By Maude Barlow and Andrea Harden-Donahue. Published in Huffington Post, October 4, 2015
“What would induce anyone at this stage to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”
Pope Francis’ compelling appeal for bold leadership to act on climate change could not be further from the current Canadian political landscape.
Federal leadership on climate change has been absent so long it has become normalized. The irony of Liberal and NDP leaders chiding Harper for failing to see a oil sands pipeline project to fruition barely elicited a critical response from mainstream media. Projects like Kinder Morgan’s planned expansion and TransCanada’s Energy East would make meeting even our underwhelming targets for reducing climate pollution near impossible. And the few voices that dared to suggest that the tar sands were better off staying in the ground were pilloried.
Enter stage left: the Leap Manifesto. The unprecedented visionary appeal not only outlines 15 demands for real change, but provides tangible regulations and policies to get us there.
One could be forgiven for thinking climate change would be at the centre of the election precisely when its effects are increasingly real for Canadians. From B.C. wildfires to prolonged drought in the Prairies, climate change is not pretty. A decade of gutted environmental laws, unfettered fossil fuel expansion, missed carbon pollution reduction targets and a failure to capture the tangible benefits of shifting to cleaner energy production and use has not only lowered our collective expectations, but put us at the back of the pack globally.
Clearly filling a void, even blanket electoral coverage was interrupted with news from the launch. For a few days, concerned Canadians discussed the crisis we face and the exciting range of progressive and equitable solutions we need.
Yet resistance from business as usual was vociferous and deep. The Leap Manifesto was called “madness,” the Cold War was evoked, as were familiar visions of economic collapse. Its authors were ridiculed and its adherents denounced. There is something broken in Canadian public discourse if we can no longer weigh ideas and discuss approaches.
And just how radical is the Leap Manifesto, anyways? Canadians used to be willing to take radical steps. Medicare was one, subsidized education was another. In fact, the Leap Manifesto is perfectly consistent with values and principles Canadians have always upheld and fought for: environmental protection, equality, justice.
The Leap Manifesto speaks of halting the expansion of fossil fuels and making polluters pay. It sets the bar at 100 per cent renewable resource electricity within two decades and a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050. It demands an end to building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. Consistent with the demand of over 100 scientists, it calls for a moratorium on oil sands expansion.
The Manifesto calls for respecting Indigenous rights and treaties. It calls for expanding sectors of our economy that are already low carbon, like care giving and teaching. It asks for a debate on the idea of a universal basic annual income, helping us to not only move to a greener vision of Canada, but one that is also more equitable.
Predictably, much of the criticism directed at the leap manifesto boils down to the economic costs of its recommendations. However, three economists participated in the launch, contributing a “how we can afford the leap,” expanding on the options found in the document, such as making polluters pay, returning to the 2006 corporate tax rate and scaling back military spending.
Embracing Pope Francis’ vision of bold leadership, the real question is not whether we can afford to leap, but whether we can afford not to. As renowned water expert David Schindler recently said, “We are going to forget all about the economy when we run out of water.”
The time is coming when we will have no choice but to confront climate change and growing inequality, and we can only hope we will have the tools to cope. The Leap Manifesto is a way to think ourselves out of this box of inaction and lack of forward vision. After a decade of grey, it is time to dream in colour.