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Leap Manifesto our best chance to start the national climate conversation we sorely need

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Image: www.leapmanifesto.org

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Since the recent NDP convention in Edmonton, at which New Democrats -- myself included -- decided to debate the Leap Manifesto, there has been a flurry of articles both dismissing and defending it. Unfortunately, those levelling criticisms against the manifesto in particular have often leaned heavily on ad hominem and strawman arguments.

One recent exception was an article that appeared on rabble.ca by Alberta-based community organizer Bronwyn Bragg. Bragg raises concerns over the process through which the manifesto was released and the procedural restraints the manifesto supposedly places on New Democrats moving forward.

Due to the respectful tone and thoughtful nature of Bragg's criticism I have decided to respond to her concerns, from one community organizer to another.

First, Bragg's article, like many others, does not acknowledge that the Manifesto was written by a committee of diverse representatives from six different provinces, including Alberta. NDP Electoral District Associations (EDAs) from British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec -- not the manifesto's numerous authors -- brought the Leap to the convention. They would be the natural targets of Bragg's criticism here, but they go unmentioned. 

A prioritized and amended resolution -- a combination of the Vancouver-East and Toronto Danforth resolutions that was cognizant of the distinct "needs of various communities" -- made it to the convention floor via the panel process. A significant majority of delegates (a group in which host Alberta was over-represented) voted in favour. In short, grassroots NDP members followed the only process that was available to them.

Bragg makes the claim that the best way to have difficult conversations "is not by setting out the terms of the debate before people get to the table." But who is policing these ostensible boundaries? Who is preventing our EDAs from proposing any resolutions they want for the next convention?

It seems to me that a significant majority of NDP delegates voted to debate the Leap Manifesto; they did this despite arguments from Alberta cabinet ministers and others that we should not even have a debate due to fears that the right-wing media would dismiss the NDP as a result (presumably more than they do already) and turn voters against the NDP.

Bragg echoes this argument when she claims "placing the manifesto into the political machine of the NDP both opens the door for the opposition to bash the NDP in Alberta, but also further alienates the climate justice movement from those who work in the energy sector." She seems to suggest that the climate justice movement is further alienated from energy sector workers simply by talking about climate change seriously. Is Bragg saying that the climate justice movement should avoid the NDP?

She continues, arguing that we need energy workers "at the table for conversations about energy democracy," but that the manifesto "disavows" them. This ignores not only who wrote the manifesto (a group that included those who work in the energy sector), but also what its proponents have been saying.

Take, for example, Avi Lewis who emphatically stated to Albertan workers during his impassioned speech from the convention floor that "we will never abandon you!" This is far from a disavowal. It lies in stark contrast to the oil and gas industry that has already abandoned so many Albertans -- and will continue to do so even if we build a million pipelines.

Bragg makes an argument similar to the one made by the Alberta NDP, namely that the Leap's call to halt infrastructure development "ignores the political, economic and social realities in Alberta." First, let's be clear, the manifesto only talks about projects that "lock us into increased extraction decades into the future."

Second, the reality of climate change has been overwhelmingly established. There is no such thing as a morally coherent argument in favour of the expansion of tar sands production that acknowledges the scientific reality of climate change. Period. All the criticism around Leap studiously avoids this fact.

We need to move beyond arguments based on what is politically palatable within the current boundaries of the discursive spaces contrived by private centres of power in our society. The NDP ought to be willing to push those boundaries on this issue. To fail to do so is to be a limp bystander in the face of a rapidly approaching apocalyptic event -- an event that will amount to a crime against humanity (to borrow some language from Stephen Lewis).

Here's a fact that has been conspicuously absent in all of the debate so far: global civilizational collapse is possibly already inevitable at this point (and could happen as soon as the next couple of decades according to various climate experts). Many choose not to dwell on this fact, and for good reason I think. Optimism is a good strategy. But I was proud of Stephen Lewis for referring to this reality during his speech at convention.

Bragg concludes her article with a clever line: "Alone we go fast, together we go far." It's a nice line, but it cannot change the reality: if we go slowly, billions will die; if we go fast, that might happen anyways (but it might not!). Pipelines are being pushed right now by industry, the federal government, and the Alberta NDP. They are not waiting for the conclusion of our debate, no matter how grassroots, cordial and procedurally enlightened it is.

It is extremely hard to simply state the reality openly and honestly, but the science is clear: we must demand the nationwide transition to green energy and green infrastructure that can save our climate and our economy now. We have to abandon the actual radical plan, which is to further lock humanity into a death spiral via tar sands expansion.

The fact is these difficult conversations were not being taken seriously within the Party until now. We obviously cannot always control how it is that debates break out, but when debates do arise we should make productive use of them.

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Image: www.leapmanifesto.org

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