Opinion

Leap Manifesto a Trojan Horse for Federal New Democrats

It’s unrealistic, and pursuing it will only lead NDP to leap further off a high political cliff.

By Bill Tieleman 20 Sep 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

“(Media are) portraying the Leap as a radical document, I don’t see it that way and I don’t think most people in Canada do actually.” – Robert Fox, new NDP national director .

Is the federal New Democratic Party about to welcome a Trojan Horse called the Leap Manifesto into its besieged walls?

With the NDP dropping to abysmal levels of support, leader Tom Mulcair voted out by convention delegates but fighting off a rebellion by his MPs to have him leave before next year’s leadership convention, and fundraising efforts torpedoed, it’s not surprising the party desperately wants a boost.

But the Leap Manifesto fronted by Toronto filmmaker Avi Lewis and author Naomi Klein is indeed radical by design, and if the NDP thinks otherwise it will get a nasty electoral surprise rather than salvation.

Last week, Lewis announced he has declined pleas to enter the NDP leadership race but continues to push the Leap Manifesto, saying it is non-partisan.

And Robert Fox, the NDP’s new top staffer, told The Tyee he bets about half of federal Liberal supporters agree with the Leap Manifesto.

Really? Both BC NDP leader John Horgan and Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley have rejected it.

Let’s look at just one part of the Leap Manifesto, which calls for “a country powered entirely by renewable energy” – how radical a shift would it take Canada to get there?

An article linked to the Leap Manifesto website from Energy Policy journal outlines how the entire world could eliminate fossil fuels by 2050.

It’s worth noting that many environmentalists, First Nations and community activists who support the Leap Manifesto also adamantly oppose BC Hydro’s Site C dam project on the Peace River in northern B.C.

But the Leap Manifesto cited research says that to kick fossil fuels, the world would need approximately 270 new 1,300-megawatt hydroelectric dams.

And those would all be larger than Site C’s 1,100 megawatts.*

So here in B.C., if we want to help the world Leap, we should welcome more and bigger dams to do our part – bring on Sites D, E, F, G and H at least!

The article – titled “Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power” – also outlines other major steps needed to replace fossil fuels with renewables.

Wind power is also cited, without discussion that giant wind turbines kill birds, make ungodly noises and visually pollute the landscape.

The Leap Manifesto-endorsed paper says the world would need 3.8 million 5 MW wind power plants. B.C. currently has a few wind farms in operation – but how many thousands more turbines would we be willing to take?

But there’s more – the world would need to build 5,350 geothermal power plants. And 720,000 wave devices. And 490,000 tidal power turbines. And 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt rooftop solar power plants and 89,000 large scale 300-megawatt solar plants.

And the list goes on. Not to say any of this can’t happen – but not by 2050, a mere 34 years away. And there are obviously enormous social, planning and environmental issues even with renewable power.

More tellingly, fossil fuels are not going away soon.

In 2040, just 10 years away from the Leap Manifesto deadline, fossil fuels will still account for 78 per cent of energy use worldwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2016 World Energy Outlook.

That’s even though renewables are the fastest growing source of power, followed closely by controversial nuclear energy and then natural gas, the leading growth fossil fuel.

What’s clear is that the future is not as green as it’s cracked up to be.

And one of the challenges glossed over in the Leap Manifesto is dealing with the transition of workers in affected energy sectors.

The Leap says: “We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality.

“Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.”

Well, isn’t that lovely? Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way.

The transition to a lower carbon planet is important but many around the world rank eliminating poverty, famine and disease and establishing basic human and labour rights higher than people in Canada having higher wages and lower hours of work.

As to the Leap’s “just transition” planning for workers, it is far from realistic and lacking any plan beyond this:

“We want training and other resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to take part in the clean energy economy. This transition should involve the democratic participation of workers themselves.”

How would that work exactly? Oil sands workers trained to build solar panels by the millions?

By comparison, here’s what Calgary’s respected Mayor Naheed Nenshi said about the Leap Manifesto: “I know I don’t get that because I believe that we have to adapt to reality. And yes, we’re moving to a low carbon future, of course we are, but there’s still a role for business, there’s still a role for carbon, there’s still a role for people to make a decent living,” he said.

Lastly, what would it cost for this great leap forward to save the planet?

Earlier this year, Lewis was asked if there is a price tag for the Leap Manifesto.

“No. It’s an aspirational, high-level document that attempts to tell a story about where we are in history and what we need to do next,” Lewis told Maclean’s magazine.

“The next stage is to develop that granular policy approach, and the coalition of social groups behind this document would like to get there. It’s not designed to be a budget.

“It wasn’t written by economists. But we know the money is there,” Lewis concluded.

Ah yes, of course it is – the money is always there. Kind of like the pot of gold and the leprechaun at the end of the rainbow.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives also believes the money is there, arguing in a short paper that all that is lacking is “political will and determination.”

At least they have outlined some ways to get the money – but their suggestions are once again radical and would have a far-reaching impact on the economy.

The CCPA options include:

These ideas – without evaluating how realistic they are economically or achievable politically – add up to about $48 billion a year, an impressive amount.

But the federal Liberal government – not Leaping at the Manifesto – is currently projecting a national deficit of over $29 billion already this fiscal year and next without any help from the CCPA.

So while it’s easy to agree with some suggestions from the CCPA – going after tax havens, for example – taken as a whole it’s hard to imagine no political or financial repercussions from corporations or the wealthy or even Canadian families splitting income or getting the child tax cuts.

Even if successful on every measure, raising an extra $19 billion a year won’t build a lot of dams, wind turbines and solar panels.

But despite the Leap Manifesto’s incredible lack of detail and wishful thinking, the federal NDP recklessly agreed to debate and discuss it for two years.

And the more the federal NDP talks about this Trojan Horse of manifestos, the more the party is leaping off a very high political cliff.

*Story corrected Sept. 23 at 8 a.m. to reflect the correct megawatts for the Site C dam.  [Tyee]

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