OK, it’s not completely as simple as that, because the NDP effectively decided to spend two years debating that 1,315-word activist treatise on trade and climate goals and jobs and much more. The NDP will also now spend up to two years before holding a leadership convention. Those two things will be closely intertwined.
Let’s rephrase then: The idea of Tom Mulcair as leader is dead. The idea of the Leap Manifesto is alive and well and living at the heart of the NDP’s new identity crisis.
Minutes after a decent majority of NDP delegates gave initial embrace to this ambitious vision for a nobody’s-backyard approach on pipelines, a Canada without many free trade deals, and a swift move to a world where “green” jobs replace a lot of what exists now, we saw the first signs of the way those the NDP will be portrayed from the outside for the next two years.
“The NDP just passed the Leap Manifesto,” tweeted Michelle Rempel, a Conservative MP from Calgary.
Megan Leslie, the NDP’s former Halifax MP and deputy leader who had just urged passage of the convention resolution on Leap, fired back: “Incorrect. We did not adopt it & it’s not party policy. Agreed to have a democratic discussion about it in our communities.”
Leslie would be correct. Parts of it or the whole shebang could be rejected by NDP riding associations, the party caucus or its executive. The activists who were restless for some big juicy ideas to glom onto have a whole manifesto’s worth of them to wrestle with.
The Leap debate stands to energize the party and bring in new prominent voices from the outside, like the many celebrities who signed the manifesto.
“Social movements are surging in Canada, racking up progressive victories and building new alliances across traditional divides,” Leap Manifesto co-author Avi Lewis told the convention. “These are the people behind the Leap. Send a message that the party wants to join them.”
It’s likely there will be a leadership contender (or a few) who will run as the Leap candidate. Some New Democrats will pressure Lewis to be that vessel.
But while the NDP swears this is merely subject for debate now, other parties more inclined to back the pipelines that Lewis’s program flatly denounces will also focus on these words that start the resolution that passed on the floor by about a 60-40 margin:
The NDP recognizes and supports the Leap Manifesto as a high-level statement of principles that speaks to the aspirations, history, and values of the party. [details to be determined]
Awkwardly for the federal party, the governing Alberta NDP is one of those parties that strongly differs with Lewis and Leap on pipelines; their political survival and the provincial economy, Premier Rachel Notley’s crew believes, need a pipeline. So Leap in any form becomes a political millstone around NDP necks here, warned Gil McGowan, the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, who lost federally as an NDP candidate in Edmonton Centre. After his argument lost out, McGowan said he’d need a few minutes before commenting to reporters. “What they’ve done is drive a wedge between the federal party on one hand and the provincial party on the other hand,” McGowan said, a while later.
An Alberta government MLA expressed worries after the loss. “Oh my gosh. I expect the opposition to go right at this tomorrow,” said Maria Fitzpatrick, a Lethbridge NDPer. She was off by a day: a Wildrose statement Sunday went right at it, laying the blame at Notley’s feet. “She wasn’t able to get her own party’s delegates, in her home city, to drop their opposition to getting Alberta’s resources to market,” Wildrose Leader Brian Jean’s missive said.
Notley and her surrogates have spent days stepping far away from this blast zone, and tried to deep-six the Leap resolution. The Wildrose call it a job-killer. So do Notley allies. Now they’ll have to live with this debate raging within a federal party to which they are closely tied.
One of the debate’s key opposing camps, then, will be led by the New Democrats who hold political office. The Leap supporters are the outsiders, who successfully hopped the barricades to get their issues atop the NDP’s forthcoming agenda.
Photos from Day 1 of the NDP convention:
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Gordon Landriault waits for the NDP Federal Convention to start up after a break in the program in Edmonton Alberta, April 8, 2016.