I first heard of the Leap Manifesto in an issue of Maclean’s titled, “How to Kill the NDP.” That was April 2016, almost a year after a coalition of environmental, Indigenous rights, labour, social justice, and other activist movements began discussion on what was too quickly becoming an object of ridicule for much of the mainstream media. The conference was organized by activist Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything and Avi Lewis, director of the documentary of the same title.
“It’s not about carbon: it’s about capitalism” is the thesis of This Changes Everything, which examines why so many attempts to address climate change have failed. They have been unable to escape the narrative wherein every problem—including those created by the a ceaseless drive for profit and economic growth—can, and should, be left for the “free market” to solve.
“The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another” builds on the central logic of this thesis. If our profit-addicted system is at the root of our inability to tackle climate change, then the climate crisis is inextricably linked with the other failings of this system: dependence of less-developed nations on the more-developed, the trampling of democracy by corporate power, and the host of austerity measures that—in preventing governments from addressing environmental injustice—have “become a threat to life on earth.” Its 15 demands include a rapid transition away from a carbon-centered economy, based on energy democracy, and a “polluter pays” principle that will shift the costs of the crisis away from the most vulnerable.
The “Leap” is not a revolutionary document: it is a non-partisan list of policies that could, theoretically in theory, be adopted by any party. Given that there can be no NDP (divided or not) and no economy on a dead planet, the “Leap” is an assertion of basic common sense. The disastrous consequences that global warming and environmental exploitation will have are not news.
Moving past a fossil-fuel burning economy—in a way, of course, that supports and empowers local economies to make this transition, as the Leap makes clear—is an indisputable necessity. Yet the moment any action is suggested —apart from international climate talks that fail to establish legally binding emissions reductions (like the COP21 summit, which only binds countries to continue emissions target negotiations)—those who suggest it are met with accusations. For example, in the September 15th, 2015 Globe Editorial—where such people were “saddling” a divided NDP with the “madness” of a “revolutionary utopian manifesto.”
I chose to examine “Hard Left Turn” by Jason Markusoff and John Geddes from the aforementioned Maclean’s issue not because it vehemently attacks the Leap Manifesto, but precisely because it doesn’t. “Hard Left Turn” seems to do its best to not pass judgment on the Leap itself: instead, it uses the Leap as the crowning example of ways in which the NDP has failed to hold itself together. It reflects well the tone of discourse surrounding serious climate action in Canada, that major news magazine’s article on the Leap Manifesto was not about the Leap’s contents themselves, but instead a dismissal of it as divisive—a diversion to which no self-respecting party should let itself fall prey. “NDP leadership for years had proven effective at keeping the party’s more extreme wings at bay,” reads the inset on the first page. “Another big idea” (such as supporting safe injection sites) “could have captured party passions, if the Leap wasn’t dangling there for the hungry.” Now the Liberals will regain the vote of Canada’s “left” while the NDP “compromisers and idealists wage battle.”
I could spend pages refuting claims that the Leap Manifesto is not technologically or financially feasible, but not only would that be beyond the scope of this article, it would be beside the point. If insufficient finances or technological development were the only things preventing Canada from investing in public infrastructure, or shifting to 100 percent renewable energy, proposals such as the ones made in the Leap’s accompanying document “How to Pay for the Leap” would be taken seriously, and national research programs would be put in place. The problem is not technology or the budget. The problem is that anyone who tries to address systemic failings is labeled an“idealist” that makes life difficult for compromisers. Any proposal for meaningful change is dismissed as another “ big idea ” that prevents parties from choosing less controversial “big ideas,” and branding something as divisive acts as a legitimate refutation of its arguments. The problem is our political timidity, which has been clearly demonstrated in the media-response to the Leap Manifesto. We’ve ceased to equate common sense with what is necessary for an inhabitable planet, and we’ve come to equate it with what we can accomplish without damaging the status quo, while “keeping the party’s more extreme wings at bay.”
Timidity has a tendency to slide into apathy. When our narrative is so restricted that the deepest crisis humanity has ever faced is not important enough to risk re-examining the structure of our economy, “rationality” becomes a mask for fear: fear that if a different world is possible, building it is our responsibility. Opponents accuse the Leap of pessimism, of making the crisis sound greater than it is, when serious discussion of proposals like the Leap are the best chance we have of overcoming this apathy and fear of change. The Leap is, in fact, a call to optimism, but one that is far from idealistic, and acknowledges the deeply disturbing realities our future could hold. We have a narrow window in which it is still possible to build a livable world.
Yes, this will lead to controversy, and will be messy in the short term, and it will not leave every large, fossil-fuel dependent corporation happy.
It is time to stop treating the environmental crisis like one more idea that parties only attach to their platforms only when it feels politically safe, and it is time to stop dismissing any attempt to address the problems inherent in our system as “idealism.”
It is time to take the mental leap that will allow us to participate in writing our own story.