From streets to rallies, truckers and supporters weigh conservative candidates

From streets to rallies, truckers and supporters weigh conservative candidates

To the relief of many in Ottawa, the large crowds expected to descend on the city this weekend will admire the tulips instead of 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 faded away. An independent inquiry is being set up to investigate the government’s use of the Emergencies Act to clear the protests, and a joint Senate and House of Commons committee has been holding its own hearings. Ottawa has yet to permanently replace its police chief after the force was overwhelmed by truckers, and Peter Sloly, who had been hired from Toronto to lead the force, resigned. The street in front of Parliament remains blocked and will most likely be closed to traffic forever. And courts have yet to resolve 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 that particular 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 reporting in the article. One of the things that didn’t make the cut was my follow-up briefing with people who participated in the lockdown that shut down downtown Ottawa.

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

“Freedom, freedom, freedom is our nationality,” Poilievre chanted to cheers at a rally I attended near the Ottawa airport. (By coincidence, the campaign rally was held in a small convention hall that in February was used by police brought in from across Canada as a center of operations before they finally broke the lockdown.)

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

Some of them were not interested in talking to me. Many of them said they still feared arrest after taking part in the February blockade.

One of them, who declined to give his last name, Jon, told me that 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 has voted for the People’s Party of Canada.

He was at the rally, he told me amid a DJ’s uproar, to see if Mr. Poilievre really shared his views.

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

Later, when Mr. Poilievre yelled at truckers who opposed mandatory vaccination, Jon cheered, pumping both fists in the air.

Nick Belanger, who said he was an vaccinated lorry driver who took part in the February weekend protests, is a strong supporter of Poilievre and says his candidacy was a turning point for the Conservative Party.

“This is the Conservative uprising,” Belanger said as he waited for the candidate to appear, adding: “Ten years ago, what do you think of the Conservative Party? They were white people, old and cranky. I look around the crowd right now and I see a lot of young people, working class people.”

Not all conservatives approve of Poilievre’s acceptance of the protests.

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

But Mark Davidson, a retired civil servant and member of the Conservative Party, reached out from his nearby home to condemn the demonstration. Like Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier who was also running for leader, Davidson said he believed catering to truckers and people who identified with his blockade would be difficult for the party.

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


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

  • 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 it will stop practice at the youngest levels of competition. Neil Lodin, the founder of MYHockey Rankings, described the practice as potentially harmful. Also in hockey, David Waldstein, my colleague in the Sports section, has written an excellent profile of Louis Domingue of Mont-St.-Hilaire, Quebec. Once the Penguins’ third-row goalie and now their starter, he has become a cult hero in Pittsburgh during the current playoffs.

  • The first Italian Open for Bianca Andreescu, the 21-year-old Mississauga tennis star whose career has been hampered by injuries, came to an end during the tournament’s quarterfinals. But Christopher Clarey, the tennis pundit for The Times, writes that “Three tournaments into his latest return, Andreescu is clearly in a better place and will head into the French Open with the drive on red clay that suits his varied game. “.

  • Montreal singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright has a new memoir, in which the member of the famous music family says she’s 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, a scholar and professor at the University of Manitoba, “is essentially a plea for agnosticism and, believe it or not, humility: the rarest earth metal of all. His most valuable statements refer to the impossibility of acting with perfect foresight.”

A native of 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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