Political coalition building and Canada’s antivax blockades

Emma Jackson has an interesting article on the mega-libertarian “Freedom Convoy” protests and what they reveal about coalition building:

Whether we want to admit it or not, there’s a lot that the anti-mandate movement is getting right from an organizing and movement-building perspective.

For starters, in stark contrast to the Left, the past few days have revealed how much better the Right is at meeting people where they’re at.

Instead of building an insular movement restricted to people who agree with each other 93 per cent of the time, the Right has successfully tapped into widely held resentment and built a mass on-ramp for people with highly divergent views. It’s why the Freedom Convoy isn’t just being ardently defended by white supremacists on Rebel News, but also by anti-vaccine Green Party supporters in the inboxes of mainstream environmental organizations.

Insularity has prevented the left from reaching the mainstream. We have an opportunity to examine our tendency to build organizations that feel more like exclusive clubs for the “already woke,” than they do welcoming spaces for political education and transformation where people feel deeply valued and needed.

Jonathan Smucker reminds us: “Politics is not a clubhouse. Politics is messy. It is meeting everyday people where they are. It’s not an enclave. It’s not being the enlightened, ‘super‑woke’ people together, learning a special vocabulary, shaking our heads and wagging our finger at all these backward other people. That is a manifestation of the same social elitism that is actively structured by neoliberal society. Instead, politics needs to be woven into the fabric of all of our lives.”

Jackson is aspiring to a populist progressive movement that advances the whole left-wing agenda of economic redistribution, racial justice, further corporate regulation, and so on. I am more interested in the politics of building a consensus around fossil fuel abolition to avoid catastrophic climate change, in which agreement on other issues isn’t a prerequisite for legitimate participation. I think that will have to be comprised of people who broadly disagree about many political issues, but who nonetheless accept that maintaining the planetary stability which is the foundation of all political projects must be prioritized. A fired-up, more inclusive movement which still advocates for the entire progressive shopping list won’t do that, and arguably feeds polarization with the idea that only a new progressive society can fight climate change. Instead, it needs to become an issue where the voters who elect the mainstream centre-right and cente-left parties that form governments will demand rapid and substantial action, and not be placated about promises that someone else will solve the problem by a ‘net zero’ 2050.

Restoring and sustaining a democratic politics that can confront the challenge of climate change requires cultivating a politically influence branch of the conservative movement which respects empirical evidence instead of choosing what to believe based on their ideology. I don’t think anyone can see the path from here to there (and events like these trucker blockades are strengthening the fantasist wing), but I think it must involve a retreat from maximilist positions and arguments that one group’s entire political agenda must be implemented as the only way forward.


Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

26 thoughts on “Political coalition building and Canada’s antivax blockades”

  1. Kempa said he believes this protest is a sign of things to come. He compared it to political rallies intended to fire up disaffected people and get them to join a cause.

    “Unite them, lather them up and also get access to their wallets where they can continue to raise funds that the organizers can direct towards political influence,” he said. “This is a strategy to put together a coordinated political movement and back candidates in the long term.”


  2. Ever since a column of trucks, campers, and cars set off for Ottawa in January with a song in their hearts and a plan to remove our democratically-elected government, the members of the now-leaderless Conservative Party have been trying to find a way to greet them as liberators.

    No matter how many photos of Nazi and Confederate flags have flown in the crowd, or how often the protesters have called for Justin Trudeau to be tried for treason, the Tories have tripped over themselves to find common cause with the occupiers.

    Pierre Poilievre, a likely next leader of the party, has taken every opportunity to ingratiate himself with the occupiers, glad-handing with the crowd that wants our government removed from office: “I’m showing up here to support freedom and an end to unnecessary mandates that have no support, no backing by science,” he told some of the protesters Tuesday.

    Saskatchewan MP Jeremy Patzer came out and took some photos with organizers Pat King and Chris Barber. One-time leadership contender Leslyn Lewis was ambling through the crowd on Sunday, and was effusive: “It’s been great to see Canadians come together,” she told me. Marilyn Gladu and Candice Bergen, now interim leader, enjoyed some pizza with two of the protesters. Michael Cooper wandered into the crowd on Parliament Hill to express his solidarity with those fighting against having to be vaccinated.


