From the streets to the rallies, truck drivers and supporters weigh conservative candidates

From the streets to the rallies, truck drivers and supporters weigh conservative candidates

To the relief of many in Ottawa, the large crowds due to descend on the city this weekend will be admiring tulips rather than blocking streets, honking trucks and protesting pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates.

But that does not mean that the February blockades and occupations of Ottawa and several border crossings with the United States have completely disappeared. An independent inquiry is being established to investigate the government’s use of the Emergencies Act to clarify the protests, and a joint Senate and House of Commons committee is holding its own hearings. Ottawa has yet to permanently replace its chief of police after the force was overrun by truck drivers, and Peter Sloly, who had been brought in from Toronto to lead the force, resigned. The street in front of Parliament remains barricaded and will likely be closed to traffic forever. And the courts have yet to deal with criminal charges brought against four men arrested after a large cache of weapons was found at the border protest in Coutts, Alberta.

Then there is the perhaps surprising influence that the blockade and its supporters have had on the campaign to find a new leader for the Conservative Party. I’ve been looking into this specific problem recently. My findings were published this week.

[Read: Long After Blockade, Canada’s Truckers Have a Political Champion]

As usual, there wasn’t room for all my stories in the article. One of the things that didn’t make the cut was my follow-up reporting with people who participated in the lockdown that shut down downtown Ottawa.

I note in my article that Pierre Poilievre, the favorite for the leadership of the now vacant party, regularly evokes the blockade in his campaign appearances and echoes the protesters’ relentless call for a restoration of what they claim are Canadians’ lost freedoms.

“Freedom, freedom, freedom is our nationality,” sang Poilievre to applause at a rally I attended near the Ottawa airport. (Coincidentally, the campaign rally took place in a small convention hall that in February was used by police brought in from across Canada as a staging center before finally breaking through the lockdown.)

Many in the crowd were the kind of people I’d seen many times at urban conservative rallies in the past: well-dressed couples who arrived in luxury SUVs. But around the edges were several men wearing high-visibility jackets, steel-toed work boots, and used baseball caps—the truckers’ unofficial uniform.

Some of them weren’t interested in talking to me. Many of them said they still feared being arrested after participating in the lockdown in February.

One of them, who declined to give his last name, Jon, told me he went to the protests every night after work. He also said it was the first time he had attended a Conservative Party meeting of any kind. In the last elections, he voted for the People’s Party of Canada.

He was at the rally, he told me about the noise of a DJ, to see if Mr. Poilievre really shared his views.

“I want to know more about what Pierre stands for – I want to know if I can trust him,” Jon told me.

Later, when Mr. Poilievre shouted at the truck drivers who were opposed to mandatory vaccinations, Jon applauded, pumping both fists in the air.

Nick Belanger, who said he was a vaccinated truck driver who took part in the February protests on weekends, strongly supports Poilievre, saying his candidacy was a turning point for the Conservative Party.

“This is the Conservative Revolt,” Belanger said as he waited for the candidate to appear, adding, “Ten years ago, what do you think of the Conservative Party? They were grumpy old men, rich whites. I’m looking around the crowd now and I see a lot of young people, working class people”.

Not all conservatives approve of Poilievre joining the protests.

When a much smaller protest by bikers arrived in Ottawa recently, it attracted several people who said they had been out regularly to join the truckers in February.

But Mark Davidson, a retired civil servant and member of the Conservative Party, came from his home nearby to condemn the demonstration. Like Jean Charest, the former Quebec prime minister also running for leadership, Davidson said he believed that serving truck drivers and people who identified with the blockade would be difficult for the party.

“I think it’s really dangerous and scary,” Davidson said, referring to Poilievre’s support for truckers. “But obviously he has support and a lot of enthusiastic supporters.”

  • Echoing Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a report released this week by the US Department of the Interior described the abuse of indigenous children in government schools, with cases of beatings, withholding food and solitary confinement. It also identified burial sites at more than 50 of the former schools and said that “approximately 19 Indian federal boarding schools were responsible for more than 500 deaths of Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children.”

  • A website that has shaped youth hockey in the United States and Canada, in part by ranking thousands of teams in both countries, has announced that it will discontinue practice at the younger levels of competition. Neil Lodin, founder of MYHockey Rankings, described the practice as potentially harmful. Also in hockey, David Waldstein, my colleague at the Sports table, wrote a great profile of Louis Domingue of Mont-St.-Hilaire, Quebec. Once the Penguins’ first-choice goalkeeper and now a starter, he has become a cult hero in Pittsburgh during the current playoffs.

  • The first Italian Open for Bianca Andreescu, a 21-year-old tennis player from Mississauga whose career was marred by injuries, came to an end during the tournament’s quarterfinals. But Christopher Clarey, tennis expert at The Times, writes that “three tournaments into his latest comeback, Andreescu is clearly in a better place and will head to the French Open with a red clay boost that matches his varied play.”

  • Martha Wainwright, the Montreal-based singer-songwriter, has a new memoir, in which the member of the famous musical family says she is happy to “let go of this story of being number 4 on the totem pole”.

  • In The New York Times Book Review, critic Nathaniel Rich writes that the latest book by Vaclav Smil, polymath and professor at the University of Manitoba, “is at its core an appeal to agnosticism and, believe it or not, humility – earth metal. rarest of all. His most valuable statements concern the impossibility of acting with perfect foresight.”

Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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