Conservative and Liberal MPs battled over the “Freedom Convoy” protests of recent days in Ottawa as the House of Commons resumed sitting Monday, with some Tories backing the movement and the Liberals accusing it of hate and vandalism.
With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalling earlier in the day he would not meet with the protesters due to their views, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole asked him early during question period if he would make an effort to talk to them.
“Will the prime minister move past the division and agree to meet with some of the truckers impacted by his federal regulations?” O’Toole asked.
“Mr. Speaker, the science is very clear. The best way through this pandemic is to get people vaccinated. That’s how we end the disruptions to our supply chains caused by this global pandemic,” responded Trudeau.
O’Toole then attacked Trudeau’s leadership and leveraged the prime minister’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis to point out that vaccination is only one among other tools to deal with the pandemic, and that the government’s policies are raising societal tensions.
“Mr. Speaker, when you ignore and divide a country when it needs to be united, that’s not leadership,” he said.
“Vaccines are critically important, but as the prime minister’s own COVID diagnosis demonstrates after three vaccinations, we have to use all tools, Mr. Speaker, to get our life back to normal. When is life getting back to normal?” O’Toole asked.
“I know and all Canadians know how frustrating it is to have to deal with this pandemic for now two years, and ongoing,” Trudeau replied. “But Canadians also have never been so united in stepping up. Almost 90 percent of Canadians have been vaccinated.”
Conservative Deputy Leader Candice Bergen also called on Trudeau to “heal the rifts” with those he disagrees with instead of resorting to name-calling and gaslighting (a form of manipulation involving feeding false information).
“I think we all support free speech in this house,” replied Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
“But there’s a big difference between free speech and inciting hatred, inciting violence, desecrating war memorials, Mr. Speaker, and I would hope my honourable colleague would denounce that in the clearest terms.”
Mendicino was referring to protesters climbing onto the National War Memorial and possibly to the photo circulating on social media of someone holding a Nazi flag, although the photo appears not to have been taken among the crowds in the Parliament Hill area.
“Of course we all condemn hateful and destructive acts by a few at any protest,” said Bergen.
“Whether it’s beheading the statue of Queen Victoria in Manitoba, tearing down the statue of Sir John in Montreal or putting flags on Terry Fox. Whether it’s burning churches, whether it’s wearing blackface, whether it’s Hezbollah flags, or Nazi flags, we all condemn it.”
Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre, who had recently said the views of a few in the protest movement should not taint the whole group, focused again on this angle when he rose to ask a question.
“Just because the prime minister dressed up in racist costumes so many times he can’t remember them all, doesn’t mean every single Liberal is a racist,” Poilievre said.
“Why doesn’t the prime minister opt instead for personal responsibility?”
Government House Leader Mark Holland interjected and said it’s time to “move on” and bring down the tensions, but Poilievre continued.
“What I would ask is instead of trying to inflame the situation, let us deescalate the situation, let us work together to find a way to stop the lockdown that is happening of this city, so that citizens can move forward with their lives and any legitimate grievances can be fairly heard,” Poilievre said.
“I just wish his government would respect the thousands of people who are fighting for their livelihoods right now, who are trying to do the best to get this country back on track.”
He later added the government has “shown no respect for the people,” and the country is “like a raw nerve and the prime minister is jumping up and down on it again and again with his inflammatory rhetoric.”
Truckers and supporters from across the country gathered in Ottawa on Jan. 29 to call for an end to pandemic measures such as vaccine mandates and passports.
Thousands of people flooded the streets and the grounds of Parliament Hill on Jan. 29 and 30, and currently, although numbers have dwindled, trucks still occupy downtown arteries and organizers have said they could be there for the long haul.
A wide array of people with different views and from different backgrounds have been attending the event, from the conservative supporters of the People’s Party of Canada to hippies, from First Nations to Jamaica-born.
The movement has also spurred similar events in other countries, such as in Australia and Holland, and has received support from influential personalities like Elon Musk.