From Streets to Rallies, Truckers and Supporters Weigh Conservative Candidates

To the relief of many in Ottawa, the large crowds expected to descend on the city this weekend will be admiring tulips rather than blocking streets, honking truck horns and protesting pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates.

Pierre Poilievre, a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party, frequently invokes the rhetoric of February’s protesters.Credit…Blair Gable/Reuters

But that doesn’t mean that February’s blockades and occupations of Ottawa and various border crossings with the United States have entirely faded away. An independent inquiry is being established to look into the government’s use of the Emergencies Act to clear the protests, and a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons has been holding its own hearings. Ottawa has yet to permanently replace its police chief after the force was overwhelmed by the truckers, and Peter Sloly, who had been brought in from Toronto to lead the force, quit. The street in front of Parliament remains barricaded and will most likely be closed to traffic forever. And the courts have yet to deal with the criminal charges laid against four men arrested after a large cache of arms was found at the border protest in Coutts, Alberta.

Then there’s the perhaps surprising influence the blockade and its supporters have had in the campaign to find a new leader for the Conservative Party. I’ve been looking into that particular issue recently. My findings were published this week.

[Read: Long After Blockade, Canada’s Truckers Have a Political Champion]

As always, there wasn’t room for all my reporting in the article. One of the things that didn’t make the cut was my follow-up reporting with people who participated in the blockade that shut down downtown Ottawa.

I note in my article that Pierre Poilievre, the front-runner for the now vacant party leadership, regularly evokes the blockade in his campaign appearances and echoes the protesters’ relentless call for a restoration of what they claim are Canadians’ lost freedoms.

“Freedom, freedom, freedom is our nationality,” Mr. Poilievre chanted to cheers at a rally I attended near Ottawa’s airport. (By coincidence, the campaign rally was in a small convention hall that in February was used by police brought in from across Canada as a staging center before they finally broke up the blockade.)

The protest paralyzed downtown Ottawa for weeks.Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times

Many in the crowd were the sort of people I’ve often seen at urban Conservative rallies in the past: well-dressed couples who had arrived in luxury SUVs. But around the edges were several men wearing high-visibility jackets, steel-toed work boots and worn baseball caps — the unofficial uniform of truckers.

Some of them weren’t interested in speaking with me. Many of them said they still feared being arrested after participating in the blockade in February.

One of them, who declined to provide his last name, Jon, told me that he went down to the protests every night after work. He also said that it was the first time that he had attended a Conservative Party meeting of any kind. In recent elections he has voted for the People’s Party of Canada.

He was at the rally, he told me over the din of a DJ, to see if Mr. Poilievre genuinely shared his views.

“I want to know more about what Pierre stands for — I want to know if I can trust him,” Jon told me.

Later, when Mr. Poilievre gave a shout-out to the truckers who opposed mandatory vaccination, Jon cheered, pumping both fists in the air.

Nick Belanger, who said he was a vaccinated trucker who had participated in the February protests on weekends, firmly supports Mr. Poilievre, saying his candidacy was a turning point for the Conservative Party.

“This is the conservative uprising,” Mr. Belanger said while waiting for the candidate to appear, adding: “Ten years ago, what do you think of the Conservative Party? It was crusty old, rich white people. I’m looking around the crowd right now and I see a lot of young people, working-class people.”

Jean Charest, another candidate for party leadership, has condemned the protests.Credit…Blair Gable/Reuters

Not all Conservatives approve of Mr. Poilievre’s embrace of the protests.

When a much smaller protest by motorcyclists rolled into Ottawa recently, it drew several people who said that they had been out regularly to join the truckers in February.

But Mark Davidson, a retired public servant and Conservative Party member, walked over from his nearby house to condemn the rally. Like Mr. Jean Charest, the former Quebec premier also running for leader, Mr. Davidson said he believed that catering to the truckers and people who identified with their blockade would be fraught for the party.

“I find it really dangerous and scary,” Mr. Davidson said, in reference to Mr. Poilievre’s support for the truckers. “But obviously he’s got support and he’s got a lot of enthusiastic supporters.”

The site of a former Indian School in Rapid City, S.D.Credit…Randi Oyan/Randi Oyan, via Associated Press

Trans Canada

  • Echoing Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a report released this week by the United States Department of the Interior described the abuse of Indigenous children at government-run schools, with instances of beatings, withholding of food and solitary confinement. It also identified burial sites at more than 50 of the former schools, and said that “approximately 19 federal Indian boarding schools accounted for over 500 American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian child deaths.”

  • A website that has shaped youth hockey in the United States and Canada in part by ranking thousands of teams across both countries has announced that it will stop the practice at the youngest levels of competition. Neil Lodin, the founder of MYHockey Rankings, described the practice as potentially harmful. Also in hockey, David Waldstein, my colleague on the Sports desk, has written a great profile of Louis Domingue of Mont-St.-Hilaire, Quebec. Once the Penguins’ third-string goalie and now its starter, he has become a cult hero in Pittsburgh during the current playoffs.

  • The first Italian Open for Bianca Andreescu, the 21-year-old tennis star from Mississauga whose career has been hampered by injuries, came to its end during the tournament’s quarterfinals. But Christopher Clarey, The Times’s tennis expert, writes that “Three tournaments into her latest comeback, Andreescu is clearly in a better place and will head into the French Open with momentum on the red clay that suits her varied game.”

  • Martha Wainwright, the singer-songwriter from Montreal, has a new memoir, in which the member of the famous musical family says she is happy to be “letting go of this story of being No. 4 on the totem pole.”

  • In The New York Times Book Review, the critic Nathaniel Rich writes that the latest book by Vaclav Smil, a polymath and professor at the University of Manitoba, “is at its essence a plea for agnosticism, and, believe it or not, humility — the rarest earth metal of all. His most valuable declarations concern the impossibility of acting with perfect foresight.”

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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