It was two years ago that a convoy of truckers, conspiracy theorists, and other conservative activists gathered in Ottawa. Depending on who you asked, they were either there to overthrow the government, protest pandemic restrictions that were mostly the purview of Ontario’s provincial government, or simply honk their horns and have a good time. In comments he later said he regrets, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to them as a “small fringe minority of people” with “unacceptable views.”

For some Canadians, this was the turning point for the man who had risen to power on the strength of his “sunny ways.” In far-right media, both in Canada and abroad, he was suddenly portrayed as a “dictator” or “tyrant,” willing to divide Canadians in the name of retaining political power. As Conservative Party of Canada leader Pierre Poilievre said recently on social media, “Trudeau divides to conquer. I will unite Canadians for freedom.”

Poilievre’s comments reflect his two-dimensional view of how our rights and freedoms actually work in Canada and ignore the fact that we couldn’t even unite around something as simple as getting vaccinated against a dangerous virus. But it unintentionally raises a broader point: Is “divisiveness” necessarily a bad thing in our politics?

Most of our proudest achievements as a country, from our flag to the repatriation of the Constitution and creation of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, were deeply divisive at the time they were first proposed. Universal suffrage? Divisive. Abolishing capital punishment? Divisive. Legalizing same-sex marriage? Divisive. You get the idea.

Even now, no-brainer issues like the science around climate change or advancing the rights of the LGBTQ community are incredibly “divisive” among more conservative parts of the population. Albertans may think federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry are “divisive,” but that’s a reflection of their own priorities rather than Canada’s. Divisiveness, in other words, is in the eye of the beholder.

So it was with the vaccine mandates that animated the Ottawa convoy and helped topple Alberta's former premier, Jason Kenney. The January 2022 edition of the COVID-19 monitor study, a running poll that captured data from more than 100,000 respondents over the course of the pandemic, showed four in five Canadians supported mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers. In the same poll, three quarters of respondents backed vaccine requirements for public employees and politicians and 70 per cent supported them for anyone over 18 years old. It was only within certain parts of the conservative political universe where opposition to these measures approached anything resembling a majority of the population.

The same is true for climate policy today. Alberta conservative columnists like Lorne Gunter might describe Trudeau and Guilbeault as “cultish fanatics” who are “hellbent on destroying one part of the country (Alberta and Saskatchewan) to maintain their power base in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle,” but most Canadians don’t see it that way.

A November 2023 Abacus Data poll showed 90 per cent of Canadians think the clean energy sector — the one Trudeau and Guilbeault are trying to support — is “important to the Canadian economy,” with half describing it as “very important.” And while more than two-thirds of respondents support solar, wind and hydro as sources of electricity that Guilbeault’s much-maligned Clean Electricity Regulations are designed to encourage, only 25 per cent support fossil gas.

It’s a safe bet almost everyone who supported fossil gas in that poll also votes Conservative. A 2021 Abacus poll showed that while 77 per cent of Liberal and NDP voters thought Canada should do more to emphasize policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions (come on down, Clean Electricity Regulations and the federal oil sands emissions cap!), only 44 per cent of Conservatives felt the same. In contrast, 24 per cent said Canada should be doing less. As Stewart Prest wrote in a piece for The Line back then, “if Conservative politicians seem particularly concerned about divisions in the country, it might be because they're the ones experiencing them most directly.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is routinely accused by his haters of being "divisive". Then again, so was his father, especially when he tried to repatriate the constitution and create a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That’s why it’s important to distinguish between policies that might upset people and politics intended to divide them — and no, the former doesn’t automatically point to the latter. Much as some Albertan pundits and politicians would like to pretend otherwise, Guilbeault and Trudeau aren’t trying to “destroy” their province. If they were, buying and building the first new oil pipeline to Pacific tidewater in more than 50 years would be a very weird way to do it. In reality, they’re just trying to govern the country in the best interests of the largest number of people. That’s the opposite of being divisive, as far as I can tell.

What Conservatives like Poilievre really mean when they complain about “divisiveness” is that they’re not getting what they want: inaction on climate change, a doubling down on fossil fuel development, and other Conservative priorities. It’s no different than his predecessors complaining about the Charter, the flag, or other progressive policies and priorities that their supporters couldn’t abide. In time, of course, those “divisive” ideas ended up uniting and redefining the country. Maybe that’s what they’re most afraid of here, as well.

