Blog /Trudeau's Class War and the Convoy of Freedumb

January 30, 2022 13:30 +0000  |  Canada COVID-19 Politics 3

For those not up on Canadian politics (though this is all international news by now), a large group of truckers started what they call a "freedom convoy": a long stream of trucks have driven to the nation's capital (Ottawa) and demanded that the government end the vaccine mandate imposed on border crossings with the US. They see this mandate as imposing on the right of bodily autonomy (it's not exactly a "choice" when your alternative is starving) and they want it gone.

Unfortunately, that's the limit to any semblance of critical thinking these people have exercised on this front. There are a number of legitimate problems with this campaign:

  • The mandate at the border exists on both sides. In order to enter the US you must be vaccinated, so even if Canada didn't have this mandate, this would be a zero net-gain: you'd still have to be vaccinated to enter the US in the first place. This is likely a deliberate agreement between the two countries to ensure limited migration of the virus across the border.
  • Health policy in Canada is generally set by the provinces, and the federal government has no jurisdiction in this area. These people left their own provinces to protest at the seat of a government that can't make the changes they're demanding.
  • And finally, my favourite one is that their demands are not for the Prime Minister or even the House of Commons, but to the unelected senate and largely ceremonial Governor General, neither of which have the power to do anything without legislation voted on by the House.

The people running this thing are clearly not burdened with an overabundance of schooling, but that hasn't stopped tens (maybe even hundreds) of thousands of people from joining the campaign in their own cars. My brother is telling me that he's seeing cars and trucks lining up all over BC, and there are similar reports of smaller groups forming all over the country.

Who Are They

The protest has evolved from one ill-conceived campaign against a cross-border vaccine mandate into one against any attempt to further combat the virus and that's got a lot more traction with a lot more people.

There's a lot of different groups of people in this thing. You've got antivaxxers, anti-maskers, racists, homophobes, transphobes, and straight up Nazis in the mix, but it's important to note that these groups don't entirely overlap. My understanding is that the majority are anti-maskers, and while a lot of them aren't vaccinated, a lot of them claim to be vaccinated themselves. They're not all racists, bigots and Nazis, but a lot of them definitely share a lot of racist content on Facebook where this thing is being organised.

As an aside, seriously, if you're in a Facebook group where people are sharing stuff about the "great replacement theory", how do you manage to think: "yeah this is definitely a group I want to be in"?

What's Happened So Far

The result of all of this is that this mob has rolled into Ottawa to stand in front of Parliament to shout at an empty building about how they want their freedoms back. After the debacle of the American coup attempt, Canada's politicians decided to be smart and get the hell out of there well in advance. Trudeau and his family have been relocated to a secret location and other MPs have been warned not to go home but rather somewhere "safe".

Personally, I'm concerned for the residents of Ottawa, especially my family. If you cram enough trucks and people into a small town like that, getting them out of there becomes a real logistical problem. Even if the organisers decided to turn around and go home right now, how exactly do you coordinate that many cars when the drivers have been told that they're there to blockade? How will the grocery stores get stocked? How will emergency vehicles get around?

...and they're not turning around right now. People are still coming. In terms of infrastructure alone, how well can the city hold up when a bunch of people who should have flunked grade 6 social studies drive into town with no plan or intent to leave?

At least things have been mostly non-violent so far. There's been some vandalism, and some crass, shitty behaviour (not at all surprising), but unlike January 6th, no one has tried to kill or kidnap anyone.

Trudeau's Failed Leadership

Out of all of this, I think I'm most angry at Trudeau and his Liberal Party (though not for the same reasons as the mob). Canada has been dealing with COVID for more than 2 years now and while information was skint when this all started, everyone definitely knew that there would be a massive toll on Canada's medical infrastructure and the economy in general.

His leadership in these areas has been terrible during the pandemic. He effectively bet everything on a vaccine and did little to address the gaping holes in Canada's medical system that existed long before the pandemic. Doctors and nurses are still working 16-hour shifts watching people die every day. Hospitals are still underfunded, understaffed, and completely unable to handle the new reality: COVID isn't going away.

Inflation is way up, driving up food prices while wages have remained largely flat. Housing costs remain exorbitantly high, and as a result, millions of working-class Canadians are constantly afraid of losing their jobs, their homes, and finally their lives.

