Everything old is new again best describes the Leap Manifesto which, at its Edmonton convention, the NDP approved for further discussion. Leap follows Waffle and is applauded by Liberals and Conservatives, who see it as further eroding support for the NDP. In the 2015 Canadian federal election, the party lost 51 seats and official opposition status. If Leap had been there during the election, the NDP would have been competing with the Green Party for the smallest number of seats.
Michael Den Tandt writes
“As for the party, it has now cast its lot with the Lewises and their Manifesto. This amounts to a plan for Canada to cast aside the free market in favour of a deeply protectionist, managed economy, in which the happy citizenry drive state-funded electric go-cycles fuelled by state-funded wind turbines and live in straw bale houses that don’t require heat in winter. It is an addled, cockamamie vision like something out of Orwell, or the fevered imagination of British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.” (Vancouver Sun, April 9, 2016)
Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley comments “These ideas will never form any part of policy. They are naive. They are ill-informed. They are tone deaf.”
Robin Sears, a left leaning advocate, sees it as the product of “loony leapers.”
Two aspects of the Manifesto are what it represents, and the role played by three generations of the Lewis family. The NDP has always had a far left wing. In 1971 it emerged as the Waffle group lead by Jim Laxer, which was later barred from the party because of its extreme views. Today, Leap signals a re-emergence of the far left, and a challenge to moderate socialists.
David, Stephen and Avi Lewis, father, son and grandson have all played a role in left-wing politics. David Lewis had a distinguished career in Canadian politics as leader of the NDP from 1971, when he defeated a Waffle candidate on the fifth ballot. He had a reasonable leftish view of corporate private ownership in line with those of Tommy Douglas. In the 1972 federal election, he described Canadian corporations as “corporate welfare bums,” which did not endear him to some. In 1974, David Lewis lost his seat and resigned as NDP leader.
Son Stephen Lewis was elected to the Ontario legislature in 1963, and became leader of the Ontario NDP in 1970, at which time there were internal party struggles with the Waffle group. The NDP became the official opposition in 1975, but lost this role in 1977. In 1978, he resigned as party leader and as MPP, and took up the role of public intellectual.
At the party’s 2016 Edmonton Convention, Stephen Lewis was the keynote speaker where, for some reason, he declared himself “insufferably buoyant” about the future after the party’s federal loss of 51 seats and official opposition status. He noted that he had led the Ontario NDP to three successive second or third place finishes. In one of these it lost official opposition status. At convention time in Edmonton, the party stood at about eleven percent in the polls.
Grandson Avi, a broadcaster and filmmaker, has never been elected to a legislature. He is author of the Leap Manifesto, which so far has not only strengthened the other parties, but created a split within the NDP. It has probably undermined the Notley government’s ability to be re-elected in Alberta, while it is debated within the party for the next two years.. Little wonder that Liberals and Tories are applauding this outcome.