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opinion

The inquiry into whether Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act was justifiable has a rather peculiar look.

Inquiries normally investigate something that went wrong. Not this one. This one is probing an action that worked, that went off with few hitches, that was met, for the most part, with public acceptance.

The issue of whether the Prime Minister had the right to go so far is a big deal with anti-vaxxers and constitutional scholars and, naturally, the Conservative opposition.

But the Canadian public? Around the proverbial water-cooler I haven’t heard anyone obsessing over the question. Most just wanted the occupation to end and most are glad it did and I doubt Mr. Trudeau is shaking in his shoes over how the inquiry report comes down. The sword of Damocles is not about to fall.

Given the testimony, we shouldn’t expect conclusions from Justice Paul Rouleau to be cut and dried. He will be dealing with a lot of grey area legal detail, splitting hairs on this clause and that. What the public is more interested in is justice being meted out to the perpetrators of the occupation and the fumbling response to it of different levels of law enforcement and government, Mr. Trudeau’s politburo included.

The PM’s case has been helped along by the testimony of David Vigneault, the head of our spy service. He first advised the government there was not enough of a threat to justify the use of the act. But then – and how convenient for the PM – he took a mulligan. He invoked a broader definition of what constitutes a threat and gave Mr. Trudeau the green light.

The Emergencies Act inflicted abuses, such as the freezing of people’s bank accounts. But for all the things that anger Canadians about Mr. Trudeau, his getting tough on the Ottawa occupiers does not rank highly, as opinion polls indicate, among them.

The PM is more often criticized for being overly apologetic than overly authoritative. Particularly inexcusable on the latter has been his overcentralizing of power in the Prime Minister’s Office. That’s something previous prime ministers have done as well but that he was supposed to check and didn’t.

On his using the act, also working in Mr. Trudeau’s favour is the climate of the times. The zeitgeist hardly tilts toward civil liberties. The extremism that has gripped the United States, the level of chaos and violence brought on by the rise of fringe groups and their empowerment via social media, has broadened the public appetite for order and regulation.

By comparison to the work of the very stable genius at the White House – Donald Trump’s attempt to shutter democracy, his helping trigger the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol – Mr. Trudeau’s handiwork looks tame. He’s lucky in that he has often benefited from having the mad king as a foil.

The midterm elections in the U.S., with their surprisingly good results for the Democrats, brought a ray of hope that perhaps a return to political sanity is being made in the once great republic. Far-right populism may be losing ground.

It’s something that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has been criticized for aligning too closely with the convoy brigade, should bear in mind. Appeals to radical elements paid off for him in winning the leadership of his party. But P.P. is barking up the wrong tree if he thinks it will win the hearts and minds of the broader sweep of Canadians who have never been strongly ideological or hyperpartisan and are certainly not in these times, having borne witness to the ravages such extremes inflict.

In a recent outpouring, Mr. Poilievre went so far as to say that “everything is broken in this country,” blaming Mr. Trudeau for it all, even the drug problem in British Columbia. There was no mention of the brutal track record of the Conservative Leader’s hard right populist brand of politics in the U.S. or in Brexit-plagued Britain.

Like Mr. Trump, he makes any excesses of Mr. Trudeau look milder than they might. Canadians don’t want flame throwers. The times are too angry. They want calm and order, fairness and compromise, these being hallmarks of our character.

If Mr. Trudeau is found to have overstepped the bounds with the Emergencies Act, it likely won’t hurt him. The people will give him pass, the consensus being that something had to be done to finally end the occupation and deploying the tough measure was a fair price to pay.