Veteran NDPers Discuss the Way Forward Without Fossil Fuels

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Veteran NDPers Discuss the Way Forward Without Fossil Fuels

Filmmaker Avi Lewis and MPP Cheri DiNovo discussed the Leap Manifesto, climate justice, and the future for the NDP.

Avi Lewis and Cheri DiNovo discuss the Leap Manifesto and the future of climate action in the NDP on May 23 in Toronto. Photo by Maria Calleja.

Avi Lewis and Cheri DiNovo discuss the Leap Manifesto and the future of climate action in the NDP on May 23 in Toronto. Photo by Maria Calleja.

“No political party in Canada is taking a strong principled stand on the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels,” said journalist, filmmaker, and activist Avi Lewis during a panel at Ryerson University last week.

Lewis was joined by MPP for Parkdale-High Park, Cheri DiNovo. The two were in conversation on May 23 discussing the Leap Manifesto.  

Introduced in 2015, the manifesto is a set of demands for social progress and urgent action on the changing climate. The document was dropped in the middle of the last federal election. The demands link the need for a green economy and climate justice with the fight for the equality of marginalized communities in Canada.  

It advocates for a swift end to the expansion of the use of fossil fuels and a radical restructuring of the economy, including a moratorium on all new infrastructure projects, such as pipelines, and an immediate shift to renewable energy.

“It is a new attempt at a common front in Canada. It is a positive vision to inspire,” says Lewis, who is one of the authors of the document, along with his wife, activist Naomi Klein.

However, almost immediately after the document’s release, the Leap became a source of debate, derision, and divisiveness within the NDP, broadly among progressives, and criticized widely across the spectrum of Canadian politics. In many ways, it succeeded in shifting the conversation.

Many of the attacks against the Leap Manifesto came from within the Alberta NDP, leaders of a province that is still deeply invested in resource extraction and where it is virtually impossible for any political party to come out against new fossil fuel developments and win an election.

People like Gil McGowan, the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, presumably a natural ally of the NDP, called the Leap “garbage” and “nonsense.”

“The good news is that Rachel Notley is still calling the shots for the NDP in Alberta. Not Avi Lewis or Naomi Klein or any of the downtown political dilettantes who wrote this incredibly naïve manifesto,” McGowan said in a 2016 CBC interview.

“[The Leap states] no new fossil fuel development. It is not about taking [the tar sands] down,” Lewis said in response to criticisms that the Manifesto calls for the dismantling of the fossil fuel industry and for leaving all oil in the ground.

“Sarnia will become a ghost town,” an audience member said. He discussed his fear that the oil-industry town would be affected negatively by the demands of the Leap document.  

Another audience member started to weep as he spoke about the need for climate justice to create a safe world for his children.

DiNovo, who had briefly thrown her hat into the federal NDP leadership race, said she supports the Leap Manifesto and hopes to see it discussed more by all NDP leadership hopefuls. Although, she admits, “You are getting some gun shy reactions from the leadership candidates.”

However, she is optimistic about Niki Ashton and Peter Julian, who have come out with strong stances against pipelines. But, she says, the leadership candidates are still fearful of taking on the term “Leap Manifesto.” She hopes that local groups and young people will pressure the candidates at leadership debates to adopt key demands of the document.

“If it is not a plan for a green economy then what kind of plan are we going to bring in?” DiNovo asked.

DiNovo says she wants to see the NDP steer further to the left and inspire a new socialist movement, like the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in the U.S. “Social progress is getting at the economic resources being hoarded by the one per cent and actually redistributing it. Using those economic resources to transition our energy system, our social system, and to systematically attack inequality,” Lewis said.

Local chapters and interpretations of the Leap Manifesto have developed to address the central issues in the document. Lewis explained that students in the U.S. are using it to connect the development of resource industries and polluting practices in areas with a majority of people of colour. A local University of Toronto chapter has also developed to promote activism around the document.

“It is both radical and practical,” Lewis said. In the NDP leadership race we will see how open the candidates are to the Leap’s radical societal transformative elements and how the practical suggestions will be ironed out for a plan for Canada’s future.

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