Canada’s “Trucker’s Convoy”: What It Means for the Western World
Some of the key causes of frustration: A federal government with a weak electoral mandate and an agenda for social change.
- Two years of yo-yo pandemic-policies on #COVID have brought about a generalized frustration with government - whether in #Canada (and its #TruckerConvoy) or elsewhere in the West.
- The divide between the vaccinated majority and unvaccinated minority widens throughout the #G7. The stunning result? Both groups are losing confidence in their government. #TruckerConvoy #Canada
- The #pandemic has been a very hard test for Western countries constitutional systems. Battles were and are being fought over individual versus collective rights and federal versus state rights.
- In Canada and elsewhere, the #COVID pandemic put pressure on Western countries’ electoral system. There are limits on how much room is provided for marginal voices to be heard.
- No friendly invasion: Canada’s #sovereignty has been pierced deeply by rabid social media messaging from the U.S. U.S. #libertarians have had a field day with their “direct action” and providing financing to the truckers.
- The #COVID pandemic has unsettled many citizens in the center of #G7 societies. People are leery of using weak electoral mandates and “aggressive modernizer” agendas. This approach runs counter to the high need for cohesion in all Western societies. #TruckerConvoy #Canada #G7 #cohesion
Whatever the motivation of the individual protesters, the “Trucker Convoy” protests are significant because they reveal significant weaknesses in Canada’s political set-up at a systemic level.
Cause #1: Canada’s weak federation
The first is the constitutional division of powers between the federal and provincial powers which favors the provinces over the federal state but does not encourage cooperation among them.
Different provincial governments have taken different positions both on vaccine mandates and on the legitimacy of the protest.
Even though, it is the provinces that set most covid mandates, they have been content to offload responsibility for managing the situation either to local authorities, which are incapable of doing so – or to the federal government, which has limited authority to act without the provinces’ invitation to intervene. The federal government has finally invoked emergency powers to take control.
Cause #2: A generalized frustration with government
As in many other countries, after two years of pandemic management, the public’s patience has worn paper-thin, while at the same time the anger directed at the unvaccinated has intensified to the point of demonization, intensifying their radicalism.
Canada stands out among many of its G7 partner nations, as 90% of Canadians are vaccinated. The adherence of most Canadians to a sense of collective responsibility has kept ideological rifts from ripping society apart altogether, at least until now.
The dual loss of confidence in the state. Managing the crisis has increased the divide between the compliant, vaccinated majority and the dissenting minority, a division set to ossify and harden.
Cause #3: Canada’s electoral system
The first-past-the-post electoral system has been generally successful in absorbing dissenting, marginal voices within broad consensus political parties.
But the limits of Canada’s electoral system to provide room for marginal voices have now more become painfully clear.
The spirit of dissent of the most vocal anti-vaxxers has found no political outlet. The loss of connection with the political system for this small minority meant that it looked for other ways to express itself, including direct action on the street (familiar to other societies, but not our own).
The fact that the “truckers” have a level of public sympathy also speaks to the inadequacy of our parliamentary system in channeling public concerns.
Even among the compliant majority, most are simply tired of the strictures of the past two years.
Causes #4: U.S.-dominated social media
Canada is part of a highly porous cultural area, dominated by the largest cultural power in the world, the United States. Social media knows no Canada-U.S. border.
Further, the culture of “direct action” that produced January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. found receptive ears in Canada. This includes members of the country’s various police forces, some of whom were removed from service because of their refusal of the vaccine mandate.
Social media not only provided the disaffected with an ideological echo chamber and organizational capacity but also channeled their financing much of which came from the United States, including from affluent libertarians and celebrity plutocrats like Elon Musk.
U.S.-dominated social media led to a disintermediation of authority of the Canadian government as the disaffected found a channel of expression and a capacity to organize on the internet.
Cause #5: A federal government with a weak electoral mandate and an agenda of social change
The legitimacy of the present federal government in Canada is unusually weak. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister, called an unnecessary election in the middle of the pandemic and received a weak plurality of votes. It was enough only to form a minority government.
Despite such a weak mandate, the government continues to pursue an “aggressive modernizer” agenda, one that favors the empowerment of minorities and the laicization of values.
Both attract pushback from more conservative segments of the Canadian population.
Cause #6: Trudeau as magnet for widespread disaffection
That Justin Trudeau’s government depends entirely on his persona does not help under the present circumstances. Few ministers are even known to the public, and the tone of the government’s pronouncements is set entirely by him.
Unfortunately, his lack of mandate, unsubstantial achievements, personal identification with COVID-related yo-yo policies and “motivational speaker” rhetorical style have made him a personal target for disaffection that is bordering, in most extreme cases, on contempt.
Their resentment of Trudeau is one reason why the self- described objectors to COVID vaccination mandates chose to focus their energies on occupying the heart of the national capital.
Thus, a key reason for such public support of the truckers as exists across Canada is that their protest is regarded as a political show of force to express disdain for the Prime Minister and all he stands for.
Conclusion: How to fix what is broken? Three big questions
This analysis would be short-sighted to just look at the surface phenomena such as the “Trucker Convoy.” It has exposed many questions that will demand answers once the immediate crisis is resolved:
1. How to contain political dissent within the political system, while at the same time sustain the legitimacy of democratic politics?
2. How to protect the sovereignty of the Canadian state over its own territory, given a unified North American web of social networks?
3. How to find a balance within our civic culture between individual rights and societal responsibility?
These questions have application elsewhere. For once, the world may follow Canada’s lead.
Editor’s note: Read also the first part of this feature: Beyond Canada: What Fuels the “Trucker’s Convoy”?