Horns outside and inside Parliament, and a debate over the character of the protesters


Vehicles line downtown streets as truckers and supporters continue to protest against COVID-19 vaccination mandates in Ottawa, January 31, 2022.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

There was a solid crowd of truck horns on Wellington Street, but inside the House of Commons the resumption of Parliament was rather quiet. Much of the debate revolved around how to characterize the protesters.

The Conservatives chose to pre-empt Question Period by themselves condemning the weekend trucker protests.

Just before the start of Question Period, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, Frank Caputo, rose in the House of Commons to make a statement condemning those who had displayed a swastika and desecrated the statues of Terry Fox and the National War Memorial. His Conservative colleagues gave him a standing ovation.

The Conservatives knew this was how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was attacking them, accusing them of irresponsibly supporting the protests that culminated in these horrific acts – they had seen him do this during a press conference a few hours earlier. The Conservatives sought to protect themselves by first striking a note of condemnation.

With that done, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole went in another direction. “Will the Prime Minister overcome divisions and agree to meet with some of the truckers affected by his federal regulations?

Mr Trudeau, appearing on a screen from his home after revealing he had tested positive for COVID-19, responded much as he did during his press conference earlier today, by stating that vaccination is the way to get through the pandemic, that 90 percent of Canadians have chosen to get vaccinated. He had already answered Mr. O’Toole’s question about overcoming division by accusing the Conservatives of supporting people who have broken with Canadian solidarity. For the record, he ignored the question about meeting the truckers.

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Mr. O’Toole also ignored the response. He had a second line of attack. Vaccines are “crucially important”, he said, but after two years that have stretched our “social fabric”, the government must use “every tool” to deal with the pandemic. “When does life resume its course?” He asked.

Mr. Trudeau’s response was again that everyone is exhausted, but vaccines are the best tool.

It should be noted that the list of tools other than vaccines Mr. O’Toole provided on Monday was limited to rapid tests, and the issue of returning to normal life is one for provincial premiers as well, but one part of Mr. O’Toole’s question was also simple: people get frustrated, so what are you going to do about it?

For a time, after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stepped in to accuse the Tories of fueling a protest where hate symbols such as a swastika and a Confederate flag were displayed, it seemed like it was all could disappear from question period, despite the honking semi-finals. and the troops of police and the frustrations of the inhabitants.

The Conservatives asked a series of questions about why the Liberal government did not send weapons in its aid package to Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland watched intently as Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly answered questions, but most of the Liberal MPs in the half-empty room were on the phone.

But the protest debate, or rather the debate about the protesters, has returned. The politicians wanted to come back. Tory MPs sitting right next to Mr O’Toole’s left shoulder, Candice Bergen and Pierre Poilievre, accused the Prime Minister of fostering division by insulting what Ms Bergen called ‘patriotic, peace-loving Canadians who demonstrate.

“Just because the Prime Minister has worn racist costumes so many times that he doesn’t remember them all doesn’t mean that all Liberals are racist,” Poilievre said. “It’s guilt by association.”

On the contrary, it was an exchange between Mr Poilievre and Liberal House Leader Mark Holland that caused the most noise in the House of Commons – when the two debated who should lower their voices and even, atypically, s express respect for each other.

“When I saw swastikas in the street, when I saw what happened, it’s time to move on,” Mr Holland said. He later added: ‘I would ask the Tories to also join us in asking them to go home, and let us do this responsibly,’ he said.

Mr Poilievre responded by insisting that it is the Liberals who are fueling the division with disrespect. “This country is like a raw nerve right now, and the prime minister is jumping on it again and again with his incendiary rhetoric.”

After this exchange, the subject calmed down. There hadn’t been much discussion about cross-border vaccination mandates for truckers, or vaccination mandates in general, or rules specific to COVID-19. The corridors of the West Bloc were quiet. Outside, the horns were still honking.

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