The hackles are up and the knives are out among Alberta’s New Democrats. The target? So-called “downtown Toronto political dilettantes,” according to Gill McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
What is stoking this anger, fear and despair from the party that advocates love, hope and optimism?
The Leap Manifesto. This document, spearheaded by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, calls for a radical integration of a meaningful response to climate change into our economy, our politics, and our relationship with Indigenous Peoples, workers, and immigrants. If you want to hear Avi Lewis in his own words about the manifesto, which Premier Notley called “naïve…ill-informed…and tone-deaf,” watch this CPAC interview.
Let’s take a closer look at the politics behind this name-calling.
Just last year, Alberta ended 43 years of Progressive Conservative rule, with the election of the New Democrats under the leadership of Premier Rachel Notley. The party rode to power on an unprecedented wave of displeasure against PC entitlement and the fear of the other alternative, the far right wing Wildrose Party. Alberta New Democrats want their government to be more than an aberration in the province’s conservative political landscape. If the right unites before the next election and no longer split the vote, the likelihood of the Alberta NDP staying in power are slim.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Premier Notley and her supporters feel threatened by anything that would undermine their ability to be re-elected – like the appeals for no more oil pipelines and a phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050, which are both called for in the Manifesto. In fact, the Alberta NDP advocates the opposite: the Holy Grail that the PCs couldn’t deliver, an oil pipeline to either the west or the east coast. Conservative strategists and the Premier know the potential political outcome if this were ever to come to pass. Progress Alberta reports that an attendee from a unite-the-right Super PAC event last week stated, “If there’s a doomsday scenario and [the Alberta NDP] actually get a pipeline built…they’re going to govern for the next twenty years.”
As a left-leaning Albertan, I could get used to that.
So, when the Federal New Democrats—who just wrapped up their policy convention in Edmonton—voted in favour of launching a party-wide discussion about this Leap Manifesto, you can understand why some Alberta NDP supporters were upset.
Let’s take a step back to get some perspective.
From where I stand I’m concerned with the biophysical imperatives associated with climate change. Nature bats last and human civilization must operate within the Earth’s constraints.
The science that I am reading reveals that the impacts from climate change are already far worse than anticipated. Check out this recent frightening vlog from climate scientist James Hansen on some of his recent peer-reviewed work. This science only underscores the need for humans to take immediate action.
The Leap Manifesto calls for decarbonization by 2050, which is aligned with climate science. Achieving this goal is possible using today’s technologies and at a reasonable cost. Recent modeling by Jeffrey Sachs’ Deep Decarbonization Pathways group has indicated that it is possible for Canada to achieve this goal and still grow the economy. However, without much more ambitious climate policies, Canada cannot both decarbonize and expand oil and gas production.
As a downtown Toronto-based Albertan political dilettante, I am left in something of a quandary.
I would like the NDP to be more than a one-hit wonder in Alberta. I would also like Canada to do its fair share about climate change and perhaps even be an international leader. I’m sure Premier Notley and the Leap Manifesto authors would agree on this. So given today’s politics, how can we make this vision a reality?
Let’s say the fossil fuel industry gets another pipeline to a coast. What sort of quid pro quo would it be willing to offer? The Alberta Climate Leadership Plan that was announced back in November, like I said in my post at the time, is fantastic but still allows the industry to build another major pipeline and pollute our atmosphere with another 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. To boot, because the oil and gas industry is considered trade exposed, they are given substantial subsidies that can offset the costs of a higher carbon price in the province so as to not erode their competitiveness. The fossil fuel industry must know that they will need to do far more than what is in Alberta’s new climate plan. Can they pay for retraining of the workers they have been laying off, thus enabling them to be employed in more sustainable parts of the economy? Can they handsomely endow sustainable energy programs at Alberta’s technical colleges? These are key aspects of the just transition advocated in the Leap Manifesto.
What else could Premier Notley do to be both re-elected and step up her climate policy ambition? If reducing emissions in Alberta is too expensive, the Province may have to look outside its borders to reduce emissions. What if Alberta joined Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and California in their cap and trade program? While paying Ontario and Quebec for carbon credits may make some Albertans nauseous, one must consider the outcome of not gaining the social license for pipelines, let alone the direct impacts of climate change. Carbon pollution needs to be reduced; does it matter if it is not reduced in Alberta? Rather than seeing climate action as causing division among provinces, it could be seen as strengthening national unity.
If Canada combined a substantially improved foreign aid program with its climate goals, like oil- and gas‑exporting Norway has, it could realize some additional emission benefits and improve the lives of those receiving aid. While international offsets should not be the first choice for emissions reductions and are far from perfect, they are much better than what is currently happening – both Alberta and Canada polluting far beyond their emission reduction targets. NDP Elder and Leap Manifesto advocate Stephen Lewis noted in a barnburner of a speech at the NDP convention this weekend that Canada only commits 0.24% of its GDP to foreign aid, ranking it between 16th to 20th place among OECD countries and well below the 0.7% level advocated by former Liberal PM Pearson.
Rather than reacting from a position of scarcity and fear, I would encourage Albertans of all stripes to read the Leap Manifesto and consider its tone and vision. Its aim is to paint a picture of the future, not provide a detailed policy analysis. How can we take what many see as a crisis in Alberta and turn it into a gift? How can we begin to envision a more just, inclusive, and renewable future? This is where the Leap Manifesto is rightfully radical.