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Howard Anglin: Canada deserves to be relegated from the G7

Commentary

The saintly editors here at The Hub have agreed to my request to produce one of my two monthly articles for the site as a monthly transatlantic diary. For those readers not familiar with the format, which is more common in British journalism, the diary is a grab bag of short items, sometimes on a common theme, but often not. In my case, what they have in common is that they are either too inconsequential to merit a full article or I can’t be bothered to come up with more than a knee-jerk reaction or a flip comment. This is January.

January

January is my birthday month, and not coincidentally the most depressing month of the year. Across most of Canada, it’s the month when the spark of hope provoked by an unblemished calendar is extinguished by the looming reality of four more months of winter (on the west coast, substitute rain for winter). Here in the U.K., the mood, as well as the weather, is not so just cold but damp. When I arrived for Hilary term, Oxford was floating. The meadows around the city are lakes, and anywhere you can see grass you can be sure it is just the deceptively solid surface of a marsh. We are like a temperate colony of Thesiger’s Marsh Arabs. Walking across Port Meadow in the dark to my birthday dinner, I soaked both shoes and one sock to mid-calf. Fortunately, the fire at The Perch did its job. I’ve no doubt the public health commissars who are determined to stamp out all traditional sources of joy have deemed wood-burning fires a menace; if so, I’m glad the good folk at The Perch are sticking with the old ways for now. The last thing one wants to see entering a pub with two wet feet is the pallid glow of an electric heater.

* * *

I mentioned that the mood in Ye Jolly Olde is dreary, but I should add that that is not an unusual state of affairs. With the exception of the uncharacteristically vulgar effulgence of “Cool Britannia” in the late-1990s, the British mood since it abandoned its imperial ambitions has been ironic resignation, occasionally descending into dignified gloom. Politically speaking, we’re in one of the gloomy periods. No one, not even I suspect most of their MP’s families, is even considering voting for the incumbent Conservatives, but neither does anyone, including most Labour supporters, seem particularly enthusiastic about Labour leader Keir Starmer, who has all the charisma of three-day-old rice pudding. His 20-point lead in the polls is testament to the fact that, as of now, the system offers disaffected voters no other choice. 

* * *

After almost thirteen years of Conservative rule, the country is far less conservative in just about every way imaginable—culturally, socially, legally, religiously, fiscally. About the only good thing that can be said of the party’s tenure is that it corrected a fifty-year-old error by extricating Britain from political entanglement with the corrupt and undemocratic European Union. Otherwise, taxes are up, service is down, strikes are back, and the borders are open. It’s no wonder the Conservatives are facing a generational defeat in the next election. I almost feel sorry for Rishi Sunak, who is like a junior officer promoted to command of a garrison after it’s already been overrun. It’s not his fault the senior officers wasted all the ammunition on hunting parties before being relieved of command for incompetence, but he’s going to be the poor bugger facing the enemy’s spears at close quarters.

* * *

If things weren’t bad enough on the home front, it was recently reported that a “senior U.S. General” had bluntly warned Ben Wallace, the former U.K. minister of defence, that the U.K. military “is no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force.” It makes one wonder what the Americans must think about Canada’s military. I suspect the answer is that they don’t. Yes, the CAF performed impressively in the ill-conceived war in Afghanistan, but instead of building on that experience, consecutive governments have seen defence as a politically-painless source of budget savings. The idea that we might meet our NATO obligation of spending 2 percent of GDP on our military is, at this point, almost unimaginable. 

* * *

Putting on my cynical hat, perhaps the chronic underfunding of the CAF is fine. What are we going to do with a bigger and more capable military anyway? Embroil ourselves in more West African civil wars? Read the government’s description of the pathetically undermanned Mali mission—ironically named Operation Presence (at least someone at DND has a sense of humour)—if you want a laugh. Replacing my cynical hat with my political hat, a new government will need to make the case for the Canadian military before it makes sense to increase spending. What is the CAF for? What, for that matter, is Canada for? Does anyone in Ottawa know? Does anyone in Ottawa care?

* * *

Speaking of Canada’s role in the world, I’ve had the nagging heretical thought for some time that it might not be the worst thing if the G7 started forgetting to invite us to its annual chinwag. By objective measure, we should have been replaced by India a few years ago. The shock of relegation might force Canada’s complacent leadership class to consider whether we have more to offer the world than smug lectures and occasional intemperate press releases from the Pearson Building. As a boy, I had an English teacher whose father was one of the last men offered an hereditary peerage. According to my teacher, his father had opted for a life peerage instead because he knew his son and thought it wouldn’t be good for him to inherit a title. There’s a lesson there. As long as we have a seat at the table, we don’t need to earn it. It doesn’t seem to have hurt Australia, South Korea, or Norway not to be in the G7. It may even have helped them. Maybe it would help Canada too.

* * *

Finally, on a lighter note, I see that a Frasier reboot is in the works, with only Kelsey Grammer returning from the original cast. Although Grammer, with his pitch-perfect Jack Benny eye-roles and sardonic ripostes, was outstanding as the centre around which the more colourful supporting characters revolved, I can’t see the new show being more than sad fan service for aging nostalgics, the TV version of those old bands that still tour without most of the original members. I hope I’m wrong, but if I had the choice, I’d rather see Hollywood make a final season of Boss, for which Grammer won a Golden Globe as a Daley-esque mayor of modern Chicago. The pulp drama was loads of fun but, alas, little-watched.

