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Q. Anthony Omene is a Toronto-based writer.

After less than two weeks of truckers occupying Ottawa to protest the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for their industry – a demonstration that has become a broader populist uprising against public-health restrictions as a whole – governments across Canada have folded.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe was the first to announce that his province would cancel its vaccine passport program on Monday, with the end of indoor mask requirements and self-isolation orders after contracting COVID-19 to come by the end of the month. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney followed swiftly, immediately rescinding the provincial vaccine passport requirement and announcing that students would no longer be required to wear masks in school. “The threat of COVID-19 to public health no longer outweighs the hugely damaging impact of health restrictions on our society, on people’s mental health, on their emotional well-being, on our broader social health,” Mr. Kenney said in a Feb. 8 presser.

Quebec and Prince Edward Island were next to lift their restrictions, as the Ottawa protesters refuelled their rigs with jerry cans, belched fumes into the air and honked to celebrate the announcements. Though the protest was organized by far-right reactionaries associated with the Yellow Vests Canada movement and the People’s Party of Canada, and though there were reports of protesters waving flags bearing the Confederate stars and bars, the Canadian maple leaf defaced with swastikas and even the Nazi Germany flag itself (along with the accosting of soup kitchen volunteers, the assailing of passersby with racial and homophobic slurs and an attempted arson), the truckers got what they wanted.

They played chicken with Canada’s provincial and federal governments – and governments swerved first.

How truck convoy supporters like Pierre Poilievre have weaponized ‘freedom’

What’s blocking Canada’s exit from the pandemic? The unvaccinated

So what lesson can be learned here? Consider this: While the convoy worked to block the Coutts border crossing in Alberta and the Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge – two of Canada’s most economically important border crossings – swaths of the progressive left busied themselves instead with … attempting to cancel comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan from Spotify.

The streaming music service, worth approximately US$34-billion, found itself in hot water after a clip compiling the times Mr. Rogan has said the N-word over the years he’s hosted The Joe Rogan Experience podcast made the rounds on social media. This came after musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell announced they would be pulling their music catalogues from Spotify in response to accusations that Mr. Rogan promoted misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Mr. Rogan’s name immediately leaped to the top of every trending list, with artists and even politicos calling for him to be booted from the platform.

While Spotify did quietly remove dozens of episodes in which Mr. Rogan or his guests engaged in racially inflammatory rhetoric – including one memorable episode in which a guest expounded on genetic aberrations in Black people that apparently made Africans prone to violence – and while Mr. Rogan did offer an apology for having uttered the N-word in full, he nonetheless remains on the platform. It was yet another pandemic-era tale, led by idiots, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

This past month, in miniature, was a showcase for what passes for the normal course of political action of late: Right-wing reactionaries latch on to concerns of the working class, co-opt them into mass mobilization and press governments into doubling back on technocratic policy courses. Now, they’ve tipped the dominoes on COVID-19 policy to the extent that a number of provincial governments have abruptly decided to accept the virus as a fact of life – potential death, disease and worn-out health care workers be damned.

The reactionary right is often good at garnering sympathizers in government and law enforcement, making their acts of civil disobedience far less risky. But the plain fact of the matter is that they know how to apply pressure through disorderly conduct and how to win battles when the levers of government are no longer responsive at the ballot box. Meanwhile, the broad progressive left bogs itself down in the unwinnable quagmire of the culture wars, not only abandoning Indigenous land defenders, the encamped homeless and defenders of Black lives once government and corporations offer enough in the way of empty promises, but chiding these groups as ungrateful and shortsighted when they attempt to hold Liberal and NDP governments to account. Rather than place principles over partisanship, so-called allies appear content to pivot to online polemics against companies for bad optics, as if corporations are institutions that can ever be relied upon to do the right thing rather than what’s most profitable.

And to what effect? Spotify’s stock price is already bouncing back from last week’s low.

Two years into this pandemic, it is clear that no government had a real plan to get the broad class of Canadians who don’t have the benefit of earning decent pay while working from home through the crisis. And rather than using celebrities or companies to serve as pressure valves for the anger and frustration that comes with a parade of illness, death and isolation, that energy is better directed toward governments that have utterly failed to, for instance, provide housing for the unhoused, build more hospitals, encourage the hiring of more front-line workers while paying them what they deserve and ensure children and students are able to continue their studies without becoming walking disease vectors.

It’s either that or continue the hunt for more celebrity apologies – all while extremists ride the coattails of popular uprisings.

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