• Fred Guerin

Avi Lewis, Radical Change and Party Politics



When Avi Lewis decided to move to electoral politics and bring the latter into dialogue with progressive ecological movements I cheered him on. However, I would have much preferred that he stood as an independent candidate rather than go with the NDP. No doubt loyalty to longstanding family history with the NDP had some influence on his decision.


Unfortunately, the current dysfunctional establishment political party system is stacked against independent candidates...they do not have access to party coffers so have to generate their own money for signs, pamphlets, and advertising.

The thing is that the crucial issues we must now deal with--climate change, environmental destruction on a global scale, grotesque wealth disparities, a still-raging pandemic--require radical structural changes that simply cannot be contemplated within an establishment party system that forces candidates to tow the party line and maintain the status quo.


The dilemma here is a real one: On the one hand, if you are persuaded that change will only really come from 'within' then you will go the political party route and run the risk of having your ground-breaking policy proposals and radical ideas leveled or neutered by more establishment perspectives. On the other hand, if your conviction is that change only happens when the establishment is pressured from the outside then you will tend to run as an independent and risk being marginalized or ignored by media and other party candidates.


I have a sense that Avi Lewis might have proved the exception to the rule if he had decided to run as an independent. He is a terrific organizer and fundraiser so he would likely be able to scare up enough money to run a decent campaign. He has the sort of star power that media could not simply ignore, and he has a strong well-thought-out platform that derives from the progressive work both he and Naomi Klein built with the Leap Manifesto. Moreover, it is clear that Lewis could easily find a very wide audience for his ideas on taxing corporations and the wealthy, a national drug plan, a Green New Deal—opinion polls in the last few years have invariably concluded that the majority of Canadians embrace these ideas.


As an independent candidate, Lewis could take opportunities to forge de facto alliances with the NDP or Greens on issues they agree on. He would be in a position to have significant influence over policy directions without at the same time being hamstrung by establishment party whips who, let us be clear, are the reason current Canadian politics so utterly fails to move beyond conservative establishment positions.


To be sure, whether Avi Lewis ran as an independent or NDP candidate he would still have an uphill struggle in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky riding that is home to more than a few very wealthy voters who have shown time and again that they do not much like the NDP.


But that is precisely why I think he would have an easier time convincing local voters that he is the best person for the job: he will be an independent voice who can afford to be more sensitive to the needs of local voters, without being reined in by establishment NDP party hacks--you know the kind of people who completely washed their hands of Linda McQuaig because she had the audacity to tell the truth when she said that "the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we're going to meet our climate change targets." She was told in no uncertain terms that her views were not in line with the NDP's--in other words, putting science, truth, reality and fact ahead of party ideology is never the right call.


Now it is true that for the past 70 years Canadians have tended to vote for their party more than for an individual candidate. But that is also changing simply because young people today do not have the same kind of loyalty to what they see as a decaying party system that can no longer be counted on to do the right thing.


Bernie Sanders proved that point over and over again, and it is why he had the overwhelming support of younger voters. In the end, the problem was not his radical ideas--reigning in bankers and Wall Street, universal healthcare, and a green new deal--which most Americans agree with--the problem was that he was not as 'independent' a voice as his supporters wanted him to be. His real enemy was never Donald Trump, but the establishment Democratic party.


Young voters see that the planet is burning, that greedy corporations are destroying their environment, that there is massive wealth disparity, a shortage of affordable housing, and that governments view higher education not as a fundamental public right but as something only the wealthy can afford. Avi Lewis could tap into this growing disaffection with partisan politics and bring a whole new contingent of young voters into politics.


This is not to say that the NDP under Singh has not recently said some good things: indeed, the number of socialist-leaning members at the last convention was higher than usual and they did manage to win support on more than a few progressive issues. The younger members of the NDP's Courage Coalition know that we are at a time in history when radical change is the only way to survive climate catastrophe and civilizational collapse. But their voices are drowned out by establishment NDP'ers who do not want to alienate the corporate business class.


The problem, according to Courage Coalition member Jacob McClean, was that the NDP party did what they always do: 'rig the debate process and repeatedly change the rules to bar the more progressive resolutions from reaching the convention floor.' That is why people like Rachel Notley, Tom Mulcair and John Horgan prevail instead of people like Nikki Ashton and Linda McQuaig.


And it is also precisely what I fear will happen to Avi Lewis's progressive platform now that he has tethered himself to the NDP.

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