Politics is something of a family business for Avi Lewis, the filmmaker and activist who on Tuesday announced his intention to run for the NDP in the upcoming federal election on British Columbia’s south coast.
That political aspirations run in the blood of the 54-year-old may seem obvious. His grandfather, David Lewis, was a founder and former leader of the federal New Democratic Party. His father, Stephen Lewis, assumed leadership of the Ontario NDP in 1970, leading the party that became the province’s official opposition five years later.
But the impetus behind the film producer’s political debut actually came from his mother.
The sounds of columnist Michele Landsberg’s IBM Selectric typewriter forced his son to start telling his own stories, Lewis said in a phone interview with The Star, a call he first made as local news reporter in Toronto.
Stays as a political and current affairs host followed. Lewis also produces documentaries and short films, sometimes in partnership with his wife, author and fellow climate activist Naomi Klein.
“It’s really about going to places and witnessing and listening,” Lewis said. “But it also really translates into politics, because politics is really about being entangled in the fabric of a community, listening to people.”
Still, it’s hard to discuss Lewis’ transition to federal nominee without mentioning his father, who is struggling with inoperable abdominal cancer.
When asked if the famous speaker had considered his decision to introduce himself, Lewis paused, taking a long moment to pull himself together.
“I haven’t seen him for 15 months. When I really decided to run, it was only a few months before the cancer came back. My first thought was, you know, I shouldn’t be doing this.
Both of Lewis’s parents held back from pushing their son into the family business, but he says they were “stunned in high school” to learn of his race.
His father, whose legacy played a “complex” but “beautiful” role in shaping the decision, is now developing winning strategies for his son and is likely angered, Lewis said, by his inability to survey the streets. himself.
As the NDP sought to recruit him for the past election, Lewis made the call on his own this time, pondering the decision for about a year before deciding his time was right.
“This is a unique political moment,” he said. “No one alive has ever experienced something like this before. The pandemic has changed everything. “
That may be true, but today’s politics also lend themselves to some of the boldest ideas the filmmaker championed years ago, at a time when they weren’t quite the right ones. welcome.
Lewis, Klein, and a few dozen others were behind the controversial Leap Manifesto, a policy document released in the 2015 federal election that focused on economic justice, headed for a post-carbon future, and ended the construction of fossil fuel projects such as pipelines.
The document resurfaced at the party’s 2016 national convention in Edmonton, where it was criticized by then-NDP Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and alienated some delegates.
At the end of the convention, Thomas Mulcair would be ousted from his post as party leader following an unprecedented leadership vote. And while there are a number of other reasons for this result, the manifesto Lewis wanted to see presented to Congress no doubt played a role.
“You don’t have to follow a hard line, you have to agree on core values,” Lewis said, when asked if he was ready for a world of partisan politics that often requires to play well with a team.
“We always argue over pipelines. What we need to do is make a sweeping new green deal or just transition that supports workers immediately, ”he said. “These debates are big, difficult and complicated in all parties. And the NDP is like that too.
National Party Director Anne McGrath said she was confident in Lewis’ candidacy, telling The Star that she initially reacted to the news with “some excitement.”
“The truth is Avi has a name in progressive politics,” McGrath said. “His family has a name.”
That’s not all Lewis has.
His network goes beyond the progressive dynasty from which he descends. He produced a short film on the merits of a new green deal, narrated by US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Other projects have led him to rub shoulders with personalities such as Jane Fonda and Emma Thompson.
What that kind of star power means to someone running for a federal party that aligns with working Canadians depends on how Lewis approaches his campaign – and potential voters.
For now, the voters he is focusing on are those who live in B.C.’s West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding, where he was acclaimed as his party candidate on Saturday.
“I really know in my bones that politics is local,” Lewis said. “There was a lot of angst and gaze on other ridings in the region. But the truth is, this is where I live and this is where I have to.
However, the riding, owned by the Liberals since 2015, has never been conquered by the NDP.
“I respect that dedication to place, a sense of community,” McGrath said, adding that she was surprised he didn’t go for a safer bet in downtown Toronto or Vancouver.
For Lewis, the heart of this community is Halfmoon Bay. This is where he now lives with Klein and their eight-year-old son, Toma, after his wife introduced him to the small community in the 1990s.
And right now, he’s only thinking of representing his own pocket of British Columbia – nothing more.
“I am resolutely focused on changing the electoral calculus of this large, complex and beautiful constituency in which I live,” said Lewis. “I learned from my dad and my grandfather that leadership is a huge burden to bear.