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Former Liberal leader says trucker protests are sign that hard-working Canadians feel alienated

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The trucker protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates that gridlocked Ottawa and closed key Canada-U.S. border crossings is a sign of the complete breakdown of our political conversation,“As the trucker protest continues in downtown Ottawa, nearly half of Canadians say they agree with the frustration of the protesters but disagree with their behaviour, according to an opinion poll conducted over the weekend for The Hub. Fifteen percent of Canadians strongly agree and 33 percent somewhat agree that they don’t like the protesters’ behaviour but understand their grievances, according to the survey designed by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue. Canadians are also getting frustrated with the public discourse on the restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sixty-five percent of Canadians agree that ‘it’s been hard to have a conversation about COVID-19 without people getting mad.'” https://thehub.ca/2022-02-08/half-of-canadians-think-the-trucker-protest-is-behaving-badly-but-understand-their-frustration-poll/ said former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff.

“Why the hell did we get to a situation in which hard working men and women in Canada felt so alienated that they had to shut down the capital of our country for three weeks? How do we get here?” said Ignatieff, speaking to The Hub‘s editor-at-large Sean Speer on an upcoming episode of the Hub Dialogues podcast.

“It doesn’t excuse what they did, I felt that police action had to be taken to clear the thing but, boy, it’s an indictment of the failure of liberal democracy,” said Ignatieff.

Ignatieff is an internationally renowned intellectual who was leader of the Liberal Party from 2008 to 2011,“Ignatieff tried to orient the party in a more fiscally conservative direction while preserving social programs that had been the hallmark of the Liberal tenure in the majority. As Canada was largely spared the hardships of the global financial crisis, however, Conservatives retained the momentum on economic issues. In March 2011 a parliamentary committee found the Conservatives in contempt for failing to release budgetary information, and Ignatieff sponsored a no-confidence vote that brought down the Harper government.” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Michael-Ignatieff before resigning and sparking the leadership race that put Justin Trudeau at the helm of the party. Until last year, he was president and rector of the Central European University in Budapest.

Ignatieff argued that Canadians are sometimes too conflict-averse to hash out the usual tensions and endure the difficult conversations required in a liberal society, allowing grievances to fester.

“We are very, very highly segmented by race and ethnicity, and by region, and liberalism welcomes pluralism. But it’s not clear that we are communicating to each other very well,” said Ignatieff. “The Canadian problem is that we’ve decided the solution to this problem is to be very, very nice and avoid saying anything that stirs anybody up.”

Whether it’s First Nations blockades about pipeline infrastructure“The 2020 Canadian pipeline and railway protests were a series of civil disobedience protests held in Canada. The main issue behind the protests was the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline (CGL) through 190 kilometres (120 mi) of Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation territory in British Columbia (BC), land that is unceded. Other concerns of the protesters were indigenous land rights, the actions of police, land conservation, and the environmental impact of energy projects.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Canadian_pipeline_and_railway_protests or the trucker protests, Ignatieff argued that these protests demand a response from governments and Canadians whether they like it or not.

“A lot of people don’t like that about liberal democracy, they want a quiet life, they wonder ‘why can’t we all get on?’ Well, the core of a democratic society is contention, argument, debate. And our job is just to keep it from being violent,” said Ignatieff.

Ignatieff also argued that a liberal society should insist on treating people as individuals, rather than relegating them to identity groups.

“A liberal thinks the world is made up not of races, genders, classes, it’s made up of individuals, and human beings matter. They matter one by one,” said Ignatieff. “A liberal puts freedom first, puts freedom ahead of equality, puts freedom ahead of solidarity.”

This differentiates liberals from socialists and social democrats, he argued, and it also differentiates liberal from conservatives because “freedom means changes,” which puts less emphasis on tradition and the past.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine reaching nearly a month of bloody fighting, Ignatieff said it should refocus our thinking on how valuable liberal democratic freedoms and institutions are to the West. The world’s liberal democracies are now facing “world historical competition” from countries like China and Russia, which should remind people how fragile the current order is, argued Ignatieff.