Small comment: the constitution was not repatriated: it as patriated.

Well said. Politics is about different visions of where the country or province needs to go. It’s about different views about what policies are needed. Without those differences democracy is meaningless. What is divisive in a bad way is nasty labelling and false accusations against groups. The far right people Poilievre and Danielle Smith flirt with the most divisive forces I can see in Canada today.

Fawcett: "Guilbeault and Trudeau aren’t trying to 'destroy' their province. If they were, buying and building the first new oil pipeline to Pacific tidewater in more than 50 years would be a very weird way to do it. In reality, they’re just trying to govern the country in the best interests of the largest number of people."

Dubious example.
The Liberals bought and built the Trans Mtn Expansion Pipeline (TMX) at a huge loss to taxpayers including Alberta taxpayers. Over $30 B out the window. Huge opportunity costs. (How many solar panels, wind turbines, and grid interconnections could we install for the same dollars?)
The primary beneficiaries are oilsands company shareholders. No guarantee of significantly higher prices in Asian markets. Alberta dilbit will always be subject to a heavy-oil discount.

Doubling down on fossil fuels sabotages Canada's climate targets, locking in production and emissions for decades. Climate insanity.
Liberal energy policy defies the best available science:
The IPCC warns that the world must nearly halve GHG emissions by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050 to keep warming below the danger limit of 1.5 C.
IEA's Net-Zero by 2050 report says no new investment in fossil fuels after 2021 to limit global warming to 1.5 C.
No time for fossil-fuel expansion.

The oil industry's business model takes us far beyond the "safe" limit of 2 C of warming. With the loss of half our Arctic ice, coral reefs, and kelp beds, clearly we have already passed the safe limit.
The devastation is already apparent. And Trudeau, Poilievre, and Notley want to keep going?

Naomi Oreskes (CBC Radio, Sep 14, 2017): "It's such an idiotic argument, it's really hard to give a rational answer to it. If you are building pipelines, you're committing yourself to another 30, 50, 75, 100 years of fossil fuel infrastructure. If we're really serious about decarbonizing our economy, it means we have to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure."

Alberta is already overly dependent on fossil fuel revenues. Overdependence on one cyclical industry blasts holes in government budgets and forces services cuts and job losses.
The boom and bust oil economy destabilizes government funding, services, communities, and people's lives. Notley's pipeline also jeopardizes the economic security and water supplies of BC communities.
Tens of thousands of Albertans lost their jobs in recent years in the wake of oil price crashes. Doubling down on fossil fuels during a climate crisis only sets Alberta up for steeper oil price crashes in future.

Time to get off the fossil-fuel roller-coaster and start building a sustainable diversified economy not subject to the whim of global markets -- in industries that don't cost our children their future.
Sooner or later, the world will shift away from fossil fuels. That's reality.
Failing to prepare Albertans for that eventuality is irresponsible. Doubling down on fossil fuels when the world is on the verge of turning away from them sets Albertans up for massive economic crashes and upheaval.

Max Fawcett, former editor of Alberta Oil Magazine, supports new taxpayer-funded oilsands export pipelines, which perpetuates fossil fuels and exacerbates.
If Fawcett has a climate plan, it is a plan to fail.

If building TMX is doing Alberta a favor, please, PM Trudeau, stop doing us any more favors.

Sorry to keep hammering on this but you seem to have again deliberately missed the entire point of the article in order to preach to the converted. I think it's a safe bet that most people who subscribe to the NO are very worried about climate change and share your vast impatience and contempt for the infernal sausage-making required in our political system. But there it is, a reality not unlike that of climate change.

"preach to the converted"
Is Max Fawcett "converted"? He preaches new oilsands pipelines that enable fossil-fuel expansion and ensure climate disaster.

"deliberately missed the entire point of the article"
On the contrary. It is legitimate to challenge particular points and identify errors in Fawcett's analysis. The example he chose is singularly inappropriate. A glaring error.
As per The Observer's own mission statement: "We ask hard questions, check facts, reveal and correct mistakes when we make them, and listen to feedback from our audience."
An error typical of this columnist. Support for new oilsands pipelines is a running theme in Fawcett's commentary. The Observer's other "star" columnist also supported TMX, though perhaps she has changed her mind by now.
So we have two fossil-fuel dinosaurs and climate-change deniers (explicit or implicit makes no real difference) on the wrong side of science and history given prime real estate on the front page of The Observer — "the country's most trusted voice in climate journalism."
"Journalism that sets the agenda on climate change and the issues shaping our future."

