04/07/2016 09:01 EDT | Updated 04/12/2016 08:12 EDT

'Leap Manifesto' Can't Be Reduced To Slogan About Fossil Fuels Staying 'In The Ground': Avi Lewis

The document is a "jobs plan," says one of its key drivers.

A key architect behind the "Leap Manifesto" says it's a mistake to reduce the debate solely to the matter of keeping fossil fuels "in the ground."

In fact, Avi Lewis, a documentary filmmaker and initial signatory to the document, told The Huffington Post Canada Thursday that such a phrase was deliberately left out of the proposal to make room for those who "are not there yet" on that issue.

Lewis spoke to HuffPost a day after CBC News aired an interview in which Peter Mansbridge pressed NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair about the manifesto, set to be debated at his party's convention this weekend in Edmonton.

Director Avi Lewis and author Naomi Klein of the film 'This Changes Everything,' stand for a photo on the red carpet during the Toronto International Film Festival press conference in Toronto on Wednesday, August 5, 2015. (Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim/CP)

In the interview, Mansbridge said several times that the plan calls for "leaving fossil fuels in the ground" — a position he suggested would be unpopular in resource-dependent Alberta.

Though Mulcair spoke about making polluters pay and sustainable development, he eventually said that if the party should decide fossil fuels must remain undeveloped, he would "do everything (he) can to make that a reality."

Watch Mansbridge's full interview with Mulcair from CBC News:

While the policy blueprint does not explicitly state that oil needs to stay in the ground, it urges a bold shift away from fossil fuels so that Canada gets 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades and is entirely weaned off fossil fuels by 2050.

It also calls for no further fossil fuel infrastructure projects that "lock us into increased extraction" for decades, including pipelines.

Lewis said Mansbridge was "misrepresenting" the proposal, even while conceding that, yes, the long-term goal is that fossil fuels are left undeveloped.

"When you don't take the whole spirit of the thing at once, and you isolate one part of it, you can make it seem like something it's not. It's a jobs plan."

But the "leave it in the ground" slogan has become a political weapon, Lewis said, "in the eternal tussle, the false dichotomy of the economy versus the environment."

As an example, he pointed to the "ridiculous media storm" high-profile Toronto NDP candidate Linda McQuaig sparked during the campaign when she said "a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground" if Canada is to meet its climate targets.

Lewis said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that there is a "finite amount of carbon that we can burn" that still gives us "a chance" of preventing catastrophic global warming.

Document calls for expansion of low carbon sectors

And without a broader look at the entire plan, Lewis said the impression can be left that the environmentalists and activists behind the manifesto just want to shut things down.

He said the document acknowledges "the need for a massive torrent of good new jobs," and not just for those in the renewable energy sector.

The manifesto calls for an expansion of the low carbon sectors of the economy: healthcare, education, daycare, social work, the arts, and public-interest media. It also urges training for workers in carbon-intensive jobs so that they can transition to a clean energy economy.

Ending fossil fuel subsidies, hiking taxes on corporations and the rich, and making cuts to defence spending are just some of the ideas suggested to pay for it all.

David Suzuki joins other actors, activists, and musicians in launching the Leap Manifesto outlining a climate and economic vision for Canada during a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, September 15, 2015. (Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP)

It also proposes an end to trade deals "that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects."

"The Leap Manifesto does make the controversial statement about no new fossil fuel infrastructure and it does it in the same breath as (calling for) massive public investment in good, clean, unionized renewable energy jobs and the low carbon sector," he said.

"When you don't take the whole spirit of the thing at once, and you isolate one part of it, you can make it seem like something it’s not. It's a jobs plan."

The manifesto was called radical and controversial when it was released in the thick of the federal election campaign. Lewis said that the group behind it didn't feel like any politician was speaking passionately about such issues at the time or proposing ambitious change.

But he said the blueprint is a call for specific policies, not a "diagnostic." He wants New Democrats to get on board, but really wants to convince governing Liberals who are in a position to enact policy.

He doesn't buy that endorsing an anti-pipeline plan would make parties unelectable in Western Canada. The rise of Bernie Sanders in the United States shows "forthrightly left-wing parties have huge electoral potential right now."

Ex-MPs come together with resolution

Lewis has joined up with former MPs Libby Davies and Craig Scott, as well as the head of the Toronto-Danforth riding association, to bring forward a resolution this weekend seeking delegates declare the manifesto "a high-level statement of principles" in line with NDP priorities.

If that passes, they will propose another resolution calling for debate of the plan by riding associations, leading up to a full, detailed discussion on how to implement it at the next convention in 2018.

Lewis said other resolutions call on the NDP to wholly endorse the plan and use it to guide all future electoral endeavours.

“We don't think that’s fair," he said, adding that a party should not adopt such an elaborate plan wholesale.

Rather, he hopes it the start of a conversation that goes beyond slogans.

With files from The Canadian Press

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