The Conservative Party’s newly elected interim leader, Candice Bergen, advocated in internal discussions against asking the protesters occupying Ottawa to go home, according to an e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail.
“I don’t think we should be asking them to go home,” reads an e-mail from Ms. Bergen to then-leader Erin O’Toole’s senior caucus team on Monday.
“I understand the mood may shift soon. So we need to turn this into the PM’s problem,” the Manitoba MP added in her note.
While the Conservatives debated the contents of a possible statement on Monday, protesters were outside Parliament Hill for a fourth day, blockading streets and ignoring traffic laws. On Thursday, many businesses remained closed over safety concerns, and residents of the core were on day seven of horns and fireworks disrupting their lives.
A Conservative Party spokesperson did not provide a response on Thursday to a request for comment on Ms. Bergen’s stand and whether it has changed.
Conservative MPs elected Ms. Bergen as interim leader on Wednesday night, after caucus voted to turf Mr. O’Toole. She is among a growing number of Conservatives allying themselves with the protesters – a position that politicians across the political spectrum have criticized.
The protesters want governments to end all pandemic restrictions and vaccination and mask mandates. On Thursday, organizers again said they won’t leave until their demands are met, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rejected.
In the House of Commons on Monday, Ms. Bergen described the protesters as “passionate, patriotic and peaceful.” On Twitter, she posted pictures of her meeting with some of the people blockading the streets and said they “deserve to be heard and they deserve respect.”
On Wednesday night, Conservative MP Kevin Waugh posted pictures of him and other Saskatchewan Tories, including former leader Andrew Scheer and Senator Denise Batters, meeting with truckers blocking the streets. “It’s great to see Canadians championing freedom on Parliament Hill,” he wrote.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called the Conservatives’ actions an “absolute disgrace.”
Mr. Watson, a former Liberal MPP, criticized the Conservatives for praising the “illegal action that has caused stress and hardship to residents.”
Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Chris Alexander called the Conservatives’ stand “both disgraceful and inexcusable.”
“I’m ashamed to see Conservative Party of Canada members, including elected MPs, portraying vaccine mandates as ‘tyranny’ and Trudeau as the ‘biggest threat to freedom in Canada’ while Russia prepares to launch a massive war on Ukraine,” he said.
A poll released by Abacus Data on Thursday said 68 per cent of respondents feel they have very little in common with the Ottawa protesters, while 32 per cent said they share a lot in common with them.
The results don’t break down evenly along party lines. The vast majority of Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois supporters said they have very little in common with the protesters. Forty-six per cent of Conservative supporters said they have a lot in common with demonstrators, as did 82 per cent of People’s Party of Canada supporters.
More than half of respondents said Mr. Trudeau either did not handle the protest convoy appropriately or made really poor choices in his response.
The online survey was conducted between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 and had 1,410 respondents.
In Question Period, Ms. Bergen has urged the Prime Minister to meet with the protesters, ensure they feel heard, and said it was his responsibility to “bring some resolution,” and asked him to extend an “olive branch.”
Mr. Trudeau was not at Question Period on Thursday. At a virtual news conference, he called the blockades “absolutely unacceptable” and criticized protesters for “harassing people who dare wear masks or follow public-health rules” and for “showing hateful symbols of genocide, of racism.”
Some of the people protesting against pandemic restrictions and mask and vaccine mandates on Parliament Hill have also carried flags and signs featuring swastikas and yellow stars of David. Some opponents of vaccination mandates have compared the rules with the persecution of Jews by the Nazis.
In the House of Commons on Monday, Ms. Bergen equated the symbols of hate flown at the protest to the removal of statues at protests in support of Indigenous peoples, and wearing blackface – a dig at Mr. Trudeau.
“We all condemn hateful and destructive acts by a few at any protest,” she said. “Whether it is beheading the statue of Queen Victoria in Manitoba, tearing down the statue of Sir John A. [Macdonald] in Montreal or putting flags on Terry Fox, whether it is burning churches, whether it is wearing blackface, whether it is Hezbollah flags or Nazi flags, we all condemn it.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller called Ms. Bergen’s comments regarding the statues “nuts.”
“It’s absolutely obscene to suggest there’s any parallel,” he said, and noted that she has been pictured wearing a Make America Great Again hat.
Mr. Trudeau called for “responsible leadership” and “for all politicians, from all parties, to tell these protesters, as I have, that it’s time to get back to normal in the city of Ottawa.”
In the House, Nova Scotia Liberal MP Kody Blois asked Ontario Conservative MP Shelby Kramp-Neuman if she agreed that “its time for protesters to go home.”
“It’s a tricky situation here in Ottawa, but Canadians are wanting to be heard,” she replied.
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