The Leap Manifesto: Could This Be Canada’s Progressive Answer?

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The left in places like the United States and the UK has positioned itself behind political figures, but Leap Manifesto architects Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, along with other progressives in Canada, are trying something different

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THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN: In the United States and the UK progressive movements have forced their way onto the electoral stage, coalescing around political figures like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Meanwhile, in Canada, progressives are anticipating something of their own, with many trying to achieve a more decentralized movement, centered instead around what’s known as the Leap Manifesto.

AVI LEWIS: So the Leap Manifesto is a document that came out of a gathering of dozens of social movement leaders in Canada who came together with this inspiring and positive vision of how Canada can get off fossil fuels by following these 15 powerful political demands in away that systematically attacks inequality, racism, and a whole host of injustices in our society.

HEDGES: Avi Lewis is one of the creators of the Leap Manifesto. He and fellow Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein helped forge the list of demands last year during the election cycle.

NAOMI KLEIN: Honestly, what I think is most exciting about the Leap Manifesto is that it isn’t built around an individual party or an individual politician. Because I think there’s a danger of, okay, so what if that leader gets ousted? What if the election cycle is over and everybody stops paying attention?

HEDGES: The Leap Manifesto attacks issues of injustice through the lens of indigenous communities. Indigenous activists like Clayton Thomas-Muller have joined the Leap’s push in an effort to connect climate change with racism, and beyond that, to show how the many problems that Canada and other countries struggle with are not isolated incidents, but symptoms of a single, systemic crisis.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: When you look at where Canadians live, they all live within 200 kilometres of the U.S.-Canada border, and the rest of Canada is inhabited by indigenous peoples, whether it’s Inuit hamlets, Metis settlements, or First Nations. So environmental racism in this country and those who are privy to Canada’s environmental enforcement and regulation, well, you know, that ends up being a very red and white issue, if you get my drift.

Also, people need to understand that you can’t get caught up in the green economy that’s being sold on television. You know, we need to take political action and target the big emitters. You know, the military-industrial complex, or fossil fuel-driven agricultural complex, the airline industry, the fossil fuel-intensive trucking and transport industry.

HEDGES: The Manifesto was drafted at the same time that Bernie Sanders exploded onto the national stage last year. But Canadians face a very different political landscape, Avi says.

LEWIS: But we don’t have the same situation that we have in the United States and the UK, where we have a dominant neoliberal party like the Democratic Party or like the Blair Labour Party, where there needs to be a revolt against that party. That’s the Liberal Party in Canada. And there’s no sign of a revolt from its left flank. We’ve just elected with a massive majority this, you know, hot young prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who’s enjoying an unprecedented long honeymoon of popularity with the Canadian people and is saying all these beautifully progressive things. But they can’t do anything, because they’re a committedly neoliberal party.

We’re in a time where we come out of ten years of the most viciously right-wing government we’ve ever had in this country, the Harper government. Activists got a lot of new people to our causes because they were doing so many horrible things. So we’ve grown in strength. But we were also fighting like mad for that ten years, and people are a little tired. So we don’t have this surge of new energy in the Canadian social movement landscape that you have in the Bernie moment in the United States, or that you had in the early days of the Corbyn moment in the UK.

HEDGES: The other challenge for progressives in Canada is that the country’s last-standing center-left government is in Alberta, home to the largest energy project in the world, the tar sands. The Leap Manifesto has faced criticism for calling an end to all fossil fuel infrastructure, which many worry would mean a heavy loss of jobs.

LEWIS: We’re in an accident of history right now where the only NDP government, the only center-left government left in Canada, is in Alberta, which means that the center of oil production in Canada and the heart of the fossil fuel economy now is in the hands of a center-left government.

It’s totally understandable that people who are in freefall as the oil industry is collapsing would find that to be a threat. That said, the threat is not coming from the Leap Manifesto. It’s the oil industry, the most powerful industry and the richest industry in the history of humanity, which has abandoned tens of thousands of families in Alberta, they’re the ones who were squeezed, over-rewarded with crazy salaries but squeezed for every drop of effort that went into producing that oil when the boom was high, and then they just get tossed on the trash heap by the industry as soon as the price crashes.

HEDGES: In the end, the Leap Manifesto is an effort to reverse the fear-based tactics of the country’s politics. While it isn’t the first, with attempts ranging from the radical waffle movement in the 1960s to the new politics initiative of the 2000s. Avi says that the Leap Manifesto’s biggest advantage is the fact that Canada has never been more ripe for a change of course.

LEWIS: The Leap is kind of a pivot from these rearguard actions where we try to hang on to the shitty remnants of the social safety net that we still have to say, no. Let’s move the goalposts. What are we fighting for?

After being attacked relentlessly by the corporate media for two weeks at the height of last spring’s controversy, someone did–Ekos, one of the major polling firms here did a poll. More than half of Canadians had heard of the Leap Manifesto, and more than half of NDP, Green Party, and Liberal supporters supported the principles in the Leap Manifesto, which tells us that the appetite for radical change, for expanding the range, the sense of what’s politically possible in Canada, is huge. And we’ve tapped into that, and we have a hell of a lot of work to do to make it into reality.

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