And so, on to February, which at least has the advantage of being shorter than January.

Steve Lafleur: The rule of law matters too: Lessons from the Freedom Convoy, one year later

Commentary

A year ago, the Convoy rolled into Ottawa. I’ve long been a critic of disruptive left-wing protests. I have had a front-row seat to two of the most disruptive ones in North America where I was shocked by the lengths to which bored teenagers would go to make a point. Smashing a Starbucks didn’t seem like a reasonable way to emphasize how much you hate globalization, nor does throwing soup at paintings to express displeasure with global climate policies. So, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the Convoy.

I’ll admit. I’m biased against disruptive protests. The rule of law underpins modern society. It’s like a bone inside your body: you don’t really notice it unless it breaks, but it holds things together. We live our lives every day knowing that other people will also follow the law—or at least enough of us to keep the world spinning. The idea that you can cause property damage or grind a city to a halt to make a point never made sense to me. 

Needless to say, I was not pleased when the horns started. After weeks of deafening protests by truckers, I’d had enough. Honking might not seem like a big deal, but eventually, it starts to feel like torture. This was the last straw for us. We decided to move out of Downtown Toronto.

Perhaps you guessed it, but that last anecdote wasn’t about the Convoy. It was about the Indian consulate protests in 2021. Every Friday afternoon, trucks would drive through major Toronto streets slowly while wailing their horns, followed by a convoy of supporters. Dump trucks crashing their beds up and down for hours on end was the cherry on top. That sound is etched on my brain. 

We lived just off Bloor Street, across from the Indian consulate. Working from home while deafening noise rattles around in your brain is enough to drive you crazy. Try doing a Zoom call when you can’t hear yourself think. It doesn’t work out so well. The only good thing I can say about the protests is that at least they were only a few hours a week. But it was more than we were willing to put up with.

We moved out of downtown in part to avoid any future protests. We lived in a high-rise building that was built to withstand street traffic. It was not built to withstand this. We figured it wouldn’t be the last protest. Sure enough, along came the Convoy. By that point, we’d left downtown. Ironically, the planned Convoy route cut through my new neighbourhood. 

People who don’t live in Toronto may not realize this, but there were a tense few days when Convoy protests were planned for Toronto. People were really on edge. I bought heavy-duty earplugs. Based on the messages normally even-keeled friends of mine were sending around, I don’t think Torontonians were going to be quite as patient as Ottawans. Especially those with young children. Mercifully, the Toronto police did what the Ottawa police did not: they blocked off major streets in the downtown core to limit disruptions. So it fizzled out. 

Protests are a legitimate part of democratic life. However, there are limits to what anyone will or should accept. No one is going to mind if you go to Queens’ Park or maybe the sidewalk outside of a company you’re mad at. That’s much different than shutting down a street forever because you want to make a political point. 

Part of the problem with debates over the right to protest is that people romanticize the past. People seem to think they can be Martin Luther King without the Birmingham jail. Civil disobedience is no joke. If you feel strongly enough about a law that you are willing to go to jail to call attention to the injustice of the system then, well, you go to jail. The idea that people have the right to cosplay as revolutionaries and occupy a city indefinitely is utter nonsense. 

For those who don’t live in urban centres, ask yourself this: how would you feel if people were allowed to park in front of your house and honk all day while also enjoying police protection?  I imagine you wouldn’t like that. 

There is no right to annoy people. We have bylaws. You can’t make unlimited noise in your house any more than I can open a 24-hour nightclub in a cul-de-sac. Bylaws might go too far sometimes, but we have processes to change those bylaws. You don’t get to just pick and choose which ones you like. That’s what the ballot box is for.

The unusual thing about the Convoy wasn’t the police crackdown but how long it took. Those of us who were in Toronto during the 2010 G-20 protests remember how quickly police are willing to clear the scene under most circumstances. 

Things turned on a dime from marching to fleeing, then. I was chatting with one of the riot police right as the crackdown started and he abruptly turned and told me I had about thirty seconds to leave. It was too late to avoid the teargas by that point. The police might have gone too far. But at some point, protesters have to go home. Whether it was done rightly or not, the streets were cleared and life went on. 

I was also at the 2009 G-20 conference in Pittsburgh (that time as a protester, not an observer). This was ten years after the infamous Battle of Seattle at the G-20 summit in 1999. The police weren’t going to let history repeat itself. I remember crossing the street while a line of armed police repeatedly tapped their shields with their batons to announce their presence. Blackhawk helicopters circled the downtown. It was clear they weren’t messing around. Our little pro-free trade group waved some signs then got out while the going was good. Unsurprisingly, it ended with teargas. By the next day, it was almost as though the protest never happened. I was just a tourist enjoying the city.

At the time of writing there is a large anti-coal protest in Germany. Celebrities like Greta Thunberg are being hauled away by police—gleefully, I’d add. They know what they’re doing. The point of a protest isn’t usually to physically shut something down. It’s usually a glorified photo op that gets sorted out by lawyers afterward. But it gets them on TV. It may be annoying sometimes, but it sorts itself out pretty quickly. Protests aren’t meant to last forever.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with protests. But there are limits. Unless there is a literal coup d’état or the Soviets roll in with tanks, disruptive protests are hard to justify. Moreover, it’s not clear that they achieve anything. Frankly, if they did, it would send a really bad message. 

One of the last things we need as a society is for people to start to think that they can get what they want by smashing things or taking communities hostage. That doesn’t end well.