Canada’s protests die down but could have an echo in politics

The fallout from the truckers’ protest in Canada could echo for years in Canadian politics and possibly south of the border, analysts said.

The protest, which initially targeted a Covid-19 vaccination mandate for cross-border truckers but also encompassed fury over the range of Covid-19 restrictions and hatred of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reflected the spread of misinformation across the country. Canada and right-wing populism and anger.

“I think we started something here,” said Mark Suitor, a 33-year-old protester from Hamilton, Ont., as police regained control of the streets around the Houses of Parliament.

Protesters had essentially occupied these streets for more than three weeks, embarrassing Mr Trudeau and energizing Canada’s far right. Mr Suitor believes the protests will divide the country, which he welcomes.

“It’s going to be a very big divide in our country,” he said. “I don’t believe this is the end.”

While most analysts doubt the protests will mark a historic turning point in Canadian politics, they have rattled Canada’s two main parties.

“The protest gave liberals and conservatives a black eye,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

Trudeau’s Liberals look bad for allowing protesters to foment weeks of chaos in the capital, he said, while the Conservatives look bad for defending protesters, many of whom come from the fringes farther to the right.

Conservatives “must be careful not to alienate more moderate voters, who are generally not sympathetic to protesters or right-wing populism in general,” said Daniel Beland, a professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal.

The so-called Freedom Convoy shook Canada’s reputation for civility, inspired convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and disrupted trade, causing economic damage on both sides of the border. Hundreds of trucks eventually filled the streets around parliament, a demonstration that was part protest and part carnival.

A protester carries a giant sign with a call to ‘Hold the line’ as police work to clear the streets outside Parliament Hill (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP)

Authorities moved quickly to reopen border crossings, but Ottawa police only issued warnings until recent days, even as hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters jammed city streets and besieged Parliament Hill.

Authorities launched the largest police operation in Canadian history on Friday, arresting a string of protesters in Ottawa and ramping up that pressure on Saturday. Eventually, police arrested at least 170 people and towed away dozens of vehicles. Many protesters backed down as the pressure mounted.

The protests in Ottawa – the movement’s last major stronghold – appeared to be largely over on Saturday night, although some protesters warned they were just regrouping.

As in the United States, Covid-19 quickly became a political issue in Canada.

Coronavirus health restrictions have become a political cudgel for Canada’s far-right, which has accused Trudeau of authoritarianism. But while the restrictions have clearly benefited the far-right People’s Party of Canada, things are more complicated for the Conservative Party.

Only recently have some conservative leaders fully embraced the pushback against vaccination mandates and coronavirus restrictions.

Virus outbreak protests in Canada
Police have arrested at least 170 people (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via AP)

Even so, the protests could open the door to the kind of populism former President Donald Trump used to rush the White House.

Pierre Poilievre, who is running to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, cheered on the protesters, betting voters would support him. But it’s still unclear whether it will take him to the top of the party, or whether it will help or hurt him if there is a confrontation between him and Mr. Trudeau or the next leader of the Liberal Party.

“Poilievre is clearly playing the populist playbook right now,” Mr. Beland said. “If he becomes Conservative leader, the party could effectively swing into Trump-style populism. However, it is unclear if enough Canadians support this vision to make it appeal beyond the party base.

Although the situation in Ottawa appears to be winding down, new signs indicate that the protests are not completely over.

The Canadian Borders Agency warned late Saturday afternoon that operations of a key truck crossing western Canada into the United States had been slowed by protesters, advising travelers to find a different route .

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