The Federal Conservatives Must Seek An Inclusive Leader

Prime Minister Trudeau continues to search for wedges between him and the Conservatives. Why are they making it so easy for Trudeau to play his game?

There is divided opinion among expert observers, as well as within the Liberal caucus, that the Emergencies Act was necessary to implement the clearing of protesters and their trucks in Ottawa. The border closings in several provinces had been resolved using provincial emergency powers.

The Prime Minister’s argument that a few dozen trucks parked elsewhere in Ontario posed such a threat that the declaration had to be continued was ridiculous. Was he saying that police would be incapable of stopping them if they approached Ottawa? A few spike strips on the highway would do the job.

Perhaps his decision Tuesday to end the emergency declaration was compelled by a private message from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh that he was no longer willing to support it.

As noted by The Economist, this is part of a broader pattern of stifling free speech. One Liberal proposal would allow Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal to impose large fines on those it deems to have used hateful language, where defendants would enjoy fewer safeguards than they do under criminal law. Another would let individuals file legal complaints against people pre-emptively, if they fear that they may be about to say something hateful.

The Conservatives should be having a field day with this. Instead they have been wildly incoherent. Their responses to the protest have been all over the place.

It started well on February 4th with a sensible statement by interim leader Candice Bergen which began: “Canadians want and need a peaceful resolution to this impasse.”

She called on the Prime Minister to propose a clear plan to end the situation. She asked the truckers to be peaceful and to call out and denounce acts of hate, racism, intolerance or violence.

She concluded “Now, we must come together, as Canadians always do and chart a peaceful way forward.”

That would have been a useful theme for the party to pursue, but it has shown no discipline. MPs filmed visiting the demonstrators often voiced no concern for the long suffering citizens of Ottawa, and failed to disown episodes of violence (within which many people would include the all-night horn blowing), nor the few people waving Nazi or Confederate flags.

On January 31st Pierre Poilievre tweeted “People flying evil confederate or Nazi flags or disrespecting monuments are individually responsible for reprehensible acts. They do not represent the thousands of lawful truckers who are actually part of the protest and are peacefully championing their livelihoods & freedoms.”

A few days later he and others led a successful attack on Erin O’Toole’s leadership, and declared himself as a candidate shortly afterward.

In a extensive interview with the National Post on February 10th he struck a different tone. He said he was proud of the truckers and those supporting them, without the exceptions in the January 31sttweet. He blamed the negative impression held by many Canadians on biased mainstream media reporting.

Yet on February 14th he said—and claimed he had always said—that he favoured protests but was opposed to blockades. Perhaps someone reminded him of the party’s animated opposition to blockades of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Just as things were starting to calm down after the protest was dispersed last weekend, some appointed senators stirred things up.

The CBC reported a regrettably patronizing statement by Trudeau-appointed Sen. Paula Simons: “While some ‘ordinarily decent Canadians’ may have taken part in the protest, they were ‘seduced and hoodwinked’ by nefarious characters who preyed on frustrations and fears about the pandemic.”

Saskatchewan Conservative Sen. Denise Batters defended anti-vaccine mandate protesters as “friendly” and “patriotic” demonstrators that have been unfairly maligned by the “chattering classes.” “I sensed in the discussions about the protesters in the media and among the privileged, chattering classes on Parliament Hill almost a fear of these working-class people who had invaded the city.”

Nova Scotia Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald said “entitled” Ottawa residents were wrong to demand that the convoy leave town. He praised the protesters for having the “courage and decency” to protest COVID-19 restrictions.

All three are reinforcing Trudeau’s divisive tactics. The Conservatives are being the party of stupid.

They should learn something from Nova Scotia premier Tim Houston. On Wednesday he and Doctor Strang announced that covid restrictions would be reduced on February 28th and March 7th and eliminated altogether on March 21st.

Houston began by noting that Nova Scotia has done better than most provinces in managing the pandemic, crediting Dr. Strang with the choices that have been made. He went on to acknowledge that Nova Scotians have a broad range of views about when restrictions should end.

Some feel that it should already have been done, as has happened in the United Kingdom and other countries. Others are more reluctant and would like to see restrictions last longer.

Houston carefully acknowledged the concerns of both groups and asked them to find a way to respectfully disagree with each other, and to trust the choices of Dr. Strang and his team. This is what it means to be inclusive.

As the Federal Conservatives choose their next leader they should seek candidates who seek to heal Canada’s divisions, not increase them.


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