Nature may abhor a vacuum, but chaos absolutely loves it. So, too, does the convoy of “truckers” — more a ragtag collection of farmers and other rural Albertans — who have occupied the border crossing in Coutts, Alta., for more than five days now, defying both the local police and half-hearted disapproval of the UCP government.
If anything, they’ve been emboldened by the cowardice on display from Alberta’s leadership, which has refused to do much of anything other than issue statements and write tweets. And nobody has been more of a coward than Premier Jason Kenney.
In a pitiful video he tweeted out on Wednesday, Kenney channelled his inner Neville Chamberlain while appealing to the people who are disrupting the flow of trade and traffic at the U.S. border and have been holding a group of truck drivers — actual truck drivers carrying actual loads of cargo — quasi-hostage for days now.
Kenney repeatedly emphasized his solidarity with the protesters and said he sympathized with their frustrations and concerns. Worse, he appears to be willing to capitulate to their primary demand, which is the removal of all COVID-19 restrictions and public health measures. “The end of COVID restrictions is near,” he said. “Stay tuned.”
This is a bizarre decision on any number of levels. First, there’s the fact that Kenney doesn’t appear to have learned from his own recent history when he lifted restrictions prematurely last year in advance of his promised “best summer ever” and ended up nearly crashing the health-care system within weeks. And right now, Alberta’s health-care system is in far worse shape than it was then.
On Wednesday, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 hit a new high of 1,627, and while the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU hasn’t quite reached record levels yet, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen soon. To lift restrictions now, when the health-care system is still stretched to its limit (and maybe beyond), is practically suicidal.
But that might not be the worst part of this decision. Conservative governments have traditionally prided themselves on refusing to negotiate with terrorists, but the UCP seems more than happy to do it here. As the Calgary Herald’s Don Braid wrote, “What I hear about MLAs negotiating with protesters is this. It’s more than a rumour.” Indeed, there’s a video posted to Facebook that shows the “truckers” voting on opening two lanes of traffic, based on an understanding the province will end its vaccine passport program.
In other words, Kenney has now established a clear precedent in Alberta: if you don’t like the government’s policy, shut down a major road until they change it.
Except, that is, if you’re an environmentalist or an urban progressive or any number of other groups that won’t be present at the UCP’s April 9 leadership review in Red Deer. Rural farmers and anti-vaccine activists, on the other hand, will be key players in the vote that will determine Kenney’s political future, which might help explain why he’s being so careful not to offend them right now.
This disparity in how the law is being enforced, and the way in which the provincial government is talking about it, hasn’t gone unnoticed. In an official statement, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief and Council came out strongly against the glaringly obvious double standard the UCP government is creating. “In Coutts, we see the inequities in our country when it comes to Indigenous people and the methods used to control our right to peaceful protest. If the blockade in Coutts consisted of Indigenous people there would have been arrest and charges laid; instead, the Coutts blockade has been allowed to continue, even though at times it has become violent.”
Opinion: Conservative governments have traditionally prided themselves on refusing to negotiate with terrorists, but the UCP seems more than happy to do it here, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #Alberta #CdnPoli #TruckerConvoy #COVID
Ironically, the UCP and Kenney passed a law in 2020 that is fit for purpose here: the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act. It “protects essential infrastructure from damage or interference caused by blockades, protests or similar activities, which can cause significant public safety, social, economic and environmental consequences.”
It allows for heavier penalties to be applied, including up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent ones, along with prison time of up to six months, and it was proclaimed into force on June 17, 2020. But the unwritten subtext, it seems, is that it only applies to environmentalists blocking energy projects.
This is no way to run a lemonade stand, much less a province like Alberta. But it’s become increasingly clear that Jason Kenney and the UCP aren’t actually interested in governing the province. Instead, they’re focused on serving and protecting their own political fiefdoms and ensuring they remain in power as long as possible. Now, it’s up to Albertans to relieve them of their duties and put someone in charge who actually wants to do the job.