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NDP’s Avi Lewis aims to ‘shake up’ establishment

First-time candidate and renowned climate advocate working to turn the Sea to Sky orange

When NDP candidate Avi Lewis arrived at the Gibsons Public Market for a rally on Sunday, a bigger-than-expected crowd of nearly 100 supporters wasn’t the only surprise awaiting him. 

Amid the sea of orange signs was a John Weston car plugged into an electric charging station. Inside the market was Lewis’ Conservative opponent, who joined the New Democrat in greeting voters. 

“I don’t agree with John Weston about just about anything,” Lewis said. “But we should be able to have meaningful debates that allow us to treat each other with respect and treat people with different opinions as valuable members of this collective conversation in confronting the epic challenges that we have.” 

The courteous interaction is serving as an example of how Lewis, if elected, would work alongside any adversary “who agrees that we’re in a climate emergency,” he said. It’s a lesson he took away from watching his father, former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, fiercely debate then-Premier Bill Davis during question period in the 1970s, only to meet for coffee afterward. 

“That really inspires me to try to rediscover a basic human decency and political culture that has really gone missing,” the younger Lewis recalled.

Despite the Lewis family’s storied history within the NDP—his grandfather also served as its federal leader from 1971 to 1975 after helping build the party—this is 54-year-old Lewis’ first foray into the political arena. He’s looking to turn the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding orange for the first time when Canadians head to the polls on Sept. 20. 

Lewis began his career as a local news reporter in Toronto, eventually going on to work as a music journalist. He covered politics for MuchMusic and hosted current affairs programs for Al Jazeera English and CBC before venturing into the world of documentary filmmaking. For the last dozen or so years, the Sunshine Coast resident—who lives in Halfmoon Bay with his wife, journalist and activist Naomi Klein, and son Toma—has been immersed in the climate emergency. 

It’s the urgency of that crisis that motivated Lewis to finally answer Parliament’s call, he said. 

“The federal government is the only level of government that has the resources to really transform our economy, to make those big changes that we need to get off of fossil fuels in a hurry, in a way that actually benefits people,” Lewis explained.

These principles are outlined in both the Green New Deal and in the Leap Manifesto, the controversial 2015 political manifesto Lewis helped write. In 2019, he also co-wrote the Emmy-nominated short film A Message From the Future with U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which animates many of the ideals those documents encapsulate.

Ahead of next month’s election, Lewis commended the NDP’s plans to reduce emissions without making working people pay for it. This can be accomplished, he said, by recuperating government resources from billionaires and big corporations, implementing national “carbon budgets” across economic sectors, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and launching a “civilian climate corps” that would see tens of thousands of young Canadians put to work in green initiatives. 

With that said, Lewis’ personal views have, at times, clashed with the NDP’s official party line. How would he handle such a dissonance as an MP?

“I will never vote against my conscience,” he promised. 

Despite acknowledging politics’ status as a “team sport,” Lewis underscored that his allegiance would rest first and foremost with his constituents if elected.

“I’m not a career politician; I’m not interested in two terms and a pension,” he said. “I’m doing this because we’re in a climate emergency, we’re in a housing emergency, we’re in a youth unemployment emergency, we’re in a toxic-drug-supply-unnecessary-overdose emergency, and I’m on fire about these things. I want to go to Ottawa to shake up the entire political establishment.”

Whistler’s virtual all-candidates meeting is set to take place on Wednesday, Sept. 8. Pique will have more candidate profiles in the coming weeks.