OTTAWA — Just as Tom Mulcair attempts to convince Canadians that the NDP is a safe, moderate choice in the Oct. 19 election, some of his party’s highest profile supporters are issuing a manifesto calling for a radical restructuring of the country’s economy.
The “leap manifesto,” signed by more than 100 actors, musicians, labour unions, aboriginal leaders, environmentalists and other activists, aims to pressure the next federal government to wean Canada entirely off fossil fuels in as little as 35 years and, in the process, upend the capitalist system on which the economy is based.
The drivers of the manifesto are best-selling author Naomi Klein and her husband Avi Lewis. It echoes the theme of Klein’s latest book: “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate,” which was turned into a documentary of the same name, directed by Lewis.
Tuesday’s release of the manifesto coincides with the debut of the documentary over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The dramatic transformation envisioned in the manifesto is in stark contrast to the pragmatic platform Mulcair is offering: balanced budgets, an openness to free trade deals, sustainable development of Alberta’s oil sands, no tax hikes except for a “slight and graduated” increase in the corporate tax rate.
Yet among the celebrity signatories are a number of prominent NDP supporters, including former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, father of Avi, who gave a rousing introduction for Mulcair at a campaign event in Toronto last month.
Others signatories who’ve declared their NDP sympathies include pop duo Tegan and Sara, singer-songwriter Leslie Feist, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuf and Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Stephen Lewis doesn’t see his support for Mulcair as inconsistent with the manifesto, which he notes is also signed by people from other parties, including Roy McMurtry, a former Ontario chief justice and one-time provincial Conservative cabinet minister.
“For the New Democrats, it’s an extension of the kinds of things they’ve been talking about,” Lewis said in an interview.
“When Tom Mulcair talks about climate change and the importance of dealing with global warming in Canada and internationally, this is an extension — admittedly a dramatic and vivid extension — of the kinds of things that many of us yearn for.”
Starting with the premise that Canada’s record on climate change is “a crime against humanity’s future,” the manifesto argues the country needs to make the leap to getting 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources within 20 years and weaning itself entirely off fossil fuels by 2050.
This means adopting a new “iron law” of energy development: “If you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard,” to be applied equally to pipelines, fracking, increased oil tanker traffic and Canadian-owned mining projects abroad.
In the process, the manifesto envisions a transformation of the entire capitalist system into a Utopia in which the economy is “in balance with the earth’s limits,” jobs “are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality,” agriculture is “far more localized and ecologically based,” and low-carbon sectors of the economy, like caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media, flourish.
The signatories declare their belief in “energy democracy,” in which energy sources are collectively controlled by communities, rather than “profit-gouging” private companies.
They call for an end to “all corporate trade deals” that interfere with attempts to build local economies and regulate corporations.
In contrast to Mulcair’s insistence that running deficits puts an unfair economic burden on future generations, the signatories declare that “austerity — which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and health care, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations — is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.”
The signatories assert that the money to pay for the transformation they envision is readily available. All it requires is for the federal government to end fossil fuel subsidies, cut military spending and impose financial transaction taxes, increased resource royalties and higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.
In Calgary on Tuesday night, Mulcair said the New Democrats welcome the ideas contained in the manifesto.
“I do understand the profound desire for change reflected in that document,” he said.
“We’ve talked about a cap and trade system, that is our policy, that’s what we will be doing.”
“Before the election, we are going to tell Canadians what we are going to do and once we are elected, we are actually going to do it, it has never been tried,” Mulcair said.
Other manifesto signatories include actors Ellen Page, Rachel McAdams, Sarah Polley, Pamela Anderson and Donald Sutherland, singers Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, Gord Downie, Sarah Harmer and Leonard Cohen, novelists Michael Ondaatje and Joseph Boyden, environmentalist David Suzuki, anti-free trade activist Maude Barlow, artist Robert Bateman and film director Patricia Rozema.
Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the manifesto was aimed at pressuring the next government to quit fossil fuels entirely within the next 20 years.