Let me start this blog post by congratulating grassroots members of the NDP for attending their recent convention in Edmonton, and having the courage to make significant changes within their party in the interests of democracy and the planet. Although I am not and have never been a New Democrat, I know that these sorts of changes are never easy to make. I have, however, always believed that a strong New Democratic Party is a benefit to Canada, and although I have in the past been very critical of the NDP in this blog, largely that has been because I’ve always expected more from grassroots members in terms of how they move their party and its policies on the critical issues of our time – especially climate change.
What I saw from the NDP this past weekend was a clear desire to take action. By adopting a resolution to have further discussions at the riding level related to the Leap Manifesto, the NDP have suddenly shifted the national dialogue around the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. While the watered-down policy might not go far enough for my liking (I would have preferred an outright adoption of Leap as Party policy), there really can be no denying that thanks to NDP grassroots members who supported Leap on the weekend, the tenor of national discussion has already begun to change.
Moving the Low-Carbon Economy Into Mainstream Political Discourse
Not that consumers of mainstream media would know it. For the past two days, pundits and pols have been blasting grassroots New Democrats for their support of Leap. The idea that Alberta can’t continue to expand the tar sands, or that B.C. won’t be able to develop its liquefied natural gas (LNG) resources apparently seems preposterous to those who write for the Globe & Mail ("Can the NDP ever be taken seriously as a national government?", Gerald Caplan, the Globe & Mail, April 11, 2016), the National Post ("With its Jack Layton-esque centrism in tatters, radical Leap Manifesto will doom NDP," Michael Den Tandt, the National Post, April 10, 2016), the CBC ("The Leap Manifesto and the NDP," Rex Murphy, CBC Television, April 11, 2016 - posted April 12, 2016) and even the Toronto Star ("Has the NDP become redundant?" Richard Gwyn, the Toronto Star, April 12, 2016).
That’s to be expected. When you take on the monied elites, that’s what you’re going to get. But even I am surprised at the vehemence and hostility directed towards NDP Leapers from those in the media – and frankly from the elites within your own Party, like Alberta Premier Rachel Notley ("Thoughtless and tone deaf: Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley on Leap Manifesto," NationalNewsWatch.com, April 11, 2016) B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan ("Leap Manifesto 'makes no sense' for B.C., NDP leader John Horgan says," the Globe & Mail, April 11, 2016) and former Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton ("What is the future of the federal NDP?" Up North, CBC Radio, April 11, 2016). What you, NDP Leapers, managed to accomplish this past weekend was to put Canadian civil society on notice that green social democratic ideas can no longer be excluded from public discourse.
Of course, green ideas haven’t been excluded from public discourse – just that discourse found in the mainstream media. They’ve always proliferated via social media, and will continue to do so. Although no one kept track of who voted for what this past weekend, I’d wager that many millennials – which, as a demographic group, seem to be less tied to the narrow opinions professed by the majority of mainstream media pundits – likely led the charge for Leap. Although there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that elder NDP statesman Stephen Lewis’ chastisement of the “brown” faction in his awesome speech to conventioneers likely had a role in providing the courage to shift the ground from underneath your Party.
Work To Do
I know that you’re not quite there yet, New Democrats – there’s still a lot of work to do at the EDA level to move your party forward on climate change, resource development and how Canada will position itself for a low carbon future – but by agreeing to discuss Leap, you’ve taken a huge step, whether you think you have or not. Those who embrace the fossilized status quo have already framed you as out of touch with the social, environmental and (especially) economic realities of our times. Like it or not, you’re now on the outside of the mainstream. That might be a comfortable place for many who have self-identified as “socialists” in the past – but I suspect that many Leapers have signed on because of your concerns for climate change. You may have become frustrated with your party’s direction to continue to put forward ideas that prosperity has to be fueled by fossil development and building pipelines to expand the tar sands.
Progressive Greens vs. Status Quo Browns
Well, everything is out in the open now – and whether you realize it or not, you’ve aligned yourself with one faction of a quiet schism within your own Party. You’ve stood up for the greens in your party, and you’ve now publicly declared your opposition to the browns who want to take Canada in a different direction. Some of you might still be under the impression that a happy middle ground can be found to bridge the gap between your factions.
No. That’s not going to happen. You’re here now.
Welcome to Blockadia.
The cold, hard reality is this: you’re either for the status quo, or you’re for the changes that we need to make to embrace the low-carbon economy and stave off the very worst social, economic and environmental impacts of anthropogenic global warming. The desire to expand the tar sands enterprise (and other fossil projects) is irreconcilably at odds with keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The science shows us the way forward – that we must leave the majority of fossil fuels in the ground.
Some, like the Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin, are comparing this “debate” to the Waffle movement of the early 1970s (see: “NDP’sLeap is the Waffle reborn,” Lawrence Martin, the Globe & Mail, April 12, 2016), and predicting that, essentially, like the Waffle, this Leap nonsense too shall pass, and the NDP will be put back on a more “mainstream” trajectory. Martin’s read of the current situation shows just how out of touch he and other pundits are about the future that you have boldly proclaimed that you want your Party to embrace.
