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Federal Politics

Canada Is Giving a Master Class in Eroding Democracy

Witness our two kinds of leaders. One eggs on government overthrow while another proves inept at governing.

Andrew Nikiforuk 15 Feb

Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist whose books and articles focus on epidemics, the energy industry, nature and more.

A deeply unpopular Alberta premier, who promises law and order, kowtows to the demands of illegal highway blockaders to bolster his leadership prospects and foments disorder.

A timid prime minister hides and refuses to meet with its citizens because they are angry.

A supine Ottawa police force serves protesters instead of its local citizens.

A protest demanding the government’s overthrow arrives in the capital with its own cheerleading propaganda unit that draws funding by whipping up the frenzy. (Rebel News even sells T-shirts to the very people it is provoking.)

Most funders of the protest are from the United States, not Canada.

Faced with illegal blockades and occupations by largely angry white men, municipal, provincial and federal leaders act like stunned cattle in a slaughter line.

And then a courageous 21-year-old citizen exercises her democratic responsibilities and does in court what responsible authorities couldn’t do. She uses tort law to shut down the blaring cacophony from the diesel trucks. Temporarily.

Welcome to the mining republic of Canada where dysfunction and disinformation accumulate daily like waste in a leaky, toxic tailing pond.

Over the last two weeks Canadians have not only been served a master class on the dismal quality of our political leadership but a pointed lecture on how to destabilize a democracy.

It is clear now that a highly organized group of militants — some with military and counterinsurgency experience — have mobilized incoherent popular frustrations created by the pandemic to shield their goal of undermining a democracy and overthrowing a government they don’t like. Many of these militants hail from Alberta and the west.

The protesters talk about individual rights and freedoms but no one talks about responsibilities and that’s how democracies fail.  

They are aided by the internet, foreign funds and perhaps foreign players (the whole “freedom convoy” movement has the stink of covert Russian involvement). As they occupied Ottawa, they presented a hard face composed of a phalanx of diesel trucks and a soft face made up of rock music, fireworks, kids and hot tubs.

And people defecating on doorsteps.

But let’s first deal with the obvious.

Like most western democracies Canada seethes with unease and anxiety about a cross-hatch of complex problems: an evolving pandemic and its social fallout, rising inflation, housing shortages, grotesque economic inequality, an opioid crisis, escalating climate destabilization, a degraded media and an unresponsive political class.

Just like Boris Johnson’s political class in England, ours shares a fundamental flaw: a narrow partisan politics committed to permanent campaigns that have nothing to do with the welfare of the people or solving problems.

As a result, Canada’s democracy has become hostage to fragility and idiocy.

Mendacity is a now greater contagion in western democracies than COVID, and yes, democracies do fail when political parties reward loyalty over competence and everyone regards the news as “fake.” As Russian operatives realized not so long ago, every war is an information war, and Canada is now in the midst of one, as is every western democracy.

Let’s now deal with the appalling leadership deficit. Why does it take a week for the premier of Ontario to think that an illegal blockade of Ambassador Bridge might be an economic and international problem that shuts down factories?  

And then there is Premier Jason Kenney, perhaps the most despised politician in Alberta’s history. Facing defections in his own party, he now serves a radical fringe in his party in order to cling to power regardless of the consequences for Albertans. Or Canada.

To appease those blockading a border crossing at Coutts, Kenney abruptly ended all public health restrictions last week. Guess what? The blockaders didn’t move. As Rudyard Kipling wrote about blackmail, once you pay the Dane-geld, “you never get rid of the Dane.”

Members of Kenney’s own party dutifully brought the Coutts blockaders coffee while the RCMP sat on their asses contemplating the vastness of their dysfunction. (Yesterday they arrested a well-armed cell among the blockaders.)

When there is one law for Kenney supporters and another law for ordinary citizens, fascism has gained a foothold in your province. Lawlessness begins with leaders flouting their legal and moral duties.

Next comes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He has failed in his duties as spectacularly as Kenney. First he described people hesitant about vaccines or just plain fed up with the pandemic as citizens who “don’t believe in science or progress and are very often misogynistic and racist.”

When you make blanket statements about 20 per cent of the population for partisan gain the same way Jason Kenney attacks environmentalists as “eco-terrorists,” don’t be surprised if nobody respects you. How did Trudeau miss the avalanche Hillary Clinton triggered when she dismissed a large swath of her nation’s frustrated citizens as mere “deplorables”?

And how about the government’s federal truck vaccine mandate? Was this mandate really necessary if 90 per cent of truckers were already fully vaccinated? And what about the research that shows that vaccines don’t stop transmission? Yes, they do stop death and injurious disease, but they can’t end a pandemic by themselves, as the prime minister has repeatedly claimed.

A sophisticated approach to governance would have factored in the risk that such policies entail, as complex systems scientist Joe Norman flagged months earlier.

Then the protesters and heavy machines descended on Ottawa purportedly upset about these very same vaccine mandates. (But that was just kitchen sinking.)

And what does the prime minister do? Better to ask what he does not do. He does not show up. He does not engage. He does not act. He does not lead.

Instead, for two weeks politicians argue about jurisdiction, strengthening the protest and making a mockery of Canadian democratic institutions from coast to coast.

Much has been written about the protests in Ottawa as somehow being courteous and peaceful. But that’s not true. Occupying a community with large industrial machines that spew toxic diesel fumes is a form of industrial violence and bullying of the highest order.

Blasting that same community with blaring horns exceeding 83 decibels day in and day out is not only offensive but torturous.  

As a consequence a bunch of largely Alberta-based militants armed with heavy machinery have taught residents of Ottawa what it is like to live next to a fracked well site where noise and fumes industrialize and tear apart a community.

For the police to treat this uncivil industrial assault on Ottawa as a lark speaks volumes about our dangerous predicament.

For citizens who might think they are watching an innocent parade about freedom, just listen for a moment to Ezra Levant. He runs a propaganda unit called Rebel News that stokes division and actively subverts common resonance within the factual world.

“You’re seeing more police and soldiers coming out against Trudeau/Kenney/Ford all the time even though it means the end of their career,” tweeted Levant over the weekend. “The Media Party is in full Baghdad Bob mode. They’ll be the last to know how this goes. Their eyes refuse to see.

“The people want a different government.

“The government wants a different people.

“But the government cannot work without the social contract that is the consent of the governed.

“Seriously, get Trudeau a jet and fly him to exile in Cuba.”

The only good news here is that Canadians understand what is at stake. They realize that real democracy lies in citizens taking their responsibilities seriously. They are demonstrating this through counter-protests like this one held Feb. 12 in Ottawa:

Another example was set by 21-year-old Zexi Li last week by serving as the complainant in a class action lawsuit that temporarily shut down the honking trucks.

When her leaders failed to act, she exercised her democratic rights to defend her community.

Trudeau, whose political career is over, has now declared an emergency.

Amir Attaran, a lawyer and public health expert, notes that a leader who wouldn’t use the Emergencies Act to stop a virus that killed 35,000 Canadians, “will use the Emergencies Act to stop his personal polling hitting rock bottom.”

Even if you are more charitable towards the PM, it’s clear the response from the top has come too late to the staunch destructive momentum.

Our troubles are just beginning. And the notion of Canadian exceptionalism has reached its end.  [Tyee]

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