Could left-wing pop­ulism take flight?

Avi Lewis says the NDP needs to en­gage in fire­brand pol­i­tics if it is to avoid dec­i­ma­tion

StarMetro Halifax - - CANADA & WORLD - Alex Ballingall OT­TAWA BUREAU

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.

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