Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Erin O’Toole takes a big gamble by supporting truck drivers

A man holds a Canadian flag and points at a sign prior to the departure of trucks from Kingston to Ottawa in Kingston, Ontawa on January 28.Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is taking the biggest gamble of her political life by rolling into Ottawa with truckers to protest against the vaccine mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions. That support can propel his leadership, or overwhelm it. He is ready to take that chance.

“The mood is changing,” Mr O’Toole said in an interview on Friday. He believes Canadians are feeling uncomfortable at the thought of losing their jobs and being ostracized from society.

“There’s a big difference between ‘I can’t go to a movie or a hockey game’ and ‘I’m going to lose my house,'” he said. “The line I’ve drawn is that no one should lose their jobs if we can accommodate them.”

Many, including this author, believe that those who refuse vaccines put the rest of us at risk, and there must be consequences. In coming to his rescue, especially in defense of protesting truck drivers and his supporters, Mr O’Toole risks his own political future