  3. But now in its second week, no one should have any doubt. This is sedition. That’s a word I never thought I’d use in Canada. It means “incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority.”

    On Sunday, authorities began to draw the line. Declaring a state of emergency was the right thing to do.

    From now on, those who are occupying the downtown of our nation’s capital should be in no doubt. They are no longer simply advocating a different strategy to end COVID-19. They are not patriots. This is not about “restoring freedom” but beginning anarchy. This isn’t getting carried away at a rally. It’s not a rush of blood to the head. It’s deliberate and calculated, and because of that, they must know that from now on, there will be consequences for their actions.


  4. You can’t really be in wellness at all without claiming some sort of special insight that the mainstream lacks. So when you’re building from a worldview whose default stance is “I know better than the so-called experts,” I think you’re predisposed to be kind of soft-brained for antivaxx lunacy, and get sucked into the white supremacy like a gull into a Cessna engine.


  5. Any political compromise is highly improbable. The protesters’ demands – to the extent they are understood – are a non-starter. Practically speaking, if their demands are not met, they are advocating the overthrow of the government.

    Although their methods are somewhat different, the intent of the Ottawa protest is perfectly aligned with the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, which sought to subvert the Constitution of the United States by violent means. The Canadian version seeks to hold Ottawa residents and the federal government hostage with large trucks on downtown streets blocking traffic and spewing diesel exhaust. It may be playing out in a festival atmosphere, but make no mistake – this is a blockade.


  6. As of noon Tuesday, police say they have arrested 23 people and there are currently 85 active criminal investigations. They also released more details on their enforcement of the 10-day interim court injunction against honking horns, saying anyone arrested for contravening the court order who agrees, in writing, that they will abide by the order may be released, while those who refuse to do so may be taken to Ontario Superior Court to face both civil penalties and criminal prosecution.


  7. As anti-vaxx protests continue in front of hospitals across Canada, emergency physicians are saying enough is enough and leaving their profession behind.
    According to the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians , a staffing shortfall has been in the making for years but the challenges of the pandemic have doctors exiting the profession at an accelerated pace, leaving hospitals already struggling with nursing shortages in yet another staffing crunch.

    In December, Kari Sampsel, an emergency physician in Ottawa, took a leave of absence after 20 years in the profession. “The unsolvable problems are getting worse and worse, and no one is coming to help us fix them,” she says.
    While Sampsel cites the ever-increasing pressures of crowding, boarded patients and lack of mental health and primary care services as reasons for her departure, it is the feeling that she and her colleagues are undervalued by patients, the hospital and the health-care system that ultimately has driven her out.
    “The level of vitriol, abuse, frustration and anger that is hurled at us from all corners is untenable,” says Sampsel. “I do not want to go to work to get spat at, punched or kicked. I don’t expect to be called a hero, but not being treated like a human being is a deal breaker.”


  8. At a press conference Friday, Ford said he will convene cabinet and “urgently enact orders that will make crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and services along critical infrastructure.”

    “This will include protecting international border crossings, 400-series highways, airports, ports, bridges and railways. It will also include protecting the safe and essential movement of ambulatory and medical services, public transit, municipal and provincial roadways, as well as pedestrian walkways,” Ford said.

    “Fines for non-compliance will be severe, with a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment. We will also provide additional authority to consider taking away the personal and commercial licences of anyone who doesn’t comply with these orders.”


  9. As COVID-19 continues to spread, so does misinformation about the disease and measures to contain it. Despite efforts by authorities, the medical community and credible media to debunk false and misleading claims, it’s been unclear before now how effective fact checks are as a tool to respond to misinformation.

    A new study from researchers at the University of Toronto, Dartmouth, the University of Exeter and the University of Kent suggests that, while fact-checking can quickly correct misperceptions about COVID-19, beliefs in wrong information often return.

    During the study, respondents from the U.S., Great Britain and Canada were asked to rate the perceived accuracy of four claims on COVID-19 that have been debunked by scientific and public health authorities: that the Chinese government created the coronavirus as a bioweapon; that a group funded by Bill Gates patented the coronavirus; that antibiotics are effective in preventing and treating COVID-19; and that the medication hydroxychloroquine is proven to cure or prevent COVID-19.


