In Canada, the GND has sparked great interest among progressives, who are looking for a plan that will help avoid climate catastrophe while not leaving behind the working class and marginalized populations. A few years ago, a document called the Leap Manifesto was drafted by a group of Canadian environmentalists. Though it had some of the elements of current progressive plans, it failed to capture the national imagination and was viewed as insufficiently concerned with reforms beyond decarbonization.
But things are different now. Today, the youth, both around the world and in Canada, have made climate justice a prevailing issue. Climate science, too, has made it ever clearer just how short a window we have to reduce our carbon footprint. And, crucially, the GND has offered Canadians framing and language that are more acceptable than those of the Leap.
Canada’s political outlook is also different than it was a couple years ago. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — who ran on an aura of progressivism — have left many environmental activists disappointed by missing emission targets and buying a multibillion-dollar pipeline. In part because of this, the Green Party is polling at unprecedented numbers and recently won a second seat in the House of Commons for the first time in party history, with projections giving them a few more in October’s general election. In this context, it is clear that green issues are motivating voters like never before.
This is where Jagmeet Singh and his New Democratic Party come in. Canada’s party of the social democratic left is polling below its 2015 election results and, while still poised to finish with the third-most seats in Parliament, is seeing the Greens polling closer than ever before. Not to be outdone, the NDP has released a bold plan that would act as a GND for Canada.
Not only does it commit to green objectives such ending fossil fuel subsidies, setting emissions targets, banning single-use plastics and incentivizing electric vehicles, but it also commits to a national retrofitting program that will affect all housing stock in Canada by 2050 and will help create an estimated 300,000 jobs. The plan also includes working with municipalities to build free electric public transit by 2030.
While some have noted that the emissions targets in the NDP’s plan are slightly unclear, at least compared with the Green Party’s emissions language, it has been largely well received by environmental analysts, who feel the NDP covers the socio-economic blind spots evident in the Greens’ vision.
This was all bolstered by last month’s comprehensive platform announcement by Singh at the Ontario NDP convention. For Singh, the environmental plan formed only part of the pitch. It was a part of what Singh called a New Deal for People (sharing the party’s acronym), aimed at uniting social, economic and environmental justice under one banner. This includes full drug decriminalization, lowering the voting age to 16, ending police racial profiling, committing to a partnership with Indigenous peoples and providing truly universal Medicare by closing gaps around access to medicine, dentistry and mental health care. All of this would be paid for by shifting away from fossil fuel subsidies and raising taxes on the richest people and corporations, including the creation of a 1 percent wealth tax on all individual wealth above 20 million Canadian dollars (just over $15 million). Thus, both on the environmental front and otherwise, Singh’s NDP is offering to Canadians the boldest platform from a major party since the end of the Cold War.
The Liberals, for their part, have rejected the NDP’s approach as being too strident. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has argued that the NDP’s plan would cause grave damage to the economy, just as the Conservatives will cause grave damage to the climate. The Liberals are clearly trying to walk a tightrope, pitching a progressive image compared with the Conservatives while also attacking the NDP for seeking to actually implement progressive policies. This leaves the door open for a third lane in Canadian politics to take advantage of the Liberals’ failure to live up to their promises, environmental and otherwise.
Ultimately, neither the Greens nor the NDP have a perfect climate plan, but only the NDP’s plan has a semblance of aligning with broadly egalitarian principles. This is why it has seen early support from major unions such as the United Steelworkers. There is still a long way to the federal election, but with their New Deal for People, Singh and the NDP have thrown down the gauntlet in what may be Canada’s first election where climate change is a top-tier issue.