By Marthin Lukacs. This article was first published on The Guardian.
A powerful movement in Canada, animated by a compelling and positive vision for the climate and economy, can force the hand of whichever government comes to power
Every political class considers themselves inclusive, diverse, open-minded. But present ideas that stray outside the boundaries of sanctioned debate, imposed by power and a patrolling press, and watch how quickly they stoop to bullying.
Consider the response to the Leap Manifesto, a declaration released this week by an unprecedented coalition of Canadian authors, artists, national leaders and activists in the midst of a federal election. It lays out a vision – bolder than anything on offer from political parties – to transition the country off fossil fuels while simultaneously improving the lives of most Canadians. Climate change is presented not just as an existential crisis but an opportunity – indeed, imperative – to make the political and economic system more just and fair.
The smear-jobs started resounding immediately through the echo-chamber of the corporate press. The manifesto was advocating the “overthrow of capitalism,” a “utopia” that could be brought about only through “immediate social revolution.” It would “crash our economy,” throwing millions into poverty. No pragmatic politician could entertain the “manifesto’s madness,” thundered Canada’s national paper of record.
Except all the manifesto’s proposed policies – respecting Indigenous rights, debating a guaranteed annual income, taking back public control of energy systems, funding clean transit and public investment in low-carbon sectors like education, health and childcare, promoting sustainable farming or raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and scrapping trade deals that prevent governments from banning extreme energy extraction – are more or less within the bounds of classic social democracy. And scientific studies – cited in the manifesto – have shown that a complete and economically-beneficial transition toward renewable energy is feasible within the next two to three decades.
So what in fact is the madness? A science-based political agenda, or our current course toward 6 degrees of catastrophic warming? Collapsing a corporation’s right to override environmental laws, or a collapsing global food supply? Rising wages, or rising seas? The Leap Manifesto isn’t radical. It’s a way out of Canada’s head-in-the-sand politics.
Yet the establishment is so gripped by the ideology they’ve spent decades throttling the population with that not only does an alternative to the current system seem inconceivable, but any reforms whatsoever are an attempt to destroy it wholesale or induce social chaos. The impact of this neoliberal or austerity ideology – the belief the state has no role in positive collective action, that all solutions should be left to an unregulated market – means the Canadian elite seem more able to imagine the end of the world than mild policies that ramp up funding for solar panels. They cannot answer the latter with reason or argument. They can only answer with energy McCarthyism.
Except now the stakes are greater than ever. If we don’t break the boundaries of this narrowly policed debate, we will eventually break the ecological systems that make life possible on earth. Thankfully, the online response from Canadians and thousands of new signatories to the manifesto demonstrates that ordinary people are much more tuned into the realities of the climate crisis – and the changes it urges us on to – than the corporate media and its political masters.
To see that bold visions appeal deeply to so many across the world you have only to look at the Pope’s recent climate encyclical – a powerful call to transform the economic system before it destroys the ecological basis for life – or the rise of left-wing parties in southern Europe and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the UK’s new Labour leader. The neoliberal ideology is crumbling. The need for public austerity amidst obscene private wealth has shown itself to be a sham. Alternatives are possible, no matter the hysteria the corporate media – one of the last bastions of this ideology – attempt to foster.
During Canada’s fall election, millions of Canadians will not vote for what they want – since the parties aren’t offering it – but against what they don’t want. Like most of the specific policies laid out in the Leap Manifesto, they are more progressive than the parties. Indeed the Liberal party has started to regain momentum in polls as they have campaigned to the left of the New Democratic Party – recasting themselves as opponents of the austerity agenda and proponents of massive spending in green infrastructure. No matter how cynical the gesture – the Liberals presided over the most savage austerity in the 1990s, gutting Canada’s social programs, and the announced spending would undermine rather than strengthen the public sector – it is working.
The corporate media have presented the Leap Manifesto as either a threat to the New Democratic Party, or a project of its supporters. It is neither. It is a non-partisan document that has won support from a wide-range of people and organizations, those despairing of all that is going unsaid in this election and those moved by the historic potential of the moment we live in. Its use will be to build a counter-power to the next Canadian government. If it can gather a large number of signatories and momentum behind it, it can help build the kind of pressure that will compel changes to national policy on the most fundamental matters.
The Leap Manifesto is an attempt to wrench open the debate, the policy options, the range of political possibility. That’s how change happens: in fact, it’s the only way it ever has.
A powerful movement in Canada, animated by a compelling and positive vision for the climate and economy, can force the hand of whichever government comes to power in October. Even if the entire political class has forgotten this, Canadians haven’t.