The NDP takes a dangerous Leap to the left

The romance of the Leap Manifesto fails in the face of reality: hard-line socialism defies democracy

Robert McGarveyAlberta Premier Rachael Notley was “disappointed” when the recent federal NDP convention in Edmonton adopted the Leap Manifesto as a guide to party policy. She should not be alone.

The Leap’s anti-hydrocarbon agenda was adopted despite being branded by Notley’s environment minister as a betrayal of the people who voted for the party in Alberta. That is just the beginning of its failings.

The Leap Manifesto is a compact but powerful piece of rhetoric that opens with a passionate call to arms: “This transformation is our sacred duty to those this country harmed in the past, to those suffering needlessly in the present, and to all who have a right to a bright and safe future.”

Manifesto is an interesting choice of words for a position paper. Manifestos tend to speak glowingly of an idealized utopia. Not surprisingly, manifestos are loaded with passion; after all, they’re the proclamations of a visionary vanguard.

The Leap Manifesto champions a moral crusade to better the world. But it also exposes a dark side, a world view rooted in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous Romantic notion that “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” The manifesto, in this sense, is a political belief system. It accepts that the existence of environmental degradation or social injustice presupposes an agent of oppression, a social class or elite that is thwarting the natural liberty of all.

For true Romantics, the glass is half empty but would be full for all, if not for the active oppression of a tyrannical elite.

Another famous manifesto, the Communist Manifesto, also promoted a moral crusade to better the world and – like the Leap – had a passionate opening line: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

These opening lines are very important because they implicitly define the agents of oppression. In the case of the Communist Manifesto, the enemies were industrial capitalism and the bourgeoisie as a class. Ironically – given a century and a half of very sad communist history – the Leap Manifesto takes aim at the same enemy and advances practically the same struggle.

While not mentioned directly, the Leap Manifesto has declared war on Canada’s powerful elites. The agents of oppression in this case are Alberta’s oil industry, Canada’s big banks and one per centers.

It is a sad commentary on our times that these groups make very easy targets. The oil industry in particular has been in complete denial about the environmental effects of its industry. Whether you believe in the greenhouse gas effect or not, little progress has been made on managing pipelines safely or establishing best practices in mining and energy development. As a result, public trust in the oil and gas industry has plummeted.

Like the 19th century industrialists (who also had an exaggerated sense in their own superiority), modern elites are contemptuous of the less fortunate; the super rich today live in a parallel (sanitized) world of privilege that rivals the old aristocracy.

Nevertheless, there is danger in the Leap Manifesto. One of the great misfortunes of romantic notions is that all that anger and passion for progress don’t fit the natural pace of social change. So once empowered, the Leap vanguards are obliged to take draconian action to achieve their lofty goals.

The problem is, these draconian measures are not compatible with our common law legal tradition and constitutional democracy. The Leap Manifesto speaks of new “iron” laws that demand a complete end to investment in oil and gas infrastructure. For that to happen in the real world, an NDP government would have to establish an overarching environmental directorate and overturn centuries of property law.

This sounds suspiciously like environmental collectivism. And hasn’t collectivism been tried before? Didn’t it generate an all-powerful vanguard elite? And didn’t that vanguard unleash a monstrous tyranny that has branded the left, and socialism in particular, as enemies of freedom and democracy?

Perhaps it is all for the best. The Leap Manifesto will certainly distinguish Canada’s New Democratic Party from the rest of the parties scrambling to occupy the cozy political centre. We haven’t had a red-blooded socialist alternative in Canada for decades. And I’m sure if the party fully adopts Leap, the results in the next federal election will be very interesting.

Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.

Robert is a Troy Media Thought Leader. Why aren’t you?

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