Clive Doucet: Truckers' protest fuelled by eroding trust in government
What do you do when a young friend shows up at your door with some warm socks for the “poor truckers” and wants you to drive them to protest with the Freedom Convoy on Wellington Street?
What you have is a very stressful moment. The first demonstration I attended was as an Ottawa high school student. I was 17 and went down to Parliament Hill with my classmates to make our opinions known; we thought the country needed a flag of its own. Since then, I’ve lost track of how many protests I’ve attended. Some of the bigger ones stick — like the Women’s March on Parliament Hill, which was brilliant, and not joining the Americans for their Iraq invasion.
Normally, I am wholly with Voltaire, to whom this quote is sometimes attributed: “I may not agree with you, but I will defend your right to say it to the death” (or something like that). But this Freedom Convoy is different. It runs smack up against John Stewart Mill’s adage in “On Liberty” that individual rights and freedoms end when your rights impede the liberties of others. This is the reasoning governments have used to draw a legal line between getting drunk as “OK” and drinking and driving as “not OK.”
I decided to drive my young friend and his brother to the protest. They are bright, well-spoken young men who regard the vaccination mandates as just another example of government and corporate control of their individual freedoms. In fighting the vaccination mandate, they are confident that they are fighting Jeff Bezos and his controlling billions, the rule of the wealthy and the diminution of everyone else.
I didn’t feel good about driving them because I’ve had friends whose lives have been shortened by their inability to get timely health care for cancer. This vaccination liberty is jamming hospital ICUs. On the other hand, I wanted to learn more about the protest. It was mostly very peaceful. There were some yahoos sporting Confederate flags, but the vast majority seemed like good Canadians with strong voices and, very happily, no guns.
The other thing that came to mind was how weakened the Canadian government has become during my lifetime. People don’t trust it the way they did in my father’s lifetime. Government has become “the other.” We, the flag-bearing people, are the “True North Strong and Free.” You elected representatives are not. You are something else. Politicians are no longer proud figures. There are no Pericles, no Lester Pearsons who came to the office of prime minister with a Nobel Prize.
This is the real danger to our Canadian way of life, this lack of trust. This Freedom Convoy exposes it and why it is important. The nonsense that vaccinations are not necessary is a sideshow. For democracy itself is threatened when there is a significant segment of the population who no longer believe that their government is “their government” or is telling the truth; which my two young friends are confident is the case.
This trust gap has been allowed to grow and fester because a succession of federal and provincial governments have refused to take on the really important structural issues that affect every day of our lives. Instead, they have become obsessed with the nightly news and the latest polls. Vital public services such as education have been allowed to wither. Civics, history, music, “the civilizing subjects,” have all been dropped to “save money” and to concentrate on subjects that are thought to serve the job market better. In the short term, these changes may serve business better, but they don’t serve the country better.
Then, there’s the refusal to reform our 1867 voting system, a promise made, then abandoned. This means that we will continue to elect false-majority governments with prime ministers who have only one-out-of-three voting Canadians backing them. This is corroding our democracy, because Pericles’s definition of democracy still stands: A democracy is government by the majority, and we no longer have this.
Structural issues such as education, the corrosion of false majorities (and there are others such as the income gap) are the gas fuelling the Freedom Convoy, not vaccination mandates.
What I find discouraging is how little the media have focused on them versus the noise of honking trucks, waving flags and the foolishness of denying the importance of vaccination. My two young friends deserve better.
Clive Doucet is a writer and former Ottawa city councillor. His last book was Grandfather’s House, Returning to Cape Breton.