For the past three weeks, Canada’s capital has been occupied by a swarm of angry truck drivers and anti-vaccine protesters. This so-called “Freedom Convoy” intimidated Ottawa pedestrians, kept its residents awake at night with incessant honking, and forced many of its businesses to close. Elsewhere in the country, protesters have used their vehicles to successfully block major border crossings, including the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit, Michigan, to Windsor, Ontario. They forced the Mayor of Ottawa, the Premier of Ontario and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare emergencies. In short, the protests are perhaps the greatest challenge to the rule of law Canada has faced in the past four decades.
The convoy protests were initially motivated by opposition to vaccination mandates imposed on the trucking industry, but soon began to target a wider range of COVID-19 restrictions. Even more troubling, protesters have also embraced a fiercely anti-government far-right agenda. Some waved Nazi symbols and Confederate flags, called for the arrest of political figures and threatened with violence. Leaders demanded the overthrow of Canada’s democratically elected government in favor of a convoy-led coalition. It is not difficult to see the nuances of the January 6 insurrection in the United States.
These protests do not have as much popular support as the January 6 riots, and are highly unlikely to inflict the same degree of literal or institutional damage. Polls show that three-quarters of Canadians want protesters to go home, and 68 percent support the use of the military to suppress protests. (A overwhelming majority Canadians, including more than 80% of those who self-identify Conservative Party voters and some 90% of truck driversare vaccinated against COVID-19.) But even if they are in the minority, millions of voters support the convoy, and the Conservative Party – main opposition party –appears keenly interested in winning them on. As a result, many Tory MPs enthusiastically backed the protesters, including their party’s interim leader and the favorite to replace her as permanent leader.
If the The Conservative Party does to embrace right-wing populism would be to deviate from its traditional moderation, with troubling consequences for Canadian democracy. Call within a third of Canada’s population may not be a winning campaign strategy, but Canada uses a first-past-the-post electoral system, which could allow the Conservatives to win power while falling short of a majority of the popular vote , as they have done before. Even if a radicalized Conservative party cannot form a government, it could still inflict significant damage on Canadian society. So far, Canadian politicians have largely pushed nativism and authoritarianism out of the rhetoric. But by playing football with the convoy, the conservatives invite these ideologies in the fold.
THE BAD TRACK OF THE GOOD
Over the past two decades, many democracies struggled with growing political tensions, growing divisions and successful illiberal movements. Not Canada. Unlike the United States, it does not exhibit strong patterns of “social polarization”—where partisan tribes are increasingly divided by race, religion and other deeply held identities. Most Canadians do not separate themselves from their political opponents, and there are some signs that they become more extreme in their beliefs. India, the United States and most of Europe have been hit by powerful and aggressive anti-immigrant movements, but Canadians to stay largely welcoming. Residents of the country are unwilling to undermine fundamental democratic institutions in the pursuit of political power, and they largely trust experts. Large majorities of Canadians continue to support vaccine restrictions and mandates to fight COVID-19, and 67% want further constraints on the unvaccinated, whom they blame for prolonging the pandemic. The convoy protests do not tap into the far-right zeitgeist.
But Canada is not free of nativists or other right-wing radicals, and they are making inroads in the conservative Party. Celebration has long been torn between its moderate and right-wing factions, and traditionally the former has kept a lid on the more extreme elements of the latter. Now, however, it is the right-handers who decide. Earlier this month the party ousted its former leader – Erin O’Toole, a moderate who had criticized the convoy protests – and adopted a decidedly populist tact. After years of taking positions on the pandemic largely aligned with public health guidelinesthe Conservative Party now opposes COVID-19[female[feminine warrants and restrictions, regardless of public health conditions. He made common cause with the demonstrators in the convoy. The party’s interim leader is Candice Bergen, a Manitoban who was once seen resistant a “Make AAmerica gWell Again” and argued that there were “good people on both sides” of the protests. rock Poilievrethe favorite in the race to replace her, called the convoy “peaceful, kind and patriotic”.
Why would the party associate itself with an unpopular movement? There is an internal strain: as the leadership race heats up, some Tory MPs clearly believe protesters will be helpful voters, organizers and donors. But there is also an external calculation. Many analysts attribute the party’s narrow defeat in the 2021 federal election not to the success of the Liberal Party, but to the gains made by the fringe of the People’s Party of Canada, a far-right party which won 5% of the vote. The Conservative Party has spent much of this campaign pivoting to the center, and some of its leaders believe that if they had run on the right and won the People’s Party by 5%, they would have edged out the Liberals.
These leaders are wrong. The People’s Party received many of his support of people who did not vote in the 2019 election, and it is far from certain that those voters would have ever supported the Conservative Party. Nevertheless, the Conservative Party elite seem to believe that they can simultaneously woo far-right elements while maintaining control of their party, keeping it electorally competitive with dominant voices at the helm. It’s the same dangerous gamble that America’s Republican Party elites made when they embraced Trump after he won their primary. Instead, Republicans found themselves consumed and beholden to the former president and his cronies.
POISON THE WELL
Canada, of course, is not the United States. It didn’t political institutions who overrepresent the interests of right-wing demographics. Instead, the federal government of Canada the elections are more often decided by swing quarters in Toronto and its culturally diverse suburbs, places where conservatives are already struggling to win. Going right is not a recipe for success.
But watchers should still be concerned. Even if they cannot form a government, a far-right, anti-system Conservative party could make Canadian politics more polarized and hostile. Political leaders shape public opinion, and a more extreme conservative party could radicalize millions of people, putting disadvantaged communities at risk. The United States experienced a disturbing rise in hate crimes after Trump has declared his candidacy, including before he takes office. If either of Canada’s two major parties adopted a far-right ideology, it could lead to a similar upswing.
A more extreme conservative party could radicalize millions of people.
Moreover, a radical conservative party would not necessarily to be forever excluded from power. Conservatives often enjoy canada electoral system (but not in the same way that Republicans benefit from American electoral and political institutions). Most Canadians may be left of center, but these progressive voters are split between the liberalGreen, and New Democrat parties. The Conservative Party, on the other hand, faces no serious challenge from the right, allowing it to win elections and form governments with many less than 40% of the votes. The more progressives divide, the easier the conservatives’ path to victory. If they gain power after making a right turn, nativism and populism could become politics. The party could pass laws that restrict immigration. This could decouple health and climate policies from scientific research.
And if the Conservative Party finds that it is no longer competitive, Canadian democracy could suffer otherwise. When political parties stop caring about elections, they tend towards complacency and, ultimately, poor governance. Authoritarian regimes provide the clearest examples, but party-dominated democracies also have problems. Canada, in fact, is a case and a point. The Liberal Party controlled Ottawa for much of the 20th century without serious opposition, and it bogs down regularly in major corruption scandals.
The Trudeau government has already had its share of ethical lapses, including allegations that it sought to protect a pro-Liberal engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin, against the lawsuits. Like any administration, he would benefit from a strong and scrupulous opposition party that can keep him honest. seriously struggling for power. But for that to happen, the Conservative Party must not lose itself in extremism. Otherwise, he risks relegating himself to the desert and poisoning Canada’s political discourse by leaving.