When the risks outweigh the benefits, it’s time to make hard choices.
And so it was with the so-called 2022 Freedom Convoy, which bullied its way into the public eye in a manner not unlike the American insurrection on the U.S. nation’s capital a year ago.
The group behind the Freedom Convoy didn’t succeed in taking over Parliament. But it sure raised hell and made life miserable for a lot of people.
That is, until it threatened U.S. interests.
When President Joe Biden saw manufacturers in his country shutting down because of the convoy’s activities, he decided the risks were no longer worth taking. The benefits of letting the movement and its members proceed unabated stopped outweighing the risks it posed to the freedom of Americans, as well as Canadians.
Indeed, it was no longer a matter of freedom. In Biden’s eyes, it was now a matter of business, on both sides of the border.
And so like the parent of quibbling siblings who can’t settle matters between themselves, Biden furrowed his brow, raised his voice ever so slightly, and said knock it off. Stop taking the risk, he said to Canada…and let us know how we can help you deal with the way forward.
With that offer in hand, bravery on the Canadian side of the border seemed to escalate.
On Friday, February 11 – two weeks after the escalation started in Ottawa -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency. He called the Ottawa melee “an illegal occupation…no longer a protest.”
And at press time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also chimed in, saying at a news conference “everything is on the table” to end the blockade. He said deploying the army would be the last resort, and that “we weren’t there yet.”
Meanwhile, though, the fear of violence was on the rise, the kind of violence that the convoy had invited in its final stages. It had gone way beyond the point of wanting freedom from vaccination rules for truckers, its originally stated intent. It wanted a fight.
And now, as Canada prepares to start picking up the pieces, the key now is to learn from the experience.
Canada needs to get the message that this kind of sentiment will continue to percolate. It’s sad that a country like Canada must protect its border from its own people. But it looks that way…because what happens if it doesn’t?
First, it gets a reputation for being unable to handle its own affairs. I suspect that the Biden offer was more likely a strong suggestion to Trudeau to do something. America was fed up. Offering to help was the public face of that suggestion.
Second, it challenges our reputation as a welcoming nation. Canada relies hugely on tourism with the U.S. A significant portion of those visitors drive across the border. If that border is unreliable, visitors will stay home. There are plenty of other places to visit in the U.S. Tourists have choices, especially now when the pandemic has caused trips to Canada to fall off the radar screen anyway.
And most important to growers, an unreliable border can make a country an unreliable trading partner. Here’s an irony: At the same time the blockade was reaching a crescendo, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued a news release announcing a $535,000 investment in Flowers Canada to support market access and promote the industry’s growth with increased sales to, in part, the U.S.
That’s understandable; U.S. markets are the lifeblood of almost all agriculture-related exports. But if commodities such as flowers, fruit and vegetables are denied timely transportation across the border – and in fact are stymied by the very people who are counted on to deliver them -- growth could be jeopardized.
The entire value chain is on edge.
“We’re gravely concerned,” says David MacLean, vice president for Alberta and Saskatchewan for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. “So much of the manufacturing market is U.S.-facing. Border crossings are a huge conduit for groceries in Canada. We’re just seeing chaos, and this is on top of an existing supply chain crisis. We’re still not even close to having recovered from floods in BC and [physical] damage to the transportation corridor.”
Many Canadian farm groups, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, spoke out against the blockade and the convoy. News organizations roundly criticized it for stomping on the rights of others. About the only support it received was from Fox News, which had a crew in Ottawa cheering on the protesters.
Aboriginal groups widely condemned the blockade as well, and the fact that it was allowed to proliferate.
“If this blockade had been organized by Indigenous people, we have no doubt that authorities would respond quickly to remove the blockade and utilize the law that has been created to do so,” Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said in a statement reported by Indian Country Today news.
Prime Minister Trudeau said a lot of Canadians were “scratching their heads” about protesters who said they were speaking for truckers, but that they didn’t represent the 90 per cent of truckers who were vaccinated.
“This pandemic will end by following science.” he said. “We made a promise to have people vaxxed every step of the way…these blockades are not helping the pandemic end any sooner. They are so wrong.”