“The Whole World is Watching” was a rallying-cry used by anti-Vietnam War protesters to shame American police and military who were violently suppressing demonstrations. But it now fits the situation in which Canadians find ourselves. What the world has recently seen of Canada in stories that have received international attention is not how we would like to see ourselves.
The revelations of unmarked graves of indigenous children at residential schools has shown a nation that condoned physical and psychological violence against First Nations. The hostage-swap of the two Michaels for Ms. Meng has shown us as a pawn in the power-struggle between the US and China. And now the insurrection on the streets of Ottawa shows us as a G-7 country incapable of keeping order in its national capital, a global weakling.
The insurrection in Ottawa is not bringing the federal government to a halt, as Parliament can still meet, as it did last night, and most of the bureaucracy is working virtually. But it is making life a nightmare for the citizens of Ottawa. It is also doing great damage to our self-image and the world’s perception of us. We consider Canada a country that embodies the objectives of the British North America Act, our founding charter: peace, order, and good government. The insurrection negates Canada’s image as a country that works. It contradicts our self-image as a country that can solve its disputes calmly and peacefully. And it presents a picture not of good government, but of confused and ineffective government.
The Chess Game
The insurrectionists, with their big rigs blocking the streets of Ottawa, including the street that runs through the centre of the Parliamentary precinct, are daring the civil authorities to evict them. They are playing a chess game. Moving the insurrectionists’ soup kitchen away from Parliament Hill to the suburbs: a pawn captured by government. The injunction against horn-blowing in the Ontario Superior Court: a rook captured by government. Substituting GiveSendGo for GoFundMe: a bishop protecting the insurrectionists’ queen.
The three levels of government have not yet been able to create a set of incentives strong enough to convince the insurrectionists to get in their trucks and drive out of Ottawa. Doing this will require political and managerial creativity. Are there sufficient financial incentives given the apparent availability of dark money to nullify them? A more powerful incentive than tickets and fines is license suspension. Is that possible, given current regulations, or would new regulations or even legislation be necessary?
If the only way that government can induce the insurrectionists to drive out of Ottawa is with the threat of seizing and removing their trucks, then government must have the means to make good on that threat. Is it legally and logistically possible to seize their trucks, as Ontario Liberal leader Steve Del Duca has suggested? If the government takes possession of the trucks but the drivers immobilize them, what happens next? Can the government remove them from the streets? There are stories of private sector towing companies refusing this business. Perhaps the government could offer the towing companies the carrot of extra money and the threat of withdrawing future business if they don’t step up now.
If the towing companies can’t or won’t remove the trucks, then the government must have the capacity to do so. Could the Canadian Armed Forces do this? The Trudeau Government still appears reluctant to engage the Armed Forces, but this may be necessary.
Or perhaps the government doesn’t have to remove the trucks immediately if it has taken possession of them. Maybe life in Ottawa could return to a new and decidedly sub-optimal normal with some streets blocked by hulking but unoccupied trucks.
All levels of government do not want to negotiate with insurrectionists. But the inability to remove the trucks strengthens the insurrectionists’ hand. Perhaps the government could establish a federal provincial task force of public health experts to study science-based approaches to safely and gradually removing vaccine and mask mandates. Such an initiative, while not the result of negotiations, could be trumpeted by the insurrectionists as a concession that validates their efforts, and induce them to leave.
Now is a time for government to act with the appropriate mixture of firmness, force, and flexibility. That is what “good government” means.