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Joanna Baron: Canadian politicians have suddenly forgotten how to denounce protestors

Commentary

This past weekend, downtown Ottawa was occupied by a huge crowd of protestors. They danced, shouted angry slogans, banged on drums and created a noisy, inconvenient disruption for local residents and businesses. They even set off smoke bombs, creating hazardous air quality for bystanders and law enforcement.

Sound a bit familiar? Yes, there were some obvious parallels with the Freedom Convoy. But there were also a couple of very big differences. There were many more frightening messages directed at fellow Canadians this time, including “All Zionists are racists” and “All Zionists are degenerates.” 

Another big difference? Near total silence this time from the politicians. Virtually from the outset of the Freedom Convoy’s rumblings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave public appearances to loudly denounce their messages and tactics, decrying them, notoriously, as a “small fringe minority with unacceptable views.”

It wasn’t just Trudeau who loudly expounded on the limits of acceptable opinions during the pandemic. Progressive Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford famously called those protesting against lockdowns outside Queen’s Park “selfish” and a “bunch of yahoos.” 

So where, then, are Trudeau and other politicians including Doug Ford, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, or Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe now that the protesters are behaving far worse?

I’m not talking about those engaging in peaceful protests. In the days following the October 7th massacre of Israeli civilians, I wrote an op-ed here defending the right of pro-Palestinian and even pro-Hamas individuals to peacefully gather. Their expression is protected by the constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free speech, and I believe it is in the long-term interests of both the Jewish community and a free society as a whole to embrace maximally open discourse where we counter bad speech with better speech rather than the criminal law.

But vandalizing Jewish-owned businesses, targeting Jewish hospitals, intimidating Jewish people taking their kids to daycare, blockading overpasses in Jewish neighbourhoods, firebombing Jewish community centres, calling for violence in front of synagogues and protesting in front of the Holocaust Memorial Centre—all of which we have seen continuously since October 7th—must be denounced, publicly, in the strongest terms. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators can no longer plausibly deny that their movement is thoroughly contaminated with hateful antisemitism. Those who naively argue this type of behaviour is benign should read up on some of the events in Germany in 1938. 

Most troubling is the complete lack of serious engagement with this obvious growing extremism by many of our supposed leaders, and their refusal to delineate bright lines between acceptable protest and direct incitements to violence.

There hasn’t been a trace of moral clarity from the federal government. Instead, we get statements that seem to have been spat out by a bot programmed with the Liberals’ increasingly dismal electoral math and concern about losing votes from those who despise Israel. It is entirely spineless to mention Islamophobia any time antisemitism is uttered considering that it is only synagogues and Jewish businesses that have been regularly targeted with harassing protests and attacks since October 7th.  

Trudeau’s favourite platitude that “this is not what we do here in Canada” rings hollow in the face of consistent and overwhelming evidence that for some Canadians, like it or not, it is.

People protest in support of Palestine in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press.

In some instances, the hate has been obviously inspired by Jihadism. Last week, protestors at a Montreal synagogue jeered at pro-Israel counter-protestors declaring that “every single tree and rock that you guys are going to touch will surely be free.” This was a coded call for violence and a reference to a long-standing antisemitic Hadith that is repeated in Article 7 of Hamas’ charter: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.”

If Trudeau wants to push back against this hatred and intimidation, he might look across the pond to U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for an example of what a modicum of moral clarity might look like. It took five months of central London being overrun every weekend with protestors calling for “intifada” (violent uprising) and the election of the odious anti-Semite George Galloway as MP in Rochdale for Sunak earlier this month to finally grow enough of a backbone to explain to the public that there are limits to even the most expansive version of free speech. 

“Yes, you can march with passion. But no, you cannot call for violent jihad,” Sunak declared outside 10 Downing. Sunak’s address was light on policy proposals, but he drew a clear line for protesters and police: calling for violence crosses the line.

Sunak’s speech was met with cynicism from both sides. In the conservative U.K. Spectator, Gavin Mortimer wrote, “the sceptic might wonder why it’s taken the Prime Minister until now to face up to the fact that many Jews do not feel safe in the British capital. Those same sceptics are entitled to think that despite Sunak’s vow to ‘implement a new robust framework’ to tackle extremism, nothing will change.” On the left, a Green MP called Sunak’s speech “a masterclass in gaslighting” and added that “his performance made a new art form of rank hypocrisy.”

And yet, compared to the complete abdication of leadership in Canada, Sunak’s intervention feels courageous. In a democracy, we need our leaders to engage in public reasoning, persuasion, and line drawing. Their cowardice has enabled moral depravity to thrive in our midst. It’s past time for them to forcefully speak out.

