Canada's Leap Manifesto: Will this change everything?

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The Leap Manifesto cover

An audacious and radical plan to overhaul the Canadian economy authored by some of the world's most respected thinkers, including Naomi Klein and David Suzuki, has gained support from 2015 election frontrunner, the New Democratic Party. Will this change everything, asks Alfred van Amelsvoort and could it change Australia?

THOSE REPRESENTATIVES with a selfless interest in job security voted for Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, and the mainstream media is performing its role of purveyor of bullshit as always. Ultimately the same slanging match continues as if nothing has changed. Nothing has changed at the practical level to excite Australians.

There is no one in Canberra with a vision for Australia — only half-baked sound bites for the evening news.

Well, there is another way: A model manifesto for Australia based on Canada's The Leap Manifesto. The Leap Manifesto was initiated in the spring of 2015 at a two-day meeting in Toronto and signed up to by more than 100 actors, musicians, labour unions, Indigenous rights leaders, environmentalists and religious leaders.

The overarching aim of this "People's Agenda" is to wean the next federal Canadian government off fossil fuels by 2050 with a radical overhaul of the Canadian economy. Significantly, many of the New Democratic Party (currently leading in the polls for next month's federal election) number amongst the manifesto's highest profile supporters. 

Award-winning journalist and author of 'This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate', Naomi Klein, launched the manifesto, saying:

We live in an historic moment, one that demands audacity, ambition and courage."

The Leap Manifesto calls for a Canada remade as

 "a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the opportunities of this transition are designed to eliminate racial and gender inequality."

The Manifesto's authors are a who's who of Canadian scientists, artists and activists. Apart from Naomi Klein, they include luminaries such as scientist and environmental activist, David Suzuki, singer, songwriter, poet Leonard Cohen and Canadian actor, Donald Sutherland.

They have a simple program for getting there:

"An end to fossil-fuel subsidies and financial transaction taxes

Increased resource royalties

Higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people

A progressive carbon tax

Cuts to military spending."

And it starts with honouring the primacy and land-claims of Canada's First Nations.

It's an amazing, audacious and urgent vision for a country whose successive governments have transformed it from a beacon of good governance, empathy and peacekeeping into a world-leading polluter, where selfishness is elevated to virtue and science-denial is the official doctrine.

Here is an abridged version of the actual Manifesto:

As an alternative to the profit-gouging of private companies and the remote bureaucracy of some centralized state ones, we can create innovative ownership structures: democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities. And Indigenous Peoples should be first to receive public support for their own clean energy projects. So should communities currently dealing with heavy health impacts of polluting industrial activity.

Power generated this way will not merely light our homes but redistribute wealth, deepen our democracy, strengthen our economy and start to heal the wounds that date back to this country’s founding.

A leap to a non-polluting economy creates countless openings for similar multiple “wins.” We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term. 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. High-speed rail powered by just renewables and affordable public transit can unite every community in this country — in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.

And since we know this leap is beginning late, we need to invest in our decaying public infrastructure so that it can withstand increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Moving to a far more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, capture carbon in the soil, and absorb sudden shocks in the global supply — as well as produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone.

We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects. Rebalancing the scales of justice, we should ensure immigration status and full protection for all workers. Recognizing Canada’s contributions to military conflicts and climate change — primary drivers of the global refugee crisis — we must welcome refugees and migrants seeking safety and a better life.

Shifting to an economy in balance with the earth’s limits also means expanding the sectors of our economy that are already low carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest mediaFollowing on Quebec’s lead, a national childcare program is long past due. All this work, much of it performed by women, is the glue that builds humane, resilient communities — and we will need our communities to be as strong as possible in the face of the rocky future we have already locked in.

Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currently unpaid, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income. Pioneered in Manitoba in the 1970’s, this sturdy safety net could help ensure that no one is forced to take work that threatens their children’s tomorrow, just to feed those children today.

We declare that “austerity” – which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and healthcare, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations – is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.

Across the U.K., U.S. and now Canada, the disenfranchised public has grown weary of neoliberal ideology, calling for a radical overhaul of the capitalist economy which delivered the GFC and a warming planet. Our newly-led Turnbull Government would do well to listen. 

(Editor's note: The original version of this article referred to the 'National Democratic Party'. The correct name should have been the 'New Democratic Party'.)

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