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OPINION: Should they keep on truckin'?

'This convoy has been successful, although they may not realize it,' says columnist Philip Maher
2022-01-31 truck convoy 3
Truck convoy protest on Parliament Hill on Jan. 31. Nigel Newlove photo

To quote CW McCall in his now iconic song: “We got ourselves a convoy.”

Unless you’ve been under a rock (a large rock), you’ve seen pandemic-fatigued folks organizing armadas of trucks to fight against COVID restrictions. I’ve spent the last week in Alberta listening to those who support the protest and those who don’t. Trucker convoys are not new. In 2019,  truckers organized campaigns against the carbon tax in Ottawa.

In the news biz, media need something visual. A bearded “working man” in front of his rig or a Canadian flag is a great visual. It was a smart move. 

This convoy has been successful, although they may not realize it. Future governments will be very reluctant to bring down similar lockdown regulations. This will live long in the collective memory. Protesters can likely check that box as mission accomplished. 

It is worth noting that of all my friends who support this campaign, none of them liked Justin Trudeau even long before now. Okay, it’s anecdotal, but I think it’s a fair representation of the protesters. The vaccine mandate has galvanized them and given an excuse to vent their long-term dislike for Mr. Trudeau. So, they may think it’s about COVID, but I’d argue it’s equally about disdain for the Prime Minister and his liberal policies.

The Liberals, and particularly their leader, have nothing to gain and everything to lose in how this ends. By mishandling the situation, he may lose supporters. For that reason, and others, the Prime Minister has been mostly sitting in a bunker or at least has a bunker mentality. He hoped that this will somehow fade away.

That seems unlikely. 

Convoy organizers are organized. In the beginning it may have been a group blowing horns, bringing out Trump flags, Fxxxk Trudeau flags, American flags, Info Wars flags etc., but these folks are being reeled in and much of this has abated. These people are still there, but there is a recognition that this does not sell well to Canadians. Just like the Prime Minister, they can gain friends, but lose everything if they are seen as extremists. 

The U.S.A. looms large. Whomever pulls the lever behind the curtain for both the government and truckers, Canadians saw what happens when demonstrators get angry with the Jan. 6 fallout in Washington. Nobody wins if things get violent. Both truckers and police will look bad.

Some south of the border are enjoying the spectacle given their own history in Washington. It makes them look better. We know that some U.S. news outlets are enjoying the fact that bland Canadians, people likened to “mashed potatoes without gravy” by Billy Bob Thornton, are upset, just like them. They are loving this. 

On a personal note, first we had healthcare workers as heroes, now truckers are heroes for keeping the supply chain going—and then we have the ever-present patriots. Can we please stop using a caste system to make some people more worthy than others?  How about we simply respect everyone and talk about facts, not pedigrees? Furthermore, invoking the name of religion or calling people by extremist titles like Nazi or communist does nothing to further a reasonable discussion. Many people work hard and make sacrifices. Let’s talk about facts and avoid making some citizens more worthy than others. That is true democracy. 

How do we get out of this mess? One might ask, where is the Prime Minister? Like where’s Waldo — he’s hidden and we can’t find him. He is willing to take a knee or talk about reconciliation at the passing of the talking stick, but now he’s not so anxious to be available. I thought dialogue was his thing? Whether he likes it or not, his paid job is to talk to and listen to Canadians. Sure, he may think some of them are goofballs, but they are our goofballs. He’s the leader of the country.  

Why not sit down over a Molson or a Tim Horton’s double-double with no press, no PR flaks and just chat with a trucker or two?  He could at least say he met with the protesters. They will never agree, but how about putting a face to each other? It might reduce the rhetoric. 

The challenge is finding an exit strategy that saves face. Having worked dozens of crises, the question you ask is: What is our exit strategy? The government will not end all COVID restrictions soon. That is an unrealistic ending for the protesters. They painted themselves into a corner.  However, government could lift some restrictions, using the excuse that this is taking place elsewhere. The government will argue that protesting truckers had nothing to do with it and the truckers will argue the opposite. It’s a stand-off where they both can win, but they’ll have to give something up. It’s called compromise. 

However, is each side humble enough to go there?