Could left-wing populism take flight?
Avi Lewis says the NDP needs to engage in firebrand politics if it is to avoid decimation
OTTAWA—THE symbolism, to Avi Lewis’s eye, was spot on. The leader of the federal NDP, on Bay St. in Toronto on Friday, talking about how the “ultra-wealthy” need to pay their share.
But for Lewis, the imagery fizzled with Jagmeet Singh’s message: a trio of policy proposals about stocks, corporate wealth and taxation that might be too technocratic to get people worked up. And if you, like Lewis, believe Canadians are ready for a firebrand version of left-wing politics — a populism of the left, he says — then that won’t cut it.
“Why go for something that you have to explain? What populism tells you is that there are simple truths about our economy that can be communicated with great power,” said Lewis, who coauthored the environmental and social democratic treatise, the Leap Manifesto, with his wife, author and activist Naomi Klein.
“Jagmeet is absolutely in the right direction,” Lewis said. “He’s taking a little step, and he needs to leap.”
Populism is often assumed to be a right-wing phenomenon, a buzzword to characterize the Donald Trump movement in the U.S. In that context, the word is shorthand for a politics of anti-elitism and xenophobia — that Trump is fighting for “real” Americans against the dominant forces of “globalism,” the ideological culprit he blames for shipping jobs to China and letting too many outsiders into the country.
But populism isn’t exclusive to one side of the political spectrum. Jan-werner Mueller, a politics professor at Princeton University, told the CBC last week that populists can come in different ideological shades, so long as they trade in a rhetoric of divisiveness that questions the legitimacy of those who don’t share their views.