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NDP: join the leap!

Jesse McLaren

April 4, 2016

In the lead up to the party’s convention, April 8-10 in Edmonton, more than a dozen riding associations have sent resolutions to endorse the manifesto that calls for climate justice, respect for First Nations and a mass expansion of green jobs. After a disastrous election result, the NDP has the opportunity of leaping back by embracing the Leap Manifesto.

The Leap Manifesto emerged from a two day climate justice discussion from Indigenous, environmental and labour activists from across the country last May. It built on the momentum of the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate in July and was released in September in the midst of the federal election—endorsed by high profile individuals and organizations across the country.

The Leap Manifesto expresses the hope of the rising climate justice movement, along with concrete demands for how to achieve it: implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; welcoming refugees; supporting a just transition for workers in carbon-intensive industries; expanding green jobs in retrofitting, high-speed rail and public transit, as well as low-carbon jobs in childcare, caregiving and teaching; ending neoliberal trade deals and fossil fuel subsidies; increasing corporate taxes and cutting military spending.

The NDP began the election campaign in the lead, reflecting movement demands to stop Bill C-51 and support a $15 minimum wage and $15 childcare. Had the NDP supported the ideas in the leap manifesto they could have become a megaphone for the movement and the Liberals and Tories as the parties of Big Oil.

NDP election: from “win-win” to lose-lose

But the NDP leadership kept its distance from the leap manifesto. Finance critic Nathan Cullen dismissed it, saying “we’re not going to be guided by a manifesto delivered in the midst of a campaign by high- or low-profile people. It’s just not the way to build a sustainable government.”

NDP leader Tom Mulcair was ambiguous. While he claimed to “love the debates of ideas,” he chastized climate justice activists for urging him to embrace climate justice at campaign rallies, and used the leadership debate to promise he would expand the tar sands. For years he’s supported the Energy East pipeline, claiming it would be a “win-win,” but the NDP support for the tar sands has been lose-lose, failing to support the movement and failing to make electoral gains.

It didn’t have to be this way. During the campaign Toronto-centre NDP candidate Linda McQuaig was asked about what her previous writings on the tar sands including a call for a moratorium. As she wrote recently, looking back, “After a split second in which I saw my political life pass in front of me, I decided to side with the planet, saying, ‘a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets.’”

The Tories and Liberals pounced on her for making this scientifically factual and environmentally urgent statement, and the corporate press claimed the NDP could never make electoral gains through such “controversial” statements. But as McQuaig recalled, “The NDP reached the height of its public support last spring when it ignored this conventional wisdom, risking controversy and complexity by standing up against legislation that initially seemed popular—the Conservatives’ ‘anti-terror’ legislation, Bill C-51.”

Embracing the ideas in the leap manifesto could have exposed the oily policies shared by the Liberals and Tories and made the NDP the clear alternative to Harper. But supporting a “balanced budget” instead of climate justice allowed the Liberals to monopolize the surge in anti-Harper sentiment.

With no party supporting the concrete demands of the Leap Manifesto, the Liberals have been allowed to claim the mantle of climate action through sheer rhetoric. At the Paris climate conference Trudeau claimed a “historic” agreement was reached, without any plan for how to reduce emissions. In the latest budget Trudeau also claimed to be supporting a “low-carbon economy,” while continuing to give subsidies to oil and gas corporations and continuing to support tar sands expansion.

While Mulcair continues to blame Quebec Islamophobia for the NDP loss, the real blame for the collapse in support is his support for pipelines and “balanced budgets,” as a recent letter by Quebec NDP members made clear: “We did not recognize ourselves in the platform we had to defend. The NDP is not a party like any other. We seek office to make positive changes for Canadians, not for the sake of power itself.”

On the other hand, a recent town hall organized by the Leap Manifesto and NDP riding associations mobilized more than 500 people to discuss climate action, a clear sign of how the NDP can reconnect to its base.

Leap back with the Leap Manifesto

The NDP can leap back by returning to the movements, including supporting the Leap Manifesto, both in policy and in action.

NDP MP Craig Scott argues the former should take longer. As he says in reference to his riding’s motion, “Ours says ‘let’s take the Leap Manifesto as a really productive starting point and work it through in serious policy discussions with the grassroots for the next two years so it comes back for the 2018 convention more fully worked through with more party ownership, as in more ownership from the members.”

But the NDP doesn’t have to take years to support climate action. They should immediately demand the Liberals end oil subsidies, support Indigenous communities like the Chippewas of the Thames defending their territories from pipelines, and support the Canadian Labour Congress campaign for a million climate jobs.

Join the conference Ideas for Real Change: Marxism 2016, including the discussion “How do we win real change” with NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo; and “Climate justice now” with Myeengun Henry of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, oil sands worker Ken Smith, author and activist Judy Rebick, and climate justice activist Jesse McLaren. Register today and join/share on facebook.

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