A working-class liberty movement

10 February 2022

2:47 PM

10 February 2022

2:47 PM

We begin today in the Canadian Parliament, which has its own version of prime minister’s questions. And while it isn’t as entertaining as the famously unruly UK Parliament or the gem that is the Australian Parliament (“the honorable membah is a grub, Mistah Speakah!”), it can still get pretty rowdy.

So it was that last week, Candice Bergen, the interim leader of the Canadian Conservative Party, rose to ask a simple question of the ruling Liberals: would they work with the truckers who have been protesting Covid restrictions in Ottawa to resolve the impasse? She may as well have been talking to a Speak & Spell. The Liberal minister Chrystia Freeland chided and patronized. She condemned swastikas and Confederate flags. What she never did was to answer the question.

This finger-wagging approach to the most serious political strife Canada has seen in a generation was also adopted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Last week, as the protests began, he was scurried away to an undisclosed location where he railed against the truckers like some blow-dried Lear. Trudeau did return to Parliament on Monday, but he still refused to extend any kind of olive branch. To the demonstrators outside, he said only: “This has to stop.”

The problem is that no one seems to know what stopping this would look like. The same Canadian left that regularly suffers heart palpitations over police brutality in America is now demanding that the cops clear out Ottawa like it’s some kind of Tim Hortons-spangled Fallujah. But the city’s chief of police says his force can’t just do that, that they’re overwhelmed and outmanned. Towing experts warn it would be all but impossible to remove the big rigs. And Trudeau himself has ruled out sending in the military, an unthinkable move in a country that prides itself on politeness and peace.

So what then? Some in the Canadian establishment seem to think the trucker protest will eventually buckle under the sheer weight of public opinion. They point to an industry estimate that 90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated, before daintily clearing their throats and asseverating that unlike those rubes down south, Canadians don’t tolerate divisive politics. Americans might be uppity libertarians, but Canada’s founding values are “peace, order, and good government.” Emphasis on the “order” part: assault rifles and Gadsden flags are nothing but gauche up north.

Let’s assume for a moment that all this is true. The problem is that the single biggest threat to any “order” is a disenchanted and capable minority — like, say, truckers able to snarl downtowns and blockade highways. If the consensus that underpins an order crumbles, if the mass buy-in that’s needed to sustain an order is no longer there, then the order itself can also give way. This is why Trudeau has no choice but to talk to the truckers: there is no other way out and they wield more power than he seems to think they do.

Yet beyond that, it’s also worth asking: do Canadians really subordinate liberty to order? Do their leaders really imagine that one of the most reliable impulses in human history, the desire to be free, suddenly goes dormant north of Buffalo? Yes, Canadians are more likely than Americans to be vaccinated and to support vaccine rules. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t grown weary of all the hectoring and bullying, the isolation and the depression and the enforced gloom, just like the rest of us have.

Protests often begin in response to specific policies only to grow into something larger. And just as the Tea Party in the United States blossomed out of opposition to Obamacare, just as the gilets jaunes in France exploded out of a fuel tax, so too do the Canadian truckers appear to be expanding their brief beyond cross-border vaccine mandates and into grander ideas of freedom and choice. The demonstrations have become a kind of primal honk against the entire dismal public health regime. And as another winter quarantine drags on, it’s not unforeseeable that they could garner mass support.

There’s another dimension to this too: political movements are very often mobilizations of one class against another. This appears to be the case with the truckers. I haven’t gone outside in days! white-collar remote workers wearing their Succession snuggies cry, neglecting to mention that their public-health staycations are made possible by those who must go out, by cooks and grocers and deliverymen and, yes, truckers. This is what the class divide looks like in the year 2022.

It may be that those who procure our food for a living have finally had enough of being pushed around. And the class identity here is enjoined to the ideology. It has been most absurdly suggested in some conservative circles of late that individual liberty is mainly a concern of elites. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s the ambitious bureaucrat and the gooey-eyed professor of theory who think they can remake society through force; the working man covets his freedom. The real divide over liberty runs not down the American-Canadian border but between the managerial class and the hardhats.

And so, thanks to those hardhats, things are now moving quickly. The truckers’ latest move has been to blockade the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, responsible for much of the commerce between Canada and the United States. Another border crossing into Montana has also been corked up. The provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan have responded by announcing they’re ending all Covid restrictions. Copycat protests have popped up from Australia to New Zealand to France to Belgium.

Trudeau has thus backed himself into a corner. Against such a mighty adversary, he has no choice but to negotiate, yet by sneering at the truckers, he’s ensured that any overture will look like a humiliating about-face. And that’s not even touching on the trainwreck of optics he’s created: this spoiled dauphin, this ludicrous Kennedy of the tundra, talking down to workers who want only to make decisions for themselves. After months of gray austerity imposed by heavy-handed government, a cheerful spirit of liberty is in the air.

The post A working-class liberty movement appeared first on The Spectator World.

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