Push for NDP to embrace, debate Leap Manifesto intensifies ahead of convention

Backers of the radical "Leap Manifesto" have a plan to push their agenda to the forefront of the NDP's convention later this week.

OTTAWA — Backers of the radical “Leap Manifesto” have a plan to push their agenda to the forefront of the NDP’s convention later this week.

The manifesto calls for dramatic change, urging a transition away from fossil fuels, a rejection of new pipelines, and an upending of the capitalist system on which the economy is based.

Leading left-wing thinkers released the creed in September in the middle of the election campaign, jolting NDP Leader Tom Mulcair as he attempted to convince Canadians that his party was a moderate alternative to the Conservatives.

Now, as Mulcair’s leadership is up for debate and the party questions its own identity and direction, key New Democrats are pushing the Leap Manifesto principles into the mix.

Former MPs Libby Davies and Craig Scott, as well as the head of the influential Toronto-Danforth riding association and documentary filmmaker Avi Lewis, are circulating a plan to entrench the manifesto’s ideas.

But they don’t foresee a wholesale adoption of the manifesto all at once.

Rather, they ask that the federal NDP embrace values contained in the manifesto, but at the same time launch an internal process that will allow a thorough debate by its members.

“We agree that the time is clearly right to embrace the analysis and values in the manifesto, but we believe that the party also needs a chance to debate and articulate the many policies that flow from it,” says a letter set to be circulated to rank-and-file NDP members at the Edmonton convention, a copy of which was provided to The Canadian Press.

“In other words, we believe the NDP needs to take some ownership over this agenda through a democratic process.”

Nearly two dozen NDP riding associations are urging the party to embrace the manifesto’s plan at the convention as rank-and-file members mull the future of the party following October’s disappointing election results.

As a result of that increased interest, Lewis, one of the key drivers behind the manifesto, said he’s been working with Davies, Scott and others inside the NDP to help craft an appropriate procedural path for the ideas. They’ve come up with two-step process, for which the letter seeks support.

They propose two resolutions for debate in Edmonton: The first calls on the party to support the vision put forward by the Leap Manifesto, the second would have riding associations debate how to put those principles to work, leading up to a full discussion at the next convention in 2018.

Lewis said in an interview that there also needs to be an online mechanism to allow members to have a strong voice in the policy-making process.

The letter says the manifesto could play a key role in the renewal of the NDP that is rooted in a “bold, inspiring, left vision of Canada.”

“We agree that the time is clearly right to embrace the analysis and values in the manifesto, but we believe the party also needs a chance to debate and articulate the many policies that flow from it. We also think the manifesto can play a part in strengthening party democracy, transparency and grassroots involvement in policy-making.”

The manifesto declares that no further money should be invested in building fossil fuel infrastructure, such as pipelines. But Lewis pointed out the New Democrats face a real conundrum around the pipeline debate because the party’s convention is being held in oil-rich Alberta.

“The (provincial) NDP government in Alberta feels that being against pipelines is a no-go zone,” Lewis said.

“In fact, the premier of Alberta speaks about climate change and pipelines in the same breath every time she talks about their climate change policy … She always points out that this will give the province the credibility to get its bitumen to tidewater.”

Yet science clearly indicates governments cannot continue to build the infrastructure of the fossil fuel economy if Canada wants to tackle climate change, Lewis added.

When the proposal was released during the election campaign, NDP Leader Mulcair did not back it but he said he appreciated the debate of ideas.

Mulcair faces a critical leadership review in Edmonton to determine if he can stay at the helm of the party.

NDP President Rebecca Blaikie has indicated he will likely need 70 per cent support from delegates to keep his job though Mulcair has refused to provide a number that would prompt him to resign.

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