Main image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference with members of his cabinet to discuss the rail blockades. (From left) Bill Blair, minister of public safety; Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister; Trudeau; Marc Miller, Indigenous services minister; Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations; and Marc Garneau, transport minister. (Fred Chartrand | The Canadian Press)
One would think that, by now, I would be immune to political hypocrisy but this week in Ottawa it hit a new high that quickly grabbed my attention.
The blockade of our railroad system in Canada has been going on for about two weeks, causing serious damage to our national economy. For at least half of that time our Prime Minister was out of the country. True, he did cancel the last stop on his sales tour to promote a seat for Canada on the United Nations Security Council, but by then the fire was ablaze and, to that point, he had done very little to address it.
Chantal Hébert, a Toronto Star columnist, said it best: “That Justin Trudeau came late to the scene—at a time when most of Canada’s railway system had been ground to a halt by Indigenous blockades—is not in question. That his belated entry into the debate fuelled doubts as to whether he was on top of the issue is also not a matter for debate.”
When he did get home, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau effectively told us to calm down. His implication was that mere Canadians did not understand the intricacies of the issue, that he felt our pain, but we just had to leave it to him to solve this problem peacefully and that it may take some time.
He repeated much the same message when Parliament convened. He called again for patience, said he was committed to dialogue, and discouraged any kind of police action to enforce injunctions issued by the courts. He effectively enabled the protesters.
Andrew Scheer, still leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, still doing his duty, responded with a different perspective. He pointed out that the government had had ten days for effective dialogue with the protesters and that the time had now come to act. He highlighted the devastating effect of the blockade on commuters, farmers, business concerns and ordinary consumers who faced a potential shortage of fuel to heat their homes. He also emphasized that many First Nations communities were opposed to the blockade and supported a pipeline and that a significant number of protesters were activists with little or no connection to Indigenous people and with their own agenda. The language may have been blunt, but he was right on all counts.
Mr. Trudeau was apoplectic over Andrew Scheer’s remarks in Parliament, to the point where he excluded the leader of the opposition, whose party won more votes in the recent federal election than his own, from a summit meeting with all other opposition leaders on how to deal with the blockade. His reason, he said, was that, “Mr. Scheer disqualified himself with an unacceptable speech earlier today.“ Really? The man was doing his job and if we cannot have free expression of speech in the Parliament of Canada, where can we have it?
But this is not hypocrisy. This is more like how an autocrat would react, refusing to listen to anyone who may not agree with him. It was astonishingly Trump-like in its execution.
No, the hypocrisy came a mere 72 hours later when the prime minister did a complete turn-around, echoing many of the arguments that Andrew Scheer had made and that the prime minister had so recently condemned. As one pundit had said, “You cannot play hurt bunny and say one political leader is unworthy of being involved in any discussions because of the position they hold, and then 72 hours later adopt the same position.”
That is effectively what Justin Trudeau did. He finally said that the barricades on rail lines and other major transportation routes must come down. He said there cannot be negotiation when only one party will come to the table and he said the onus to resolve the situation peacefully is now on the protesters. The tone may have been slightly softer, but the message is the same. One way or another, the blockades must come down.
So, what changed? Perhaps the prime minister read the editorial on Wednesday in his favorite newspaper, the Toronto Star, which said, “The protesters have a right to make their views known, but they don’t have a right to strangle the economy.” Or perhaps, and even more likely, the government and the Liberal party have done their own internal polling and discovered that most Canadians are not with the prime minister on this one. They want the blockades to end now. Not sometime down the road, not after more posturing or deal making, but now! Generally speaking, Canadians do not like being held for ransom. Perhaps the prime minister is getting that message, albeit late.
Whatever brought it about, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now taken a stand. Blockade protesters have, so far, given him the middle finger. Now, we will have to see if he really means what he says. It will be a defining test of his leadership.
Of course, everyone would prefer to see a peaceful solution to the railroad blockade, but it needs to come quickly. If not, then the law must be upheld as compassionately and safely as possible, but nevertheless upheld. Trains must be allowed to run again without interference and people should be allowed to get on with their lives without harmful disruption.
As it is quoted so often these days, no one is above the law, no matter the circumstances. It is a defining truth. Two weeks of civil disobedience in Canada is enough. The blockades must end. Scheer has said it, Trudeau has said it, and Canadians across the country are saying it.
It’s crunch time.
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