Opinion | Listen to the Canadian Truckers

Blockading Parliament isn’t the answer. But the truckers are right to take on Trudeau.

Truckers and demonstrators gather during a protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022.

In a nice change of pace, it’s Canada that’s experiencing a gripping national melodrama.

If “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” has long been said to be the most boring headline in the world, “Anti-Vax Truckers Besiege Parliament Building and Block International Crossings” has considerably more news value.

The protesting Canadian truckers are, to use the phrase made famous by Bari Weiss on a recent appearance on the Bill Maher Show, “done with Covid.”

The truckers, dismissed by Canada’s political establishment as hateful kooks, should be taken seriously as a symbol of latent, largely unexpressed frustration with Canada’s long-standing, far-reaching Covid lockdown regime, and of a broader, understandable exhaustion with such measures in the West.

The protests in Canada will likely be remembered as an inflection point in the response to the pandemic. In the U.S., it took worrisome polls for blue-state governors to finally begin to give way on mask mandates this week; in Canada, where there has been some comparable loosening, it took the truckers putting the issue front and center and emboldening conservative politicians.

Obviously, the tactics are a problem. It’s one thing to run a convoy to the capital to garner support and attention; it’s another to blockade the Parliament building and stop traffic on important cross-border bridges, with consequences for international trade. Lawbreaking shouldn’t be condoned or tolerated, although relative to some of the mayhem of the Black Lives Matters protests after the killing of George Floyd, blocking streets is relatively mild.

That said, the truckers are correct about their grievance that sparked the protest in the first place.

Throughout the pandemic, truckers have been exempt from Covid restrictions at the border. They were, rightly, considered essential workers. Despite continuing work when many people on both sides of the border were locked down — and when we had no vaccines and knew comparatively little about the virus — it is only now that the Canadian government has decided to impose a more onerous rule on the truckers.

Beginning on Jan. 15, Canadian truckers coming back across the border from the U.S. had to be vaccinated or they’d have to isolate for two weeks — in other words, be forced for all intents and purposes to give up their livelihoods.

This made no sense. It wasn’t in response to a new public-health emergency. Cases in Canada have been collapsing since early January, in keeping with the dynamic of the rapid rise and fall of the winter Omicron wave.

People should get vaccinated and boosted for their own good, but it’s obviously not bulletproof protection, since we all know by now that the vaccinated and boosted frequently get the virus.

Even if the unvaccinated were unique spreaders of the disease, truckers are as cocooned from other people as it’s possible to get during their workdays. Indeed, their vocation practically consists of self-isolation.

Instead of treating the truckers as fellow citizens who have a valid, or at least reasonable, complaint about a relatively unimportant policy that the government vacillated on prior to its implementation, the establishment and center-left in Canada have reacted to them with outrage and contempt.

They are agents of malign foreign influence or white nationalists. They must be fought on the beaches and the landing fields.

A columnist at the National Observer wrote a piece titled, “Anti-vaxxer truck convoy signals invidious spread of Trumpism in Canada.”

Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democrat Party, said the convoy is “led by those that claim the superiority of the white bloodline and equate Islam to a disease.”

Justin Trudeau speaks as if an enemy horde has descended that must be resisted in another Battle of Maldon. “I want to be very clear — we are not intimidated by those who hurl abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless,” he said. “We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. We won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.”

In this, he engaged in classic nutpicking, focusing on a few instances of misbehavior to tar the entire group. It’d be hard to come up with a better expression of the high-handedness that has characterized pro-restriction officeholders and public-health experts during the pandemic than Trudeau’s sneering attitude toward the protestors.

Canada has been a relative monolith on Covid. Conservative officeholders have been broadly willing to go along with lockdowns and mandates. There has been no Ron DeSantis. Nor is there any conservative alternative media in Canada (with a few exceptions) to give a platform to dissenters from the Covid orthodoxy — the positive coverage of the truckers, for instance, has mostly been emanating from the United States.

Surely, this is why the truckers have taken on such an outsized significance.

In representing such a high-profile break from the Covid consensus, they have given conservative politicians permission — or affirmatively pressured them — to begin to back off restrictions. Already, the conservative leader who lost to Trudeau last year and is a relatively conciliatory figure has been dumped and will likely be replaced by a more combative alternative. Alberta and Saskatchewan have moved this week to lift various Covid restrictions.

The truckers are another sign of the class inversion in advanced Western countries. The Left continues to shed working-class voters and gain college-educated voters and the well-coiffed Trudeau, fully attuned to haut progressive sensibilities, is the perfect paladin for the upper-middle class. On the other hand, the right is doing the opposite and sees blue-collar virtue in the truckers to whom it once would have felt no natural connection.

One hopes that, on the ground, the whole episode doesn’t have an ugly end.

Trudeau should give the truckers their victory on the vaccination mandate. His government, which already backed off on it once only to re-embrace it, can easily back off again. It’s not as though this was a law passed by parliament. It’s a unilateral, arbitrary rule of the sort that proliferated throughout the pandemic. And no one can seriously believe Canada is going to suffer a renewed Covid surge based on roughly 10 percent of its truckers not being vaccinated.

For their part, if they get the concession on the mandate, the truckers should declare victory and go home, or at the minimum, take a step back from any confrontation with the police. They’ve already changed the trajectory of Canadian politics around Covid restrictions. That should be enough. Any other loose goal some of the protestors are talking about, like bringing down the government, is a pipe dream and not how a parliamentary system should work — there’s always the next election.

If all parties step back from the brink, then the next political melodrama can be left to play out, more naturally to type, in their friendly neighbor to the South.