And on the 24th Day of the Freedom Convoy, Doug Ford announced freedom.
The Ontario premier lifted most vaccine-requirement restrictions in public places as of March 1. So, in two weeks, arenas, bars, restaurants, and gyms can admit people in Canada’s most populous province without checking for a COVID card. Capacity restrictions soon loosen, but Ford put off lifting the indoor mask requirement for at least another month.
He tellingly did this just hours before the prime minister of a free country essentially announced a temporary dictatorship, which makes “kinda” and “sorta” kinda-sorta necessary as modifiers. It also makes one wonder about whether the premier issued the carrot in coordination with the prime minister subsequently revealing his stick. Whether the former inducement to end the protests results in the latter never really coming to fruition remains for time to make clear, but as of Monday evening the clear, concrete victory goes to the truckers (with an ominous, possible defeat ahead given Trudeau awarding himself powers unknown to any of his predecessors).
The shift from a papers-please Ontario to a freer one follows similar lifting of restrictions in Saskatchewan and Alberta. It coincides with the Ambassador Bridge, which carries about a quarter of the goods between Canada and its largest trading partner, finally opening up for moving traffic. While the span connecting Windsor with Detroit again brings goods between the United States and Canada, rigs further east continue to block streets in the Canadian capital and vocalize the displeasure of truckers in the loud manner familiar to highway motorists but not apartment residents.
Quelling the protest, particularly as it feels more like a party, seems the far more difficult task.
As the New York Times reported late Sunday, “Word that tensions might ease a bit in the beleaguered capital came after protesters and their supporters spent the weekend jamming the streets with dance parties, bonfires and even an inflatable hot tub. People swarmed local stores without masks, violating local regulations, and lavished the truckers encamped in their vehicles with cash and gifts that they tossed through their windows.”
Ford insists his vaccine about-face comes “not because of what is happening in Ottawa and Windsor, but in spite of it.”
Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, does not buy Ford’s explanation.
“Vaccine passports are not a restriction — unless you are not vaccinated,” she maintained in a statement. “The request to scrap vaccine certificates isn’t coming from small businesses, health care experts or working people. This is Doug Ford caving to anti-vax politics.”
Ford’s attempt to placate the protestors as he maintained that he did no such thing contrasts with so many instances of politicians rushing to stand on the right side of activists. In New York City, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, to cite three cities, politicians responded to the “defund the police” movement by cutting law enforcement budgets in an ostentatious manner. Ford wants the protestors to go home so badly that he dramatically changed his policies. Just as badly, he wants everyone to imagine this as a massive coincidence. Ford cannot submit to the demands of people he so recently vilified as wavers of “swastikas and other symbols of hate,” and save face. So he steadfastly claims his policy changes came about for reasons totally unrelated to the protests.
So much animus does Ford hold against the truckers, people he vowed with whom never to negotiate, that he rushed to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoking the Emergencies Act on Monday as a means of putting down the Freedom Convoy. The prime minister justified the unprecedented measure as necessary “to address the blockades and occupations” and assured Canadians of actions “reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.”
To effectively invoke martial law in response to a protest demanding freedom necessarily inflames rather than extinguishes the controversy. It also indicates an obliviousness, almost like if politicians responded to Occupy Wall Street by taxing the projects to fund polo clubs. The answer satisfactory to a Freedom Convoy would seem to exclude martial law. Trudeau does not get his own irony.
When you honk your horns in the neighborhood where politicians live and work, and block the bridge that essentially serves as the money highway between two nations, officeholders tend to take notice.
Perhaps none of what has transpired should shock. The late Norm Macdonald, who launched his comedy career in Ottawa, explained to us a long time ago that Canadian politics amounted to bridge politics.
“This is the difference between election in America and Canada,” Macdonald told audiences after becoming an American citizen. “Elections in America mean something. You vote for the wrong motherf—er and the world blows up. I don’t need that on my hands. Whereas, Canada, it’s always like, ‘What’s your view on the bridge? I say keep it as it is. I don’t think they need to clean that up, it’s fine.’”
Here Norm Macdonald, in a very Norm Macdonald way, proved so right and so wrong all at once. Yes, one’s view on the bridge again dominated Canadian politics. But the bridge and beyond certainly mean something consequential.