Ginny Roth: Don’t mistake Poilievre’s big business broadsides for an anti-growth agenda

Commentary

A striking scene took place last Friday—one that doesn’t typically generate much buzz for being an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence: a Canadian conservative addressing a chamber of commerce. But speaking with the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Pierre Poilievre admitted that this was the first chamber of commerce or board of trade that he has met with since becoming the Conservative Party leader 18 months ago. In contrast, he said that he has visited five local union halls and 110 “shop floors” in that time.

His message matched the overall tone he has adopted towards big business in his time as leader—which is to say he was not afraid to mince words in criticizing “utterly useless” corporate lobbyists and the business leaders who fail to stand up for workers.

Rather, he claimed that if he becomes prime minister his “daily obsession” will be to advance the interests of the “working-class” people of this country.

What is behind the strident rhetoric? And does this signal a fundamental shift in the Conservative Party’s adherence to free-market principles?

To answer the first question first, astute political observers have recently homed in on the dismal state of Canada’s GDP per capita. They rightly point out that the powerful statistic is one of the best measures of how individuals and families are experiencing the economy. And as far as it goes, things aren’t looking good. As Pierre Poilievre might put it, people don’t just need jobs, they need powerful paycheques. And when the cost of living is rising as the economy falters, Canadians’ paycheques are feeling…weak.

But as prognosticators begin to chart out what the potential future prime minister would do about the economy, this focus by him and many of his new candidates on cost-of-living—sometimes pejoratively described as economic populism—is leading many to worry that when it comes to governing, he’ll put sloganeering before sound economic principles. They’re concerned he’ll sacrifice solid financial management at the altar of political pandering, avoiding unpopular decisions and attacking, maybe even penalising, the very drivers of economic growth. 

It’s true that Poilievre’s economic policy is likely to be influenced by recent global trends and new externalities—from the rise of China as a bad-faith trading partner to the impact of new technologies on work and culture. And there’s no question that Poilievre’s campaign messaging isn’t especially friendly to the corporate class. But a plan that isn’t tied to real people’s experience of the economy is worthless.

Poilievre and his team are responding to almost a decade of political decision-making that saw workers with weakening paycheques and consumers with rising costs play second fiddle to virtue signalling global climate deals, and climbing taxes, regulations, and winner-picking corporate welfare. For them, fighting for workers means restoring the conditions in which free enterprise can flourish by restoring the baseline conditions for fair dealing. Poilievre may campaign like an economic populist, but when it comes down to it, he’ll govern like a modern fiscal conservative.

It’s hard to blame Canada’s business community for feeling trepidatious about what’s to come. More than a year into his leadership, Poilievre made sure to remind Bay Street executives at a C.D. Howe lunch that he wasn’t all that interested in spending his time meeting with them. Just last week his newest star member of Parliament, Jamil Jivani, took the opportunity in his victory speech to warn “liberal elites” in business to get their priorities straight and worry less about DEI and more about their workers.

It’s not that this commentary is mere rhetoric. Indeed, Poilievre and Jivani are quite serious about the priorities they’re setting. But rather than assuming a focus on these themes will lead to economic interventionism, it’s worth thinking through what underpins them. 

Conservatives know that for wages to go up and prices to go down or stop growing so fast (in other words, to get at that pesky GDP-per-capita problem), our economy needs to grow—especially if our population continues to grow. Left-wing populists may believe the best way to make one person’s piece of the pie bigger is to make another’s smaller, but conservatives—even pro-worker conservatives—understand that the better approach is to make the pie bigger. To make matters more complicated, much of what anemic growth we have had in Canada has been a result of our housing bubble, which Poilievre and his team are planning to help deflate.

Finally, the Conservatives want to “fix the budget.” It’s the third of their top four priorities if you assume their slogans are indicative. And while any meaningful path to balance will include finding savings, more importantly, it will involve driving revenue through economic growth, which, for a frequent Milton Friedman quoter, is going to have to come from lower taxes and deregulation. In other words, Poilievre won’t be able to achieve the Canada that he wants for workers and consumers without growth-oriented, traditionally pro-business policies.

There will no doubt be instances—like weighing whether to approve a merger or takeover or deciding whether to legislate workers back to their jobs—where free market principles will have to be weighed against competing common goods like national security or labour rights. And of course, if a company’s idea of pro-business policy is for the government to preserve protected regulatory status, tax treatment, or a funding envelope, then that is an argument for crony capitalism, not a growth agenda. Business leaders may need to come to terms with not being the heroes of a potential Poilievre government’s economic story.

After all, prioritizing the interests of a small elite is part of how our country got into this mess. But casual watchers should not mistake Poilievre’s distaste for corporate Canada’s trendier priorities with a fundamental discomfort with free market capitalism. In fact, it’s the opposite. For Poilievre, fiscal conservatism and economic populism aren’t incompatible, they’re a match made in heaven.