"Information is power
"A slow, silent calamity demands a daily response.
"CNO believes that journalism has a key role to play in speeding the world’s transition to climate safety. At CNO we do this by empowering Canadians with accessible, reliable information through solutions journalism, investigative reporting, and visual analysis. Our goal is to inspire and empower Canadians to take strong action as consumers, voters, and citizens to protect all living beings, not in the distant future, but now. We believe good journalism can help move the dial in society beyond paralysis to action."

"Canada's National Observer reports on climate, environment and society. Our award-winning journalists and columnists set the agenda on the climate conversation, with investigations, analysis and special reports."
Fawcett's pro-pipeline commentary defies The Observer's stated mission. It is perfectly legitimate — and necessary — to point out this incongruity. If the former editor of Alberta Oil Magazine is "setting the agenda on the climate conversation", that is a real problem.
If I want to read fossil-fuel propaganda, I will turn to Postmedia newspapers. I do not wish to read CAPP's talking points on The Observer, much less pay for their publication.

"infernal sausage-making required in our political system"
The latest in an endless series of sorry excuses from our resident Liberal Party apologist for Liberal climate failure. No country is obligated to fail on climate. Trudeau calls himself a climate leader. Climate leaders sell climate policy, not pipelines.
The Liberals' plan to fail on climate was set in motion years before Trudeau came to office. Trudeau is merely delivering on the agenda set out by Corporate Canada, Big Oil, and the Big Banks that underwrite climate change. As was always intended.
Did Trudeau have a choice? Absolutely.

Don't forget the south BC coast, the element at the end of the pipeline and the beginning of ocean shipping. Where 3.5 million people live and produce 150 billion dollars in GDP ever year. Where environmental and First Nation's concerns were ignored on TMX. Where the marine ecosystem and economy where never addressed. And where half of the population opposes the project.

Mr. Poilievre is sounding more and more like Trump, and this is so worrisome. Poilievre is accusing his opponent (Trudeau) of the very thing he is doing, which is being divisive. He is being divisive by making inflammatory statements that often aren't true. For example, to claim that the Conservatives are fighting for freedom is disingenuous; Canada is one of the freest countries in the world. Unfortunately, PP is gaining traction with many disgruntled voters.

Those disgruntled voters and "leaders" like Poilievre, who are in fact followers of their heroes and don't possess an original idea anywhere in their narrative, are heading for major disappointment as their central figurehead sinks deeper into legal mire and loses the vital marginal support of moderates.

When a cult figurehead disappears, the cult masses become lost and directionless. The evidence is quickly mounting that Trump has not just peaked, but is tipping into a big fall.

I agree that supporting good and important policies can often lead to division, and we need to not be afraid of that.

As to how the politics of division operates . . . So to get this out of the way, Poilievre in that statement was, as usual, lying. His whole schtick is about divisiveness, often more for its own sake than in the service of any particular policy goals. After all, his politics is the politics of anger, and you have to be angry AT SOMEBODY--there has to be a THEM for US to be mad at. So Poilievre's politics is inherently a politics of division, precisely in the sense that it needs to create divisions independently of any policy goals (of which Poilievre has few that he's willing to admit to).

And this kind of politics is inherently one that fits conservatism. Even aside from the current virulent and somewhat weird strain, conservatism is ultimately about division--the point of conservatism is that it's OK or beneficial for there to be haves and have-nots, core parts of the culture and marginalized parts of the culture, some kinds of people who should get respect and others who should not. Old school Canadian Progressive Conservatives expressed this general position in one of the mildest ways in history, but it was still there.

To be fair I should note that at least in the short term, leftist politics is ALSO about division. The left sees a stratified society and wants to de-stratify it, to end up with a society that either has no real upper class or at least a much smaller, less rich, less powerful one. So the core leftist policy goal inherently makes the upper class the enemy, for as long as they exist as a major political force. So that too is a politics requiring division, the difference being that where if conservatives successfully shaped society to fit their visions, divisions would remain and be reinforced, whereas if leftists did the same the divisions would go away.