Trudeau's response to all of this as been to scapegoat antivaxxers and anti-maskers who, while objectively being selfish assholes, are hardly to blame for high inflation and housing insecurity. He's found a wedge to drive into the public, that keeps us all blaming each other instead of him for his complete lack of leadership in key sectors during a pandemic. What's worse is that by politicising the unvaccinated, he's driven a biologically significant portion of the public to dig-in and refuse vaccination.

People are idiots, but it's a leader's job to know this and find a way to help everyone despite their idiocy. Trudeau has done what all Liberals do though: found a way to keep his job by pitting Canadians against each other.

Why the Convoy is Stupid

There are legitimate criticisms of Liberal leadership, but we can't talk about them because doing so requires adult concepts like understanding other people's perspectives and accounting for nuance in complex topics. Trudeau doesn't want these sorts of conversations because it would inevitably lead to interrogating his failures, and so the convoy is great news for him.

Now he can point to a clearly identified minority who get their "facts" from Facebook as the problem, and then go back to doing nothing to actually help them. All of those people who are afraid of losing everything -- they now may well do just that, and he's cool with it. He's convinced enough of us that they're the real problem after all.


Roland Tanner
21 Feb 2022, 2:04 p.m.  | 

Hey Dan. I was just going through some code and found I'm still using a bit of code I borrowed from you a decade and a half ago - the 'sqliser' - in some ancient code of mine, so I though 'oh I wonder what he's up to these days'. In some ways not much has changed for either of us!

Anyway, I have no particular interest in defending Trudeau, believe me, but I wondered if the criticisms you're levelling at him aren't really provincial problems. One of the problems with Canada's constitution is that all the feds can usually do is write cheques and mail them to the premiers. What the premiers do with the money once they have it is usually out of their control. And if the feds make a big increase in health funding, while a province is trying to reduce its deficit and making cuts, the net result for healthcare is that the province has just uploaded a bunch of its costs to the feds, and no healthcare improvements result.

As we've seen in this crisis, the feds can't even call out the police without having to enable the Emergencies Act.

Which makes the vitriolic hate of the convoyers against Trudeau only more ironic. The claimed reason for their protests - mask mandates - are mainly a provincial issue (albeit federal when dealing with border crossings, etc).

Daniel Quinn
21 Feb 2022, 2:33 p.m.  | 

Now you've got me curious, what does my old "sqliser" do again? I'm afraid I don't have much of the code from those days anymore.

You've got a point about Ottawa's inability to directly control the health care spending across the country, though I would point out that past governments have managed this with earmarking funds to the provinces in special cases. For example, a special fund setup in early 2020 made available to provinces to increase ICU support and/or cover the costs of hiring more staff wouldn't violate the CHA so long as it was offered to all provinces and remained optional.

Of course much of what I mentioned above has nothing to do with health care. High inflation can be traced directly back to federal government policy over the last 5 years, and housing security has been a serious problem for a generation or more. These issues however are the real driving force behind the fear & anxiety fueling this (and future) protests.

You're right about the CHA though, one of the biggest weaknesses of our system is the distributed and disconnected nature of health care. The problem I'm pointing to though is less about policy than it is about leadership. Trudeau is (once again) driving a wedge into the country with his rhetoric. He's taking a failed policy position — not supporting health care for decades — and framing it as if the problem is anti-vaxxers. They're selfish assholes to be sure, but they're not the reason Canada can't cope with this crisis.

There's a lot that could have (and still can!) be done by the federal (and provincial) governments, including restructuring the "gig economy" to require more social security measures, expanding unemployment benefits and mandating sick leave. Pouring funds into housing development, skills (re)training, and banning/taxing the practise of flipping houses or even disincentivising the owning of more than one home.

All of the above would lead to a greater sense of safety and security, which would weaken the hold the grifters & charlatans behind this convoy have over these people.

But Trudeau doesn't want to confront that, so he's making this about anti-vaxxers so he can have a scapegoat and fuel anger & resentment in his opposition. He's creating the extreme right with this rhetoric.

Roland Tanner
24 Feb 2022, 4:42 a.m.  | 

I can definitely agree there are about a million different things that can and should be done, and there's a leadership vacuum in just about every government building in Canada. But then I could say the same for about 10 other countries. We seem to be in a death spiral of dumbness.

The sqliser was just a fancy way of running (in those days) mysql_real_escape_string recursively on arrays, adding quotes, etc. If concatenating SQL strings were still to be one's jam.

It lived with a bunch of string manipulation and sanitization functions, one of which, in my case, was 'decimalToHexavigesimal()', which converted decimal integers to Roman numerals. Now that's what I call niche.

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