Pierre Elliot Trudeau reminds us that leaders don’t hide in a crisis
“For eight years Reagan had the ability to drive through a carwash in a convertible with the top down — and the only one who got wet was Jimmy Carter.” — Art Buchwald
Famous American journalist Art Buchwald’s comment from his book “Whose Rose Garden is it anyway?” perfectly fits current Canadian political events. Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, runs away from his responsibilities in handling the truckers protest in Ottawa, and the (now former) leader of the opposition, Erin O’Toole resigns.
This column is neither about the opportunity to vaccinate nor a judgment about people who refuse to do it. It is about Canadian laws, the rights of governments to make decisions within their constitutional rights, and the duty of our institutions to make sure that these decisions are respected, whether we like them or not. I believe that the speed limit on our highways is too low, but this doesn’t give me the right to drive at the speed I believe is appropriate.
What we are witnessing these days in Ottawa is un-Canadian for three reasons: what the truckers are doing is blatantly illegal, the Canadian government “is on the run” (the quote is not mine but a headline from European newspapers), and the police force is not doing the job it is supposed to do.
Truckers, government, and police find themselves in a situation bigger than themselves and that none of them were anticipating.
The truckers drove to Ottawa for a one-day demonstration, hoping to get some concessions from the government and go back to work. Unfortunately, they got hyped during the trip east and their protest was taken over, at least emotionally, by anti-vaccine and anti-government organizations. Once in Ottawa, they were met with political incompetence, police indifference, and they found themselves at the hearth of Canadian democracy with nobody at home.
To make things worse, the naivete of then Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole, who threw himself headfirst into the dispute, made even Justin Trudeau look like a leader. In the end, O’Toole is the only political casualty of this protest: Trudeau is still there, the truckers too.
But what about the police force?
I can imagine the frustration of Ottawa citizens watching their city, and their lives, taken over for more than a week by unruly demonstrators. When this nightmare is over, I wonder with what authority local police and bylaw officers will issue a parking ticket to a local delivery van on Wellington Street? Spare me the argument that this is a special and dangerous situation requiring a special approach.
Demonstrations in Ottawa are not “special” events, in fact, they are quite normal. If this is “special” or “dangerous” it is because it was mishandled by the government and the police from the beginning.
The protest didn’t develop overnight and both government and police, had days to prepare for it. I believe that even the truckers were surprised by the inaction of police and government in handling them. Now, they find themselves in a role bigger than what they were bargaining for, bigger than them, and exposed to international organizations trying to use them for political purposes.
We all remember a former Canadian prime minister who defied stone-throwing demonstrators in Montreal; it was the same prime minister who told Canadians to “Just watch me” when dealing with people threatening Canadian law and order.
If Pierre Elliot were in charge at the Office of the Prime Minister (formerly called the Langevin Block), the truckers wouldn't still be parked on Wellington Street.
VIDEO Courtesy of CBC Archives
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