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How Kenney’s Convoy Support Backfired

He cheered on angry truckers. Now he’s begging them to stop blocking his border.

David Climenhaga 31 Jan 2022Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

It would be ironic if Premier Jason Kenney’s baseless claim a week ago that Ottawa’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers had led to empty shelves in Alberta grocery stores ended up causing real shortages.

Kenney’s tweets of photos of empty grocery shelves and his tendentious assertions that “with a quarantine rule for unvaccinated truckers, Ottawa is making a bad situation much worse,” were obviously intended to undermine Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal federal government — which appears to be the premier’s principal policy goal these days.

Whether the tweets did Trudeau any harm is an open question. But they certainly emboldened the far-right organizers of the protest convoy to Ottawa that dominated the news over the weekend. As blogger Susan Wright argued last night, Kenney was in effect telling the unvaccinated truck protesters and vaccine holdouts generally that his United Conservative government has their back.

This may have contributed to the federal Conservative party getting caught on camera handing out coffees to protesters who clearly had a bigger and uglier agenda than just resisting COVID-19 vaccinations. A number of Conservative members of Parliament will rue the day they ventured up to Parliament Hill to mingle with that crowd.

But it also seems to have inspired the copycat convoy in southern Alberta that is now blocking the high-traffic U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, and Sweet Grass, Montana.

If this situation is not dealt with swiftly by police — who so far are handling the blockaders with kid gloves — it could lead to actual shortages for which Albertans will have no one to blame but their premier himself.

While this was all shaking out, of course, Kenney had already bugged off to Washington, D.C., to hobnob with the participants in a convention of state governors. Maybe that was why it took him so long to issue a strangely hesitant statement yesterday afternoon condemning the Coutts blockade.

Inconvenienced motorists and local politicians had been screaming about the situation for almost a full day before Kenney came down from Olympus in Washington to weigh in on the situation, tweeting almost hesitantly, “if participants in this convoy cross the line and break the law, I expect police to take appropriate action.” Arguably, they are breaking the law now.

This from the tough-guy politician who brought in the draconian and probably unconstitutional Critical Infrastructure Defence Act as his government’s first bill to crack down on civil disobedience, including rail blockades, after protests against the Coastal GasLink pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory in B.C. To hear Conservative politicians in 2020, you would have thought the blockades threatened to bring Canada’s economy to its knees.

“The current blockade of Highway 4 at the Coutts border crossing violates the Alberta Traffic Safety Act,” Kenney said meekly. “It is causing significant inconvenience for lawful motorists, and could dangerously impede the movement of emergency service vehicles. This blockade must end immediately.”

He went on: “Operational enforcement decisions are the responsibility of police services, and enforcement at the border crossing itself is in part a federal responsibility. Alberta’s Critical Infrastructure Defence Act gives police and prosecutors additional penalties to levy as a tool to address blockades and other infrastructure when and where they deem appropriate.” In other words, don’t look at me!

For their part, the RCMP tweeted they “continue to act to preserve the peace and maintain public safety at the #Coutts border crossing. Extensive efforts have been taken to engage with all stakeholders in the hopes that a peaceful resolution can be reached.” (Emphasis added. In hopes? In other words, no camo-clad RCMP stormtroopers with assault rifles, dogs and snipers as on Wet’suwet’en territory.)

Two hours later, though, Kenney found time to publish a photo of himself standing somewhat adjacent to Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican of course. “I have raised with him our concern about the Coutts border crossing blockade,” the premier said — oddly, since the blockade is entirely on the Alberta side of the 49th parallel.

Well, as Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips, who served as environment minister in Opposition Leader Rachel Notley’s NDP government, tweeted in response to Kenney’s claim he was talking to the governors about supply chains, energy security and trade, “pretty tough to have any of those things with one of your own MLAs blockading the border.”

This was a reference to Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, who showed up with his grandchildren at the blockade on Saturday to, he boasted on Facebook, “show them the importance of standing up for freedom and liberty.”

RachelNotleySideProfile.jpg
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley: ‘The blockade of emergency vehicles to Albertans in need, and the disruption in the flow of vital goods through our major transportation corridor, is both dangerous and disgraceful. It puts lives at risk, hurts our economy and hurts families.’ Photo by David Climenhaga.

Glen Motz, Conservative Party of Canada MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner and a former police officer, also tweeted his support for the highway blockade.

By contrast, Notley said “the Alberta NDP unequivocally condemns the blockade of the border near Coutts as well as the many examples of hateful symbols and vandalism seen across Canada this weekend.”

“The blockade of emergency vehicles to Albertans in need, and the disruption in the flow of vital goods through our major transportation corridor, is both dangerous and disgraceful,” she said in a statement yesterday morning. “It puts lives at risk, hurts our economy and hurts families.

“A small group first claiming to be concerned about the possibility of grocery shortages have now most assuredly caused them,” she continued, calling on Kenney to “formally direct his MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner to end his participation in this blockade of Alberta’s economy.

“The border must be reopened,” she concluded. “The premier must take action for the families in southern Alberta who depend on open roads to travel for their jobs, their health care and plainly, to go about their lives.”  [Tyee]

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