CANADA is having its own January 6 moment. The reasons for the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters and the truckers’ siege of Ottawa are different but share the same cause, which is the growing public frustration with arrogant government. This is not the democratic deal as we understand it.
Boris Johnson’s future hinges on whether the Metropolitan Police charge him in connection with the Downing Street parties. All our resentments against Covid lockdowns, loss of liberties, politicised maskings and vaccine mandates have narrowed down to whether Johnson should pay the price for a forbidden glass of wine.
In the great scheme of things, Johnson’s offence looks trivial. In fact, January 6, the Canadian Freedom Convoy, elite drinks at No 10 and France’s gilets jaunes riots a couple of years ago all point to something very dangerous. Strands of the thread that links electorates and their leaders are snapping; what if the thread itself breaks?
The problem is the persistent erosion of trust in the fundamentals of democracy – transparent government by consent, a free and truthful media and tolerance between individuals who disagree about politics. Each of these has declined visibly in the 21st century.
In the UK, the rot began with the inexcusable refusal of John Major to take responsibility for Black Wednesday followed by New Labour’s cynical use of spin as an art form so that no one, lost in the confusions of relativism, had any independent compass to distinguish between truth and lies. Peter Mandelson and the willing media he manipulated were actually proud of their sinister cleverness.
The outcome of the events in Canada will have a lasting effect there and elsewhere. This is a zero-sum game; either the people win and the government loses or vice versa. For the health of democracy, it should be the people. The moment for unquestioning obedience has passed.
The story goes back to Justin Trudeau’s re-election as prime minister with the support of only one-third of the electorate, which undermined his legitimacy and required careful management of the country to keep the two-thirds who opposed him on board during the Covid crisis. In fact, Trudeau is as much a figurehead as President Biden. Real power in Ottawa belongs to deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland.
When the Liberal government required unvaccinated truckers returning to Canada from the US to go into quarantine for 14 days, the drivers rebelled and began the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa with the support of many voters. This support has been suppressed by the loyal media including the CBC, the Canadian equivalent of the BBC, which has constantly vilified the protest.
The issue was a Covid measure but Trudeau, reaching into his bag of progressive tropes, called the protest misogynist and racist before invoking the Emergencies Act which in its entirety amounts to martial law and allows troops to replace the police. Trudeau has not yet gone this far.
Instead, he warned the truckers that he would freeze their bank accounts and other assets if they did not disperse. The protest has caused significant damage to the Canadian economy but against this must be set the damage Trudeau and Freeland have done to the body politic by denying the essential freedom to oppose the authorities. They haven’t even spoken to truckers’ leaders.
Freeland, not Trudeau, defended the government’s action on Thursday at the start of a parliamentary debate on the emergency declaration. She said bank accounts were already being frozen although MPs will not vote on the measure until Monday.
‘It’s happening . . . I do have the numbers in front of me,’ Freeland said, but refused to disclose how many, which is itself a way of exacerbating the anguish of families who do not know whether the government knows their identities.
Any bank or financial institution is now legally obliged to tell the police whether it handles protesting truckers’ money or that of supporters supplying them so that government can issue freeze orders.
The freezing of truckers’ money means that their families are being punished for acts in which they are not personally involved. How are the wives of protesters supposed to feed their children and pay their utility bills? Can banks still pay standing orders for mortgages and loans on cars, or the trucks themselves if the drivers are independents?
In an increasingly cashless society, people’s lives are crippled if they cannot use a bank card or write a cheque which means that Freeland and Trudeau have swung the full weight of a sledgehammer against fellow citizens simply because they can. The word for this is dictatorial.
It cannot be denied that democratically elected governments should rule as they see fit under normal circumstances. When Margaret Thatcher fought union power, including the year-long miners’ strike, she had a mandate which the electorate painfully accepted.
This is not the case in Canada, where Trudeau has exhausted the public’s patience with Covid restrictions dictated by one side of the scientific argument that many do not believe. What he has done with his legally dubious invocation of the Emergencies Act – passed in 1988 to protect the country from war – is a betrayal of trust, no more, no less.
Update: On Friday police in Ottawa began arresting truckers who have occupied the centre of the Canadian capital for the last three weeks.
The move came after two of the protest leaders were taken in custody on Thursday night and much of downtown was designated a secure area behind 100 checkpoints.
Canada’s parliament cancelled plans for a debate about the implementation of the Emergencies Act.
Media have been warned by Ottawa police to keep their distance or face arrest.
We will continue to update you here or elsewhere on the site.