As we approach the end of the shortest month of the year and conclude what may have been one of the most controversial times in Canada’s history, I felt a short “recap” was in order. I have received more emails and our office has fielded more calls from constituents in the past month than in the any of the previous six years that I have had the privilege of serving as your Member of Parliament. I have not had the opportunity to respond to each email personally, as is my common practise, but trust that providing you with a summary today will suffice. I also want to note that in this update I am sticking with the Canadian political situation and leaving the current situation in Ukraine out of the update – not because it is not worthy of extensive comment, but simply for the purposes of making this update a reasonable length. Look for more from the Conservative Official Opposition in the days and weeks ahead as this very serious situation continues to unfold.
The turmoil began in late January when a group of caucus members submitted a petition asking for a vote on Erin O’Toole’s leadership. Since our caucus has adopted the Reform Act, a vote was required to take place as soon as possible. I received a lot of advice on how to vote and have publicly stated I believed party members should be the determiners of the Leader’s fate and that the national leadership review should be pushed forward to take place as soon as possible. Clearly, many of my colleagues felt differently and the results of the vote are now history. Our party is about to launch into another leadership campaign, details of which have yet to be finalized.
As we were busy voting on whether to kick out our leader inside, a convoy of truckers arrived outside on Parliament Hill and in the surrounding downtown Ottawa to protest the federal government decision on a January 15th implementation of a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the border with the U.S. I personally support vaccination and believe that introducing a vaccine mandate is a reasonable public health measure, so long as it is time limited. However, I also believe that those who disagree are entitled to express their views and protest the actions of the government – so long as it is done so in a manner that is legal, and respectful of their fellow citizens. I walked to the House of Commons, passing the protestors, on a daily basis but did not stop to speak with participants nor have photos taken. This is consistent with my policy on any demonstration in Ottawa and believe me there is a demonstration almost daily for just about any cause imaginable. My rationale is that even stopping to speak to one of the protesters would then be labelled as supporting them. It became obvious as the weeks dragged on that the protest had turned into an illegal blockade and that many of the organizers had unsavory ties. At that time, I publicly stated it was time to disassemble and return the streets of downtown Ottawa back to the local residents and businesses.
It was also painfully obvious that the federal government wasn’t prepared to adjust its mandate policy or take any advice from the opposition. I believe the entire situation could have been avoided if the Prime Minster would have delayed implementation of the cross-border mandate. Instead, the Prime Minister resorted to name calling and divisive politics, a strategy similar to what transpired during last fall’s election.
We felt that if a reasonable plan was put in place, the temperature on Ottawa’s streets might come down and so Conservatives made a motion that would require the government table a plan on how and when the mandates would end that incorporated science based metrics and a detailed rationale. The government, with the support of the NDP, voted that motion down.
Finally on Valentine’s Day the Prime Minister announced the Emergencies Act (the “Act”) would be invoked. This announcement set off a Parliamentary process that included a weekend long debate culminating in a vote last Monday evening, one day after all the streets had been cleared and the trucks removed. I did not support the motion invoking the Act because I believe it constituted government overreach and because, by the time we actually voted, I felt no emergency could reasonably be justified. Again, with the support of the NDP, the Act was passed and the motion was sent off to the Senate. On Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister stood in front of TV cameras and said that even though the streets of Ottawa, and the various blockaded borders, had been cleared, the Act would not be revoked because threats to national security remained. He referenced a convoy from Fort McMurray which had been turned away at the Manitoba border a few days ago. The degree to which this information is factual is still unclear.
At the same time the Senate began debate on the Act. The Senate must give final approval to all acts passed by Parliament in order for them to become law. In the case of the Emergencies Act, it is law immediately upon the government invoking it, but can be revoked if it does not pass the House or Senate. A number of senators publicly stated they were uncomfortable voting in favor of legislation which no longer appeared necessary. Within less than 36 hours from his Tuesday news conference the Prime Minister abruptly announced the Act would be revoked and the senate debate was adjourned. There is no question the PM was counting votes in the senate and there was a strong possibility the motion would be defeated. This would have been a major embarrassment for Trudeau. Often constituents ask why Canada even has a senate. What transpired this week may not satisfy those who would like to have the senate abolished, but it clearly shows there is a need for an oversight role when bad legislation is passed by Parliament.
I have had many constituents email me expressing the belief that what the Prime Minister is doing is illegal or that he has somehow circumvented the democratic process. While I doubt many receiving this email agreed with invoking the Emergencies Act, disagreeing with the decisions of the government does not inherently make them illegal. The Prime Minister acted exactly as the Act requires, a debate was held, and a vote was taken within the mandated time. The reality is that we lost the vote. The public can, and should, have a vigorous debate over whether the Act gives the executive branch too much immediate power, or whether the Prime Minister’s expressed justification for using the Act was reasonable, but we need to remember that being part of a democracy means you don’t always get your way.
The Emergency Measures Act has far reaching powers and gives the government authority to freeze bank accounts, make arrests, mandate tow trucks to remove vehicles, and a number of other measures. Police did an admirable job of dispersing the protesters as peacefully as possible. This was possible I believe because adequate resources were finally brought in from around the country – which could have taken place weeks earlier and did not require the invoking of the Act. A Parliamentary committee will now undertake a study of the invoking of the Act and in all likelihood a Public Inquiry will be called. Those reviews may take years to complete.
As you are all aware, provincial governments and municipalities are now starting to roll back the various health measures put in place during the Omicron wave of COVID-19. Dr. Theresa Tam, our federal Chief Public health Officer has said that going forward we need to “address the virus in a more sustainable way” which suggests a change in thinking in terms of how we manage COVID going forward – at least in her office. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and his team seems to be in no hurry to remove federal mandates and has chosen to hold the course, rather than releasing an evidence-based plan showing us a path forward. If this doesn’t change soon, I believe we can expect more unrest.
As the health situation, and the weather, gets better, hopefully polling will begin to show Canadians becoming more frustrated at the Prime Minister’s intransigence. Politics has always been the driving force for any decisions made by this Prime Minister, as pointed out by several of his own MPs in the past month, and that certainly won’t change moving forward. Don’t be surprised if more Canadians start to tell pollsters it is time to return to a more normal life, and suddenly he starts to listen.