Make no mistake – you’ve joined a global movement – one which will sweep away the vestiges of the fossil fuel status quo. It will. It must – as we’ve no choice but to do so, if we are going to have any hope of salvaging some semblance of our global civilization from the centuries-long crisis that we’ve plunged the planet into. By standing up to the elites and demanding a better future for yourselves, your children and grandchildren, you are firing what will be amongst the first salvos which ultimately begin to transform our economy, our environment and our planet. That the mainstream pundits all appear to be blinded by the past should be no never-mind to you. Stay your course with the knowledge that the future is on your side.
And for those in your Party who might not be sold on the Leap, I’m sure you’ll do what you can to show them all of the good, noble, moral and economically sound reasons for taking on the status quo and moving Canada aggressively towards a low-carbon future. Many will come around to joining you.
Moving Forward with the Program
As for those that don’t? Well, you created the precedent this past weekend to guide those decisions. Sweep them away. They will only hold you back from the hard work that you need to undertake to convince a wider audience of the need for action – especially in the face of the mainstream which sometimes appears to exist only to bolster the monied elitism of the status quo. You see what happened in the United Kingdom with Jeremy Corbynn. You look south of the border now and see how the elites in the mainstream have ignored the messages offered by Bernie Sanders. You need really look no further than here in Canada to see firsthand how the elites have continued to ignore the Green Party – my Party – as a serious contributor to public discourse on issues of economics, social democracy and a low carbon future. Heck, we've had our own version of the ideas contained in Leap available online for the past decade in the form of Vision Green - but no one has paid it much attention.
I understand that there will be those within your own Party to urge for a go-slow approach on Leap, lest you tear asunder the coalition you’ve built between browns and greens. That’s poor advice in the face of the climate crisis – we simply don’t have the time, according to Stephen Lewis and many others who are in the know about the severity of the impending crisis. Take control of your party at all levels – and be prepared to fearlessly oust those who refuse to come around to standing up for the planet and who instead want to champion the monied elites.
Do in Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia – and yes, in Alberta – what you are doing federally. Put Leap on the agenda of your provincial parties. Talk to elected MP’s, MLA’s/MPP’s at all levels. Lobby them if they’re not already on-side. If they continue to stand against the progressive interests of the planet in favour of the parochial interests of the elites, even if they do so in the name of jobs or the little guy (an argument that you know to be false), find them and label them and move on from them. When the day of reckoning comes, write them off, while embracing elected officials who stand for the planet.
The Leadership Question
You’ll be electing a leader in the near future. The importance of this decision cannot be under-stated. Again, you’ve taken a side on an issue over which there can be no reconciliation. If your Party elects a brown that endorses expanding fossil resources, even while simultaneously trumpeting how this kind of development can fuel the low-carbon economy, it will be clear that your Party has abandoned the principles that you recently fought for in Edmonton.
What Rachel Notley and others like her want Canadians to believe is that we can both expand the tar sands while reducing emissions. You just dumped Tom Mulcair in part because he couldn’t sell that vision to Canadians from the perspective of the New Democratic Party (although admittedly we did elect a Liberal government that ran on the same platform). The fact is that Notley’s beliefs are not based on science and evidence – the very science and evidence that has brought you here, now, embracing Leap. Sure, Notley and Trudeau (and Mulcair before them) tell a pretty good fairy-tale – one that the mainstream media recently decided to pick up after the Conservative’s disastrous departure from government (remember how the pundits used to talk about any cuts to emissions being disastrous for the economy?), but it’s a fairy story nonetheless. We can’t burn our way into prosperity – not with the Sword of Damocles that is the climate crisis hanging over our heads.
Fighting for the Future
Should New Democrats opt for a brown leader in the future - one who refuses to tell Canadians that we've got to leave the oil and natural gas in the ground - to grassroots New Democrats who believe that Leap is the way forward, I say this - Elizabeth May and the Green Party supported Leap from the day that it was announced. I know that you might have heard that the Green Party isn't a "progressive" party, but the truth is the truth is often the first casualty in partisan political warfare. Those who have taken a close look at the Greens have made the unbiased claims that when it comes to being progressive, there's little difference between our two parties (see: "Greens deserve 'progressive' votes as much as anyone," Michael Laxer, rabble.ca, June 30, 2015). I don't agree, clearly - I think the NDP still has to come along way on climate justice issues - but your party took a very bold step in that direction this past weekend. If your party fails to live up to your expectations, you know where you and your friends might be able to go in order to work towards the future that Leap knows we need if we are to succeed as a nation the deeper we get into the 21st Century.
New Democrats: Welcome to Blockadia. I, for one, am glad that you’re here. And I look forward to building on this relationship as time goes by.
(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)