The discussions held by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Premiers leading up to the imposition of The Emergencies Act will not be made public, but the results are obvious: All Premiers except one, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, told Trudeau not to do it.
I’m sure that they all urged the Prime Minister to take the glaringly obvious, commonsense step of engaging in dialogue with the truckers. I would guess that the Premiers told Ford to do the same as well. Ford did not budge. He chose to save his own political skin over doing the right thing for the country. Ditto for Trudeau.
It seems extremely doubtful that Trudeau could have taken the drastic step of imposing the Emergencies Act if Ford had stood with the other commonsense Premiers and told Trudeau firmly that imposing such draconian action was foolhardy and threatened the social fabric of the country.
The Premiers no doubt reminded Trudeau and Ford that, two years ago, the Wet’suwet’en protests had effectively blockaded Canada’s railway system for weeks, causing great economic damage and massive inconvenience to thousands of people. Despite the disruption and economic damage, those protests were dealt with calmly, with no drastic emergency legislation. The Prime Minister, to his credit, didn’t go into hiding when those protests began or demonize and vilify those protestors. Instead, he talked to them. The protest came to a peaceful end.
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The Premiers would also have reminded Trudeau and Ford that the imposition of what in essence are wartime emergency measures, with all of their liberty-crushing teeth and claws, would undoubtedly have many unintended consequences, including the high likelihood of the permanent radicalization of segments of the population. Honest working people, who had simply wanted to make a point, would be turned into enemies forever. Less principled groups would take advantage of this societal division. The smart Premiers knew that. They would have urged calm and suggested that both Trudeau and Ford do what real leaders are expected to do – meet with the truckers and actually talk.
Such discussions would not have been difficult. The truckers and others want an end to restrictions, such as vaccine and mask mandates. Those mandates have already been dropped in most parts of the world and are rapidly coming off everywhere else. Omicron has shown us that the virus is here to stay – but we can live with it. We should have protected the vulnerable and learned to live with the coronavirus long ago. Now, that is our only choice.
Obviously, Trudeau and Ford cannot simply agree to any terms any particular protest movement demands. However, the lifting of pandemic restrictions occurring all around us is only a commonsense step that both Trudeau and Ford would have taken, with or without the truckers. Canada is one of the few remaining nations that insists on keeping itself locked in a Covid prison. Even Trudeau and Ford must acknowledge that.
Perhaps, if they had taken the honourable step of meeting with the truckers, both men would have had to apologize for the language they had used to describe them. To tell honest working Canadians that they are “racist” and “misogynist” people who “hold unacceptable views” is language that no Canadian Prime Minister should have used to describe his constituents in the first place. Ford made similarly drop-dead stupid statements. But both Trudeau and Ford hold themselves out as leaders, and surely they are big enough to admit mistakes.
But neither man’s ego allowed them to take that obvious, commonsense step. A little respect shown to the truckers and an honest attempt at conversation would go a long way. The core of the trucker group is reasonable, decent and hardworking Canadians. These are not extremists. Instead, Trudeau and Ford decided to roll the dice and rashly push us into an unknown future of Canadians yelling at one another – and worse.
Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that that’s the way the Liberals won the last election. First, stoke up the fear. Take a virus that is indeed nasty, but only deadly to the frail elderly, obese, and immuno-compromised. Then scare even the young and healthy. Next, promise everyone that vaccines will save them and convince them that anyone who chooses otherwise is their enemy. When the vaccines and total government control are a flop, double down on the fear and government overreach.
That’s formula worked for Trudeau and Ford but at the cost of dividing the nation – perhaps irreparably.
How would a real leader have handled things? Pierre Trudeau was a real leader. He had many critics – and he deserved them – but he was a real leader. He had the intellect and integrity required of a real leader. He is still criticized for imposing the War Measures Act in 1970. But – and I remember it well – it was a real emergency. There were bombs, kidnapping and murder, and the real threat of worse to follow. The FLQ was a very determined and bloody-minded insurgency. They certainly had none of the bouncy castles, danceable music, or free Sikh food that will be the legacy of the truckers’ time in Ottawa. The FLQ were not decent workers who drove big rigs for long hours on long, lonely roads. And loved Canada.
In 1970, the FLQ was a clear and present danger to Canada. In 2022 the truckers are a clear and present danger to Justin Trudeau.
The fact is that slapping a vaccine mandate onto truckers, who are already overwhelmingly vaccinated, at a time when vaccines are becoming increasingly irrelevant, was pure politics. The truckers saw through it. It became glaringly obvious that after doing the work that kept the country alive – while the Ottawa crowd Zoomed at each other – Trudeau and his sidekick, Ford, were once again going to use the truckers for their own cynical purposes. The trucker had had enough.
So now we venture into a new authoritarian version of what used to be a wonderful country, where Canadians cherished their freedoms. Already, people who donated money to help the truckers are finding that they are being harassed and treated like criminals for holding “unacceptable views.”
When Pierre Trudeau was asked in 1970 how far he was prepared to go to defend Canada, he famously said, “Just watch me.” It is rather frightening that his Chinese Communist Party-admiring son seems to be adopting an authoritarian’s version of that iconic statement.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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