  10. My experiences reflect the country’s much stricter government policies. Vaccine passports, school mask mandates, and even bans on private indoor gatherings larger than 10 people have been widely used across Canadian provinces. Even Alberta, the prairie heart of Canadian conservatism, had imposed all three — with Jason Kenney, the province’s Conservative premier, arguing in September that a passport system was ”the only way to cut viral transmission without destroying businesses.”

    Alberta and several other Canadian provinces are now in the process of lifting some of the more burdensome restrictions. But this generally reflects the omicron surge’s ebb rather a wave of public opposition; in Ontario, home to Ottawa and Toronto, the Conservative provincial government is following a preexisting reopening script pegged to a decline in case counts and hospitalizations. Some provincial leaders, like Quebec’s François Legault, noted that reopening plans were in no way influenced by trucker shenanigans.

    There is a reason Canadian politicians have taken this stance: Poll after poll finds Canadians have widely supported restrictive pandemic policies at both the federal and provincial levels. This is not to say they enjoy restrictions on their freedoms — who does? — but simply that they believe the government has an obligation to act when case counts are high.

  11. The January edition of the Covid-19 Monitor, a regular survey of Canadian attitudes about the pandemic, finds that about three-quarters of Canadians support vaccine passports for indoor dining and gatherings. Strikingly, 70 percent would “strongly” or “somewhat” support a vaccine mandate for all eligible adults — a vastly more restrictive policy than any province has actually attempted. What’s more, the researchers behind Covid-19 Monitor find that, on most issues, “support has remained relatively stable” throughout the pandemic — strong evidence that this isn’t just a short-term blip caused by omicron.

    It makes sense, then, that the trucker protest is widely unpopular.

  12. Carvin, an expert on terrorism and critical infrastructure protection, said an elegant way to deal with the convoys might be to enforce administrative law. She calls it the “Al Capone approach,” noting that the notorious gangster was finally arrested for mundane tax violations.

    She said provincial authorities could revoke truckers’ driver’s licenses for engaging in illegal activity. Police could also check whether their log books are up to date, if their air brakes are functional and whether fuel is being stored safely.

    “Ottawa is the most bureaucratic city on the planet. This is a weapon that we can harness,” she said, noting that local authorities once shut down a lemonade stand because the girls running it didn’t have a permit.


  13. Scholars of American politics are particularly dismayed by rising levels of “affective polarisation,” the political science term for the hostility one person feels towards members of the other party relative to the feelings they have towards members of their own party. Levels of affective polarisation have risen more than two-fold since the 1970s when the American National Election Studies, a quadrennial academic survey started at the University of Michigan, began asking citizens to rate how they felt about members of either major party. In 1978, according to the survey, the difference between Americans’ ratings of members of their own and ratings of members of the other party on a 100-point “feeling thermometer” scale was 27 points. The gap had widened to 56 by 2020.

    That problem—that people’s political affiliations determine what information they absorb, rather than the other way around—is bad enough. Yet the degree of contempt partisans have for each other is even more troubling. In a paper Ms Mason presented at the conference alongside Nathan Kalmoe and Julie Wronski, two of her frequent co-authors, the researchers conducted a series of experiments to gauge the extent to which Americans thought certain groups deserved life-saving aid if they were infected with covid-19; if the economy should be reopened even if it would hurt certain groups; and whether disproportionate deaths among the opposing party were deserved or not. They found that respondents were much likelier to say disproportionate deaths among supporters of the other party were more acceptable than deaths among their own.

    Discounting suffering on the other side destroys the empathy that liberal democracies require. In a 2019 paper, Mr Kalmoe and Ms Mason studied the extent to which voters rationalise partisan violence against their opponents or express outright support for it—what they call “moral disengagement” and “lethal partisanship”. They also found that 60% of partisans said the opposition was “a serious threat to the United States”, and 40% said opponents were “downright evil”. People with strong attachments to either political party were more likely to exhibit such views.


  14. The notion of enlightened Canada was wounded – perhaps beyond repair – after the usually sedate capital, Ottawa, was occupied in early 2022 by an army of obnoxious extortionists who wrapped their ignorance and selfishness in the maple leaf and claimed the flag as their own with such grating arrogance and certainty.

    Like petulant children, they were loud and impatient, consumed by incoherent anger that made them blind to the necessity of sacrifice in pursuit of a greater and common good that the pandemic and extraordinary circumstances demanded of each of us.


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