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'I will be a relentless champion for climate justice'

With Avi Lewis nomination, federal NDP look to turn the tides in the Sea to Sky
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Filmmaker, author and activist Avi Lewis is looking to carry on his family’s legacy by running for the NDP in the Sea to Sky in the next federal election.

In the 24 years since it was created, the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding has been anything but an NDP stronghold.

But with the announcement that filmmaker, author and activist Avi Lewis will be the party’s candidate in the next federal election, the New Democrats are looking to change that.

“I think that, in part, this hasn’t been an NDP stronghold because, you know, no party can prioritize 338 ridings,” Lewis said.

“So the truth is that the NDP has not been able to prioritize this riding—and we’re changing that.”

While he declared his intention to seek the party’s nomination in the riding on May 17, Lewis—a resident of Halfmoon Bay on the Sunshine Coast—said he has been working for “well over six months, flat out” in the riding.

In the 2019 election, the NDP didn’t name lawyer Judith Wilson as its Sea to Sky candidate until Sept. 17, leaving little room for campaigning ahead of the Oct. 21 vote.

Wilson finished fourth, taking 9,027 votes and spending just $5,518—a far cry from the $117,192 spent by the Liberal Party’s Patrick Weiler, who garnered 22,673 votes on his way to winning the seat.

“So I think it is a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy,” Lewis said of the party’s previous results in the riding.

Lewis’ family has deep roots in Canadian politics. His father, Stephen Lewis, is a former leader of the Ontario NDP, while his grandfather helped build the federal NDP, and served as leader from 1971 to 1975.

He is married to renowned journalist and activist Naomi Klein.

“My decision to run at this point in history is kind of like a personal political decision, but my decision to run here in this riding is really no decision at all,” he said.

“This is where I live, and this is where I’m making my stand, and I feel very, very passionately about this part of the world.”

Lewis originally followed in the journalism footsteps of his mother (the groundbreaking feminist activist Michele Landsberg), which led him to the world of climate journalism about a dozen years ago.

From there, he said, everything changed.

“Everything I’ve done since has been about advancing this idea that we live in a time of interconnected crises … the housing crisis is part of the climate crisis; the pandemic has played out in terms of the inequality crisis, and the racism crisis in our institutions and in our society,” he said.

“And we need solutions now, [because] we’ve left it all so late, that are gigantic, that improve people’s daily lives, and that solve multiple problems at once.”

In Lewis’ view, those answers can be found in the Green New Deal, and the Leap Manifesto—the controversial political manifesto issued by Canadian progressives during the 2015 election, which Lewis helped write.

At a local level, “to me, the issues in the riding are climate, climate, climate, housing and transit,” he said, again noting that the issues are interconnected.

“When I say it is all one big thing, it does sound like a lot, but when you look at it in terms of peoples’ lives, these are the bread-and-butter issues. Where do I work? What kind of work do I do? Where do I live? How do I get from one to the other?”

On May 6, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh unveiled a $14-billion plan to build 500,000 homes across the country, Lewis noted, adding that the country needs federally funded and operated (and green) mass transit.

“It could be a nation-building project that was not colonial like the railway, but actually connected communities across this country, [and] respected Indigenous rights … that transit should all be free at the point of the ride, and it should be zero-emission,” he said, noting that such a project would also be a job creator.

“It’s win-win-win when you start connecting the dots among the issues or the big solutions.”

Local leaders in the Sea to Sky have been pushing for regional transit for years—an initiative that has fizzled out as of late.

Lewis said the “power and the resources” of the federal government are needed to get the job done.

“I feel sorry for our municipal leaders who actually who have lots of fantastic local ideas for solving these problems,” he said.

“The creativity, the ingenuity, the brilliance is here, in our local communities, but the resources are there, in Ottawa. So we need someone who can actually try to be a bridge and go there and fight for it.”

What else can voters in the riding expect if he’s elected?

“I will be a relentless champion for climate justice,” Lewis said.

The first phase of the climate movement was “all about parts-per-million and percentages of this and that. It just didn’t connect with people,” he added.

“What we have come to understand in the climate movement, is that in order to build the consensus, the society-wide mobilization that we need to make vast changes as we know we need to make, we actually need policies that make people’s lives better in the day to day.

“And that’s what the NDP, traditionally, going back to my dad and my grandpa’s time, has been all about: it’s been focusing on working people, and making improvements that they actually feel in their daily lives.”

Addressing the climate crisis will mean rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in every sector of society, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Those changes can benefit everybody, where they live, where they work, and how they get from one to the other,” Lewis said.

“That’s what we need, and that’s what I’ll fight for in Ottawa.”

Lewis will be acclaimed at a virtual meeting/campaign launch event on May 22 on Zoom. Find more info and reserve tickets at www.eventbrite.ca/e/avi-lewis-campaign-launch-tickets-153852080715.

Barring an early election call, the next federal election is slated for Oct. 16, 2023.

Lewis joins former Conservative MP John Weston and incumbent Weiler on the list of candidates already confirmed for the riding.