Canada’s left-leaning federal New Democratic Party has long been the home for unions representing Canada’s miners. But the embrace of deep-green environmentalism by half the delegates at the NDP’s national convention in Edmonton in mid-April has opened up a battle for control over the party between the old-guard pragmatists who’ve walked the halls of power, and the radical left intent on utopian purity. It all has trade unions in resource-dependant Western Canada starting to ponder whether they should distance themselves from the federal NDP if they continue down this path to electoral suicide, and instead keep their support at the provincial NDP level.
It was a historic weekend for the NDP, which began by turfing their leader Thomas Mulcair for a lot of reasons, but most prominently the party’s blowing a lead and coming third in the federal election last October, losing 51 seats to win only 44 seats in a 338-seat Parliament. The party will now be rudderless for the next two years until a leadership convention in 2018, with no heir apparent.
Far more interesting for the future of the party and Canada’s labour movement was the passage by delegates of a resolution by the Toronto-Danforth riding to “debate the so-called ‘Leap Manifesto’ in riding associations across the country [for the next two years]. The policy blueprint, unveiled during the election campaign, calls for dramatic changes, including weaning Canada off fossil fuels. The resolution also notes the manifesto has already been endorsed by tens of thousands of Canadians, and proposes a model of ‘climate justice.’”
A read-through of the Leap Manifesto — probably named as a nod to Mao’s Great Leap Forward campaign and Marx’s Communist Manifesto — at leapmanifesto.org shows this slim document penned by filmmaker Avi Lewis and writer Naomi Klein and their associates to be almost a parody of every pet wish harboured by the far left, all rolled into a theme of imminent, capitalism-fuelled environmental apocalypse. And this proposal to completely change the global economy by 2050 is backed by only a two-page costing document.
The manifesto says “Canada is facing its deepest crisis in recent memory,” but the country in only two decades could easily be “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.”
This transformation requires “expanding the sectors of our economy that are already low carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media.”
With respect to resource extraction, the manifesto says “there is no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard. That applies equally to oil and gas pipelines; fracking in New Brunswick, Quebec and B.C.; increased tanker traffic off our coasts; and to Canadian-owned mining projects the world over.”
In quite a message delivered in the heart of Canada’s oil province — which has seen 50,000 oil-sector layoffs and $50 billion in projects cancelled in the last year — the manifesto adds that “the drop in oil prices has temporarily relieved the pressure to dig up fossil fuels as rapidly as high-risk technologies will allow. This pause in frenetic expansion should not be viewed as a crisis, but as a gift.”
Representing the NDP’s pragmatists, new Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said of the manifesto: “These ideas will never form any part of our policy. They are naive, they are ill-informed and they are tone-deaf.”
Most unionized Canadian miners belong to either United Steelworkers Canada (USW) or Unifor.
In 2013, the USW had 225,000 members, of whom 65,000 were in the steel or mining industries, while Unifor had 300,000 members, of whom 6,000 members were in mining or smelting.
Unifor president Jerry Dias told the Huffington Post it had been “thoughtless” to debate in Alberta a rejection of the oil industry and all pipelines, especially when there is no realistic plan to achieve these goals. “All I know is that when I left the [NDP] convention, I hopped in a taxi, then I hopped on a plane and then I hopped in a taxi to get home. And I would suggest, so did pretty well everybody else. I don’t believe that there are going to be solar panels propelling 747s any time in the future.”
B.C.’s former NDP premier Mike Harcourt was equally scathing of the Leapers, telling the Globe and Mail that “the B.C. and now Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba New Democrats are used to governing, and the realities of governing. So we’re not sucking cappuccinos at some café in Toronto.”