“If you’ve need a little refresher on how non-boring liberal democracy is just listen to Volodymyr Zelenskyy,” said Ignatieff. “We better know what the hell we believe and what the hell we’re prepared to defend.”

His new book On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times contains a series of essays about how great figures in history searched for solace while facing tragedies. Arguing that “the language of consolation has largely vanished from our modern vocabulary” in a secular world, the book tries to help people console themselves and each other in an increasingly less religious age.

“The worst and the hardest thing about suffering and loss and grief is that you feel you’re going through it alone. And I’ve written this book, just to show people that there are so many resources, partly religious, partly secular, that you can turn to when you go through these experiences,” said Ignatieff.

‘People are feeling shattered’: Ontarians are in a fragile state of mind as the election approaches

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In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, political strategists puzzled over how voters might react to an election called while a deadly virus continued to upend Canadian life.

Elections in New Brunswick and British Columbia in 2020 returned big victories for incumbents, suggesting a “rally around the flag” effect for political leaders. In 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau battled the perception that he had called an unnecessary election and limped to the finish line with a minority government and a virtually unchanged seat count.

With the Ontario election less than three months away, we could be in for a new kind of pandemic election as anger and fear ebb away to be replaced by exhaustion and weariness.

Darrell Bricker, the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, said that people likely won’t vote specifically on pandemic policies, but that the mood created by the two-year crisis could permeate the election campaign.

“It’s almost like people are feeling shattered. It’s a different kind of a feeling. It’s not like ‘oh, I’m angry and I’m going to do something.’ They’re feeling not confident, and almost shattered and fragile,” said Bricker, in an interview with the Ontario360 project. “People are feeling like there’s a lot of change going on out there. They’re feeling very uncertain about the future.”

Adding to the uncertainty for Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative Party is that his government’s approval ratings have spiked and plunged erratically during the last two years. Internal polling that gauges whether the government is on the “right track,” have fallen from a high of 82 percent to a recent low of 45 percent during the Omicron wave of COVID-19 in January, according to CBC News. That’s the lowest rating for the government since the beginning of the pandemic.

The government also registered an all-time low for its performance in the economic and government spending metrics. Those are areas that Bricker says are weighing on voters’ minds right now, especially with inflation spiking and gas prices surging.“From rent to clothing to food, the cost of living is rising at the fastest pace in decades and leaving Canadians with reduced purchasing power as wages barely keep up with inflation.” https://www.thestar.com/business/2022/03/15/highest-growth-rates-weve-seen-in-decades-economists-anticipate-surging-consumer-prices-in-coming-months.html

“What’s really become animated in this discussion is everything related to the cost of living,” said Bricker. “It’s primarily with housing, but also with many other aspects of just getting by from day to day.”

Even before the pandemic, people were losing the sense that they could live a better life than their parents and, now, more Canadians feel like it’s impossible to get ahead, said Bricker.

With housing becoming increasingly unaffordableCanada’s housing market is breaking records at an alarming rate and people having children later in lifeWhat Does Canada’s Low Fertility Rate Mean?, often due to cost of living issues, many Canadians aren’t reaching key life milestones as soon as they had hoped.

“The one issue that you can really hold out as being an icon of this is housing, and how people feel about their ability to even buy a house in the neighborhoods that they grew up in and the impossibility of doing that these days,” said Bricker. “We can look at it as the middle class striving to progress, but it’s really where I thought I was going to be in my life versus where I am.”

A recent report by the government’s Housing Affordability Task Force called for more density in urban and suburban areas, a time limit on public consultation for building projects, and fewer municipal policies that stymie new developments. The task force argued that Ontario should aim to build 1.5 million new homes in the next decade.Doug Ford’s housing task force calls for more density, less public consultation

Bricker described these types of policies as technocratic and out of touch with people’s actual aspirations.

“The image that people have in their minds of middle-class success is not living in a swank condo,” said Bricker. “That’s not what they’re imagining their future is going to be. They’re thinking about living a reasonable commuting distance away from downtown Toronto, in a house, a standalone house.”