Listen up! The perfect storm | Commentary

Hugh Mackenzie

In some ways, it is hard to characterize the so-called truckers’ convoy and the mass demonstrations in Ottawa this week because it all comes together as the perfect storm.

In case you haven’t noticed, people all over this country are angry right now. They are tired of the pandemic, they are tired of the lockdowns, they are frightened about the future, and they are fed up with things as they are now. They want ‘normal’. They don’t see ‘normal’ and there most likely isn’t ‘normal’ as we once knew it on the horizon.

All of that is understandable. But it is also dangerous because our frustration and anger makes us all vulnerable to those who want to radically change the fibre of the way we live in Canada, under the guise of demanding more freedom when in reality they are seeking more control.

While peaceful protests and demonstrations are an important part of any democratic process, history records a number of examples where those with their own agenda have used demonstrations, protests, rallies, and indeed riots to achieve power and, once there, shut them down without remorse and without a second thought by any means at their disposal.

So, let’s not kid ourselves. This truckers’ convoy is not just about a group of drivers unvaccinated for COVID-19 being pissed off at government because they can’t cross the border. It may have started off like that. Truckers are like most of us: they do not enjoy being told what they should do. But also, like most of us, the vast majority recognize that sometimes circumstances make it necessary to toe the line and that is why 90 per cent of our truckers are vaccinated for COVID-19 and continue to work hard to maintain the critical supply chain of necessary goods for Canadians.

The hard truth is that the truckers’ convoy, however innocently it started, was hijacked by extremists who saw an opportunity to further their alt-right agenda by hitchhiking on the anti-vaxxer movement and taking advantage of the many currently frustrated Canadians who thirst for more freedom of movement than the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed.

It’s the perfect storm for those who want to disrupt our country. It has allowed them to branch out from harassing front-line health care workers, blocking critical care institutions, intimidating elected officials at their homes, and threatening those that disagree with them, to becoming a national presence on the back of what otherwise might have been a much more peaceful demonstration in Ottawa.

In a front-page Toronto Star opinion piece yesterday, columnist Bruce Arthur summed up the issue succinctly when he said in part, “The truck convoy was started to oppose the federal vaccine mandate for truckers to cross the U.S.-Canada border. It is [now]being organized by extremists with some deeply noxious anti-Islam, antisemitic, racist views and who have also written a document in crayon legalese demanding the removal of the government. The convoy has become a bug light for anti-pandemic, anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination, right-wing grievance, to the point that Donald Trump Jr. has made a video about it.”

We can be thankful that events in Ottawa this weekend, at least so far, have not amounted to lethal domestic terrorism. But there are signs that are disturbing.

James Bauder, president of the alt-right organization Canada Unity and a key organizer of the so-called Freedom Convoy, has called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to be arrested and charged for treason, and for participating in committing crimes against humanity.” That, combined with the rally, smacks of incitement to me and certainly justifies the prime minister and his family being held in safe quarters during the Ottawa demonstrations.

As well, there are the Nazi flags and Confederate flags—both symbols of anarchy and racism—prevalent in our capital this weekend. The National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have been disrespected. At least one homeless shelter has been harassed for not feeding demonstrators food that was prepared for those who really need it. Statues were abused and dishonoured, including one for Terry Fox, a Canadian icon. Vulgar language and graffiti on signs, many of them threatening in nature. All of these are symbols attacking what we stand for as Canadians.

And yet, Maxime Bernier, leader of the alt-right conservative People’s Party of Canada, today described these events and others like it as a “handful of insignificant incidents”. Really?

Hopefully most Canadians will not feel that way because this is becoming a real problem folks. Alt-right extremism is not about freedom; it is about control. It often smacks of white supremacy, racism, and my-way-or-the-highway politics.

The terrifying thing is that extremism is gaining momentum in this country as it is gaining momentum in the United States. If you want confirmation of this, just see the latest national results from a Mainstreet Research poll which shows support for Bernier’s PPC movement at 13 per cent, an increase of eight per cent—almost tripled in a relatively short period of time.

What we need now is for the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition to come together to face and resolve the reality of the tenuous mood of Canadians.

For his part, Mr. Trudeau needs to take his blinkers off. This is not a movement of a “small fringe minority” with “unacceptable views…[that don’t]represent the views of Canadians.”

It is becoming a growing consortium of people, who are frustrated and angry for a variety of reasons, finding compatible support for their concerns and fuelling a lack of confidence in government. Resolving that before it gets out of hand, as it has in the United States, requires leadership that is currently not apparent.

As for Mr. O’Toole, he needs to shave or get out of the bathroom. He cannot be all things to all people. He cannot on the one hand say he supports the importance of vaccinations and rejects violence and then meet with demonstrators who are part of a convoy that includes extremists. In addition, Erin O’Toole needs to lay down the law with his caucus and damn the consequences. There is a war going on right now for the soul of the Conservative Party. He needs to be the champion of that, and he needs to unequivocally demonstrate the difference between his party and that of Maxime Bernier. If he does not, he will lose many people like me who believe in smaller government, fiscal responsibility, and providing for those who need help, but who also firmly reject alt-right extremism. He will leave many of us without a political home and Mr. Bernier will rule the day.

We are at a pivotal point in Canada right now. The pendulum is swinging. When it swings too far in either direction, that is when all Hell breaks loose.

We cannot allow that to happen.

Hugh Mackenzie

Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.

Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.

In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.

Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.

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