap Manifesto items, from wealth taxes to stronger climate policies.

In terms of purely electoral calculation, they might feel they have little choice. How else do they outflank Justin Trudeau’s big-spending Liberals on the left and stop the Greens from eating more and more of their support?

Mr. Lewis, after all, is running in a riding the NDP has never won, but where the combined NDP and Green vote would be enough to win in 2019. He figures if he can win over some Green voters, disaffected Liberals, and inspire some alienated folks to vote, he can win. In effect, he is arguing that the Leap that seemed to scare the party in 2016 makes good NDP strategy in 2021.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.