Politics

No, Avi Lewis says, he's not trying to take down Tom Mulcair

One of the signatories to a manifesto for political "revolution" says he's not out for the NDP leader's job. But Avi Lewis says he is excited to see that some of the ideas in the Leap Manifesto will be debated at next week's party convention in Edmonton.

But signatory to last year's provocative Leap Manifesto is excited to see NDP will debate it next week

Filmmaker, climate activist Avi Lewis says NDP should adopt some of the left-wing policies espoused in Leap Manifesto as it looks to rebuild. 2:05

Avi Lewis has something he's eager to get off his chest.

He says he was never out to get NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

"I certainly think journalists would like to stir up that narrative, but I don't know what to offer you because it's just not true."

Mid-September, with the election campaign swing in full swing, Lewis, along with his wife, author Naomi Klein, and labour and environmental groups, activists and artists signed their names to a document they called the Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another.

It calls Canada's record on climate change a "crime against humanity's future." It argues Canada could rely entirely on renewable energy in two decades. The signatories want an end to new projects like pipelines that could interfere with that goal. They want to stop "austerity" policies, make cuts to the military and establish a universal basic annual income.

Lewis, a documentary filmmaker, former CBC host and the son of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, said the document is supposed to be non-partisan and that the group launched it during the election campaign because it figured Canadians were thinking about public policy at the time. 

But that's not how it was reported, he said.

"[The mainstream media covered it] like this was the real agenda of the NDP. This was the left of the NDP stabbing Mulcair in the back."

He forcefully rejects that assessment.

"It was completely spurious. It was wrong. It wasn't true, but in an election campaign people want to stir up sensational stories about the political narrative."

Is the NDP looking leftward?

The NDP was in the throes of its own dramatic political narrative at the time. During the 78-day campaign slog, the party and its leader would see their popularity rise as the preferred alternative to Stephen Harper's Conservatives. For a while, "Prime Minister Tom Mulcair" seemed to be a distinct possibility. But as the campaign came to a close, the Liberals surged forward and the NDP dropped to third place.

The NDP working group that sifted through the subsequent disappointment said Thursday that party members blamed, among other factors, the party's campaign message of "cautious change" — and particularly the pledge to balance the budget in all four years of an NDP mandate.

Now, as the party is set to meet in Edmonton April 8-10, more than a dozen riding associations have told the party they want to talk about the Leap Manifesto, putting forward a range of resolutions for the party to consider.

Avi Lewis and his wife, author Naomi Klein, were two of the driving forces behind the Leap Manifesto, a document laying out a broad prescription for change in Canada. Lewis says the 'non-partisan' document was misrepresented by some as a challenge to the NDP's election platform. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Lewis will be at that convention to talk about the manifesto. He said he doesn't expect the party to wholeheartedly adopt the document, but he's excited they'll be talking about it.

But the meeting is being held in Alberta, where Rachel Notley's provincial NDP scored a massive victory in the spring of 2015, overturning more than four decades of Conservative rule and winning a majority government.

"You have a very important, historic NDP government in a province where being against pipelines is not a political option," said Lewis. "So there are real tensions there that need to be discussed and debated and resolved.

"And I think the fact it's in Edmonton makes it more awkward, but also brings real dilemmas to the fore."

Not looking to be leader

At the convention, the party will also vote on whether to hold a leadership election. Outgoing party president Rebecca Blaikie has suggested Mulcair needs 70 per cent support at the vote to remain on as leader. Mulcair himself has refused to commit to a number.

It's unclear precisely how much support Mulcair has, but Lewis said he's not gunning to be his successor.

"Leadership is the furthest thing from my mind at this point."

Lewis said he's been fielding questions about whether he'd like to lead the party since he was eight years old and campaigning with his father.

Right now he's completely preoccupied by his work on the manifesto, he added.

"That's just about all my head can encompass."

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