The blockade was over, the protesters were mostly gone, but things were not normal. On Sunday, you could see a tow truck hauling a camper with a Canada Unity protest sign out of the downtown. An Ottawa resident told a lone protester to go home, and the protester swore at him to shut up.
Nerves were still raw. The police were on nearly every block. It didn’t seem clear when the capital might get back to normal. Or the country.
In the House of Commons, where MPs resumed debate on the use of the Emergencies Act, one might have also hoped for politicians to look for ways to lead the country past the traumatic episode, after two years of pandemic. Is there a healer in the House?
It’s hard to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the politician who titled his autobiography Common Ground, renouncing the COVID-19 wedge politics that he played hard in the 2021 election and taking back the divisive epithets that made some Canadians feel devalued.
Of course, Mr. Trudeau could not really have negotiated with this convoy. It was a patchwork that included some organizers arriving with arguably seditious and certainly conspiracy-minded rhetoric, demanding federal and provincial governments change policies or they’d blockade a city.
But there were also ordinary folks among them, expressing frustration. Mr. Trudeau should have looked for ways to reach out to those in the country who shared their sentiments, and send them some signal of inclusion. That would have been better than sending the impression that the government of Canada dismisses them as a basket of deplorables. It still would be now.
Then there were the Conservatives in Sunday’s debate who can’t seem to say out loud that what happened in Ottawa was serious, and seriously wrong. And that the trucks blockading downtown Ottawa had to be moved.
This should be surprising because last week, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen said the trucks “should move, or be moved.” Yet when the police arrived to do it, Ms. Bergen tweeted that she was “disturbed and saddened” by it.
On Sunday, Conservative MP and leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre delivered what seemed to be a leadership campaign speech – listing house prices and internet regulation as emergencies on top of speaking about frustration with pandemic restrictions. But he said nothing about the effect of truck blockades on the city of Ottawa until Liberal Chad Collins asked.
“Am I concerned about the people who have been harmed by blockades? Absolutely,” he said. “That is why I am so disappointed the Prime Minister caused these blockades in the first place.”
But Mr. Poilievre, who said about ten days ago that he stands with the truckers, didn’t go out since to ask them to stop blocking the streets of Ottawa because it is both illegal and, after more than three weeks, harmful for local residents. He didn’t go out to Wellington St. to tell protesters that the best thing to do for the country is to lift the blockade and see their cause pressed in Parliament instead.
It is quite true that the protesters in Ottawa were not all conspiracy theorists or thugs, and that there were many who were ordinary folks expressing heartfelt frustration and the feeling they aren’t heard. Some were friendly, down-to-earth folks. Yet even after more than three weeks, they didn’t seem to believe they were harming locals. A little honking, one said. Another said it would be different in a small town, but it is okay in the capital.
That wasn’t the way residents felt. Some felt threatened; there were protesters that intimidated shop clerks and harassed locals. People didn’t feel safe downtown, in part because the police seemed to be unwilling to do anything about it, and they were telling residents tow-truck drivers were too scared to remove vehicles. Businesses were effectively locked down. A private citizen obtained an injunction to stop all-night honking. Many Ottawa residents felt they were abandoned, and lost some faith in democracy, too.
We can see that politicians feel a pull to decide who they will side with, first and foremost. Maybe that’s good politics. But It is hard to see them as potential healers now.
There are a few who have been willing to look beyond that – and say so. Liberal MPs Joël Lightbound and Yves Robillard took Mr. Trudeau to task for divisive rhetoric. Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, among others in his party, called on protesters to lift the blockade.
Let’s hope we hear more of those voices.
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