The “freedom convoy” that descended on Ottawa began as a revolt against new requirements that unvaccinated Canadian truckers returning from the United States must quarantine for 10 days. While we can debate the wisdom of the rules in question, what is undeniable is the enormous symbolic importance of truckers. In a society that has become much more polarized under the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, they have given voice to groups consistently demonized by Canada’s leftist liberal establishment: namely the Conservatives and the white working class.
After three generations of an official culture of political correctness in education and the media, Canada has become a strongly left-wing society. Six in 10 voters support the culturally left-leaning Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP), while 4 in 10 support the conservatives or populists of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). In many other western societies, such as Britain, the balance is much closer to 50-50.
This gives the Trudeau Liberals an incentive to rally with the woke left on cultural issues to draw NDP votes while adopting a pro-market economic approach to appease commercial interests. When reports – which turned out to be false – of mass graves of Indigenous schoolchildren surfaced and left-wing activists burned down 30 churches in response, Trudeau called the actions “understandable” and did not much to stop this attack on Catholic communities.
Elite institutions and the mainstream media, many of which indiscriminately promoted moral panic around mass graves and encouraged the myth of Canada as genocidal, are increasingly waking up. Their adherence to a philosophy of ultra-sensitivity to the optics of how policies, symbols or statements affect minority groups has become so extreme that even leftist journalists are fed up. Veteran journalist Tara Henley, who left the CBC broadcaster for Substack, wrote that her employer is “demanding[s] the parrot of orthodoxies, the demonstration of fidelity to dogma. Former Vancouver Sun opinion writer Gordon Clark has criticized his former employer and his colleagues for letting moralism trump professionalism.
Trudeau has been almost as polarizing for Canada as Donald Trump has been for the United States. His approval rating among Tory voters is generally below single digits, while the once-common Conservative-Liberal swipe is now rare.
Although their cause enjoyed only modest support, the Truckers exploited the alienation of culturally conservative working-class Canadians from Trudeau and the cultural elite. Well-timed, Canadian media attempted to portray the protest as racist, focusing on extremists on the fringes. Trudeau, without evidence, described the anti-vaxxers as racist and misogynistic while NDP leader Jagmeet Singh defamed the convoy as being run by “those who claim white lineage superiority and equate Islam with a illness”, a complete fantasy.
This establishment reaction, akin to Hillary Clinton’s description of Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables,” is as big as the protest and risks further polarizing the country.
Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange