‘Freedom Convoy’ Exposes Canada’s Hollow Liberal Universalism

Canada’s third week of so-called trucker demonstrations has come to an end. Most of the protests have been focused on downtown Ottawa, near Parliament. Authorities ended traffic jamming on the Ambassador Bridge linking Ontario and Michigan last weekend.

And now Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government will use the tools of its Emergencies Act to end truckers’ “Freedom Convoy,” or so it hopes.

This effort involves dragging on private parties to help the government remove trucks, seize accounts and property without a court order, as well as using state coercion beyond what is required by due process. The entire situation is rapidly changing and could end in the favor of the key players depending on how things unfold.

Canadian lawmakers created the Emergencies Act to deal with truly frightening situations of national safety. It seems inappropriate for what is a large peaceful protest in Ottawa.

The government didn’t use the law during the worst times of the COVID-19 epidemic, but now it is taking aim at truckers. This is a remarkable example of power being used in an arbitrary manner, which indicates not strength but weakness in Canadian government authority.

But Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act is instructive because it reveals the underlying dynamics driving this political drama. The harshness and even humiliating aspects of Canada’s COVID-19 enforcement regime have illuminated the numerous identities and interests that Canadians possess, long ignored and diminished by official government ideology.

We should not be surprised, then, that citizens working in the private sector have risen to vindicate their interests and their pride.

Quebec residents have acquired many dogs since it was announced that the province would allow extended outdoor exercise for those who care for the four-legged breed.

Canada has maintained a strict policy regarding international travelers, despite having stated in 2020 that Canada would not shut down its borders to China. After entering the country, they must stay in quarantine hotels for at least three nights and pay the bill. Restrictions on Canadians traveling between provinces have been nearly absolute and in violation of Canada’s Constitution.

Truckers and their associates in the Freedom Convoy  mostly are working- and middle-class Canadians. They have proclaimed in deeds their opposition to the government’s COVID-19 matrix of policies.

Why has the movement been so intense and prolonged and not widely opposed to by an equal and opposite amount of Canadians? One reason could be the fact that the policy restrictions were too long, in boiling tea kettle fashion. This caused an explosion which many Canadians agreed with. They voted in favor of the protests could increase.

Trudeau’s intention to use extraordinary power to end the demonstrations will put at risk his legitimacy.

Perhaps we are witnessing an extended challenge Canada’s liberal universalismTrudeau once stated that the foundation of Canadian identity is the Constitution. That challenge could take many forms, depending on identities, loyalties, or commercial interests. Trudeau stated in 2015 that Canada is a “post-national state” with “no core identity” or “mainstream.”

What exactly is Canada? Trudeau appeals to the rather vacuous ideals of modern liberalism, replete with therapeutic overtones: Canada has “shared values” of “openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice.”

In insightful piece in The American Interest, Canadian Ben Woodfinden argued that Trudeau was only building on the Canadian liberalism that his father, Pierre Trudeau, enshrined in the passage of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

This created a new Canadian identity that was based in homogeneous liberalism, which rejected the purported American illiberalism. Thus, to be Canadian was to support as a matter of right public health care, international peacekeeping, abortion, multiculturalism, and general abstractions such as equality and justice.

Canada was never what it was before Trudeau, but the elder Trudeau laid a liberal humanitarian foundation which positively overturned Canadian standards of citizenship. In practice, the Supreme Court of Canada functions in an expansive rights-defining fashion, thanks to the charter. The high court began to overthrow parliamentary sovereignty and to grant new rights to Canadian citizens who were not subject to the democratic process.

And the irony is that as the charter was seen as a proclamation of how Canada is morally and politically superior to America, the country’s political dynamic became more American. The Supreme Court of Canada began functioning like the U.S. Supreme Court.

By defining rights and values without the consent of the people, Canada’s highest court imbibed some of the worst features of American politics. Did Canada also implicitly accept the exercise of large power by unelected officials who are not held accountable? This would also be American.

These abstractions all seem to be based around egalitarianism. Can any nation be defined using such abstractions? What kind or form of citizenship and belonging can such liberalism provide, other than mindless moralizing every political decision made for various groups? What about the attachments? Loyalties? and interests that will undoubtedly arise in any modern democracy of more than 30 million people?

In a nearly unbroken fashion, the attempt at covering Canada in the liberal universal ideology’s shadow is being challenged. This rejection is not caused by a comprehensive search for a populist nationalism as well as conservative nationalism. It is due to the rise of provincial identities and commercial interests that have no representation or affirmation within this liberalism.

Quebec was long a home to separatist elements due to its Francophone status. The preliberal identity of Quebec went dormant but has been revived by Coalition Avenir Quebec, an independent nationalist party that advocates greater autonomy and independence for Quebec. Its majority victory in the French-speaking province in 2018 clearly signaled that Quebec’s identity had reemerged in the nation’s politics.

The real movement is in Alberta’s Western province. There, citizens have a very real frustration with Trudeau’s green energy policies and taxes, which render Alberta’s oil business stagnant and incapable of future growth as taxes and transfer payments from Alberta to Ottawa and other provinces diminish its wealth.

Alberta’s future may no longer be in Canada, a fact that many of its leaders are beginning to articulate. Alberta would have more similarities with Montana or Texas than Ottawa.

We might be able to conclude that truckers and their supporters are being pushed to the limit by a growing number of Canadians who are opposed to a COVID-19 system that seems to have no end. That this regime’s draconian substance is surely backed by the liberalism that marks Canada has not protected it from concentrated opposition.

Do those who oppose these policies find representation in Canada’s official liberalism? No.

Even Canada’s Conservative Party, led by the recently ousted Erin O’Toole, has been unwilling to contest the prevailing consensus and seize clear political momentum. Canada seems to be seeing the reemergence of subnational ties that include commercial interests, personal freedom and the desire to not have your life dictated by experts.

It can be described as a Lockean liberalism with all its personal and commercial components spontaneously emerging to challenge Trudeau’s liberalism.

Is the Conservative Party realizing that these are the building blocks of a New Majority and perhaps a New Constitutional Vision for Canada?  

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