Only liberal politics is really about unity. This has some very positive aspects; liberals are sensitive to feminism, anti-racism and other issues of formal equality, and in general would like everyone to get along. On the negative side, liberals have a tendency to pretend everything is OK and just try to paper things over any time there is a problem whose solution would need to disturb someone (particularly someone rich). This is why they've done pretty much diddly about housing. It's also why liberal support of formal equality so often doesn't lead to substantive equality.

Trudeau's TMX pipeline is divisive. He never received free, prior and informed consent to push it through multiple Indigenous territories. He stated "communities decide", yet when Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster said "NO" they were ignored. The IPCC has been insisting world leaders refrain for building more fossil fuel infrastructure, yet Trudeau is passionately pushing ahead with it. A $4.5 billion megaproject has ballooned towards $40 billion and we Canadians will never see it paid off, as world temperatures rise.

There is a lot of noise about the noise, this time on political divisiveness. Journalist need to make a living, and division is news, I suppose.

But then again, sometimes very important background signals get overlooked, signals that are in fact early warnings.

The rapidly descending cost of renewable energy is one. This has been documented for the better part of a decade, but lately some really important tipping points have been reached. The latest is the cost of energy storage, namely battery tech which has recently declined to $56 per kilowatt hour.

What does that mean, exactly? When comparing the cost of all energy forms, it means that the internal combustion engine vehicle, which averages $85 per kWh (energy equivalent) is fast running into being outcompeted when mass production of batteries and EVs hits its stride by 2027 or thereabout. It means the mass electrification of the domestic and world economy as the natural gravitation to the most affordable prices of everything swings fully into renewables. It means the slide of fossil fuel demand will become permanent.

Oil and gas is everything to the conservative mindset. Remove it, or greatly diminish it, and arguments centred on political divisions with moderates and progressives becomes meaningless chatter as the economics of affordability finds its place in society with everyone.

A Poilievre win in the next election would be disastrous in several regards, especially when the political wrecking ball (both ideological and related to incompenence) is smashed against Canada's social and environmental programs. But the golden goose of oil revenue will never return once buried under far more beneficial energy reliances that power rhe entire economy.

The natural displacement of fossil fuel demand with cheaper renewables will have a similar effect on those moderate and progressive politicos who thought fence sitting or walking on two diverging paths at the same time (building pipelines while enacting a carbon tax and promoting solar and wind, believing unionized oil sands jobs are better than skilled solar and wind farm jobs ...).

The net benefit to society of decarbonizing will be fantastic, but the conversion will be difficult for anyone who relies on oil and gas, regardless of their politics.

Good article, restoring perspective that seems to have evaporated in such a disconcertingly irrational way that it's slowly but surely driving everyone a bit crazy. All this while our common lifeline, simmering nature, inexorably shifts silently and massively alongside.
I have said this before but it started for me when David Suzuki was vilified, then Trudeau soon after, but tellingly at a whole new level that has never let up, quite the contrary.
I used to wonder why a recording never appeared of Trump saying exactly what we all know he thinks of his "followers," but tellingly it probably wouldn't have made any difference anyway. I also wonder why such a recording has ever been needed after what we all saw with our own eyes anyway, same as with the convoy.
And why is it not completely obvious that the "banality of evil" right wing is solely responsible for ALL of the chaos? All of it.
I agree about the inescapability of political divisions in human society but when even natural disasters can no longer right the ship, something has fundamentally changed. Maybe another world war will clear the decks? Because that's also hovering over us now.
This is a big part of the change I think; these guys are no democrats:

Good article Max. Change is hard - likely because of resistance - which causes division. Thx.

In my 59 years as an adult and voter, I have never experienced a politician as divisive, negative, spouting more misinformation and cherry picking bits and bites to deliberately mislead Canadians than Poilievre. Unite us! Hah! He and his political position of freedom over society is the major cause of our issues and divisiveness. We are social animals requiring cooperation and compromise in almost everything we do everyday. Major setbacks if PP becomes PM. We can't afford or tolerate a mini Canadian Trump clone

If conservatives got their way, I and many others would be vehemently against it so that is divisive.