Last night, Jagmeet Singh defied the doubters and critics, winning his seat in Burnaby South.
It’s a good result for Singh, and a breath of fresh air for a New Democratic Party that’s been struggling to raise money, floundering in the polls, and has seemed to be teetering on the edge of a very public internal civil war for the past few months. But, as Singh himself mentioned in his victory remarks, now the real campaign begins. If the NDP want to turn their fortunes around by October, their best (and maybe only) hope is to bring the bold vision of a Green New Deal to Canada.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, the Green New Deal is a political idea to tackle climate change with WWII-scale economic and social mobilization. Named for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda that pulled the United States out of the Great Depression, the Green New Deal has been rapidly picking up steam south of the border. Championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and now supported by dozens of congressional representatives and senators (along with every major Democratic presidential hopeful), the Green New Deal has become a clarion call for action at the scale and pace of the climate crisis.
"If the NDP want to turn their fortunes around by October, their best (and maybe only) hope is to bring the bold vision of a Green New Deal to Canada."
But the Green New Deal isn’t just a good idea. With the campaign and organizing savvy of the Sunrise Movement behind it, polling numbers show wide geographic and cross-partisan support (especially among youth). It’s become a winning platform for Democrats and, if they imported it in the right way, it could do the same for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP.
It’s no secret that, in 2015, Justin Trudeau’s success was due, in large measure, to his ability to outflank the NDP on critical progressive issues — including climate change. It’s also true that his majority victory was driven by a dramatic uptick in youth voter turnout — 57.1 percent of eligible 18-24 year olds voted in 2015 compared to 38.8 per cent in 2011 — that largely showed up for the Liberals.
It’s also clear that Canadians, especially young people, want to see more from our federal government when it comes to climate change.
A Mainstreet Research poll released last November found that 76.1 per cent of Canadians accept that climate change is real and caused by human activity, and that nearly 60 per cent of Canadians agree that the government has to solve the issue of climate change even if doing so impacts economic growth.
The good thing about a Green New Deal is that it would create jobs and support working families through a federal jobs guarantee program. Although we don’t have direct polling on such a proposal in Canada, a 2016 Iron & Earth poll found that nearly 70 per cent of energy workers support a time-bound transition to 100 per cent renewable energy in Canada. That same poll found that 80-95 per cent would support government programs to support workers through the transition. Among the general public, these numbers are even higher.
It’s also clear that Canadians are looking for more climate ambition from our government. A recent poll from Abacus Data found just over 50 per cent national support for the carbon tax, despite the fact that almost 60 per cent didn’t think it would lead to significant emissions reductions.
That same poll found that nearly 25 per cent of Canadians think that no federal party leader has the best plan to deal with climate change, and that only five per cent think that Jagmeet Singh’s plan measures up.
Compare this to polling around the Leap Manifesto, arguably the best Canadian blueprint for a Green New Deal. According to a 2016 Ekos poll, nearly 50 per cent of Canadians backed the Leap vision of tackling climate, social and economic justice. And those numbers are even higher among NDP and Liberal party faithful.
All of this adds up to a clear challenge to the NDP to put out a climate plan that acknowledges, as Vox writer David Roberts put it last week, “this is a fucking emergency.” A plan that actually prescribes the kind of massive economic and social mobilization necessary to rise to the challenge.
The good news is that some people within the party already seem to be getting the message. Citing last fall’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — the one that warns us all that we have just over a decade to get our act together when it comes to climate change — Svend Robinson returned to politics to run against notable Trudeau pipeline apologist Terry Beech in the riding of Burnaby-North Seymour. The second tweet from his campaign account was about a Green New Deal for Canada.
Grassroots activists within the NDP are trying to make sure that Robinson is not alone. Across the country, nomination races are being challenged by young women with bold, ambitious, Green New Deal-esque platforms. In Alberta, Paige Gorsak came within a handful of votes of winning the nomination for Linda Duncan’s former seat. In Ottawa-Center, Graciela Hernandez-Cruz did the same. They may have lost their races, but not by much, and they’ve helped to inspire other candidates like Leah Gazan in Winnipeg-Center and Emma Norton in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour — to put their names forward to bring a bolder, climate and social justice vision to the NDP.
With only eight months until the next federal election, it’s going to take a small miracle for the NDP to right their ship. But, if they want a shot at clawing their way back to federal relevance, they need to call a big shot, and a Green New Deal for Canada is their best chance to do that.