Only 12 bills have been presented to the House of Commons since it returned in November, most of them inconsequential or holdovers from the previous Parliament.
Even before the Occupation of Ottawa began, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government seemed listless, directionless, bored. Now, with a new blockade emerging in Windsor, Ont., the Prime Minister needs to persuade Canadians that he is willing and able to lead in a time of crisis.
If he isn’t, former central bank governor Mark Carney may be willing to step in.
There is a reason Canada footed the entire cost of the new Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor and Detroit, slated to open in 2024. The existing Ambassador Bridge, over which a quarter of all trade between Canada and the United States crosses, is jam-packed at the best of times. And now it is blocked by protesters.
“If the thousands of trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge every day are prevented from doing so, assembly lines in Central Canada will shut down,” said retired diplomat Roy Norton, who crucially contributed as Canada’s consul-general in Detroit to getting the new bridge under way. “Workers will be laid off and store shelves will empty. We don’t grow a lot of fresh produce during Canadian winters.”
Since the time of the past election campaign, the Liberal position has been consistent: As Mr. Trudeau puts it, those who protest against vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions are part of a “fringe minority” with “unacceptable views.”
But even some members of the Liberal caucus are uncomfortable with the government’s efforts to “wedge and stigmatize” those opposing restrictions, Joël Lightbound said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The Liberal member for Louis-Hébert urged the government to tone down its rhetoric and offer a path toward reducing restrictions.
But the most significant friendly fire at the government’s approach came from Mr. Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, and an oft-rumoured potential successor to Mr. Trudeau.
In a Globe and Mail op-ed, Mr. Carney called the protests in Ottawa an act of “blatant treachery” and toleration of the truckers “appeasement.” He demanded that the leaders of the protest “be identified and punished to the full force of the law.”
And in what seemed like a veiled criticism of the official response to the protests, he warned: “I know from experience that crises don’t end by themselves. You can’t spin your way out of failure.” Mr. Trudeau should not interpret that statement as a vote of confidence.
The Conservative Party’s response to the trucker protests – supporting their call for an end to vaccine mandates while decrying individual acts of extremism – is politically even more dangerous than the Liberal approach of condemnation married to inaction. Do interim leader Candice Bergen and leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre support the blockade in Windsor as well? Michael Chong is one of several Conservative MPs who have broken with the party’s leadership on the issue.
But ultimately, the government of the day bears responsibility for what happens, or fails to happen, on its watch. And even before the protests began, people were wondering when the Liberals were going to start governing.
There is practically nothing in the legislative pipeline. The government passed legislation increasing penalties for protesters who interfere with health care workers. Legislation banning the practice of conversion therapy that had languished in the past Parliament finally made it through this one. The government has reintroduced a bill to regulate streaming services and social media, which is also a holdover from the previous session, with related legislation on the way. And for the most part, that’s it.
We were just sitting around up here, waiting for something to happen, when that something arrived in the form of a truck convoy.
Now a crucial crossing in Ontario is blocked, along with that at Coutts, Alta. Trucks continue to blockade parts of Ottawa’s downtown. And the federal government appears unable or unwilling to assert its authority to govern, even as tumbleweeds roll across its legislative agenda.
Governments usually run out of steam in their third term. Pierre Trudeau’s did. Jean Chrétien’s did. Stephen Harper’s did. And it seems Justin Trudeau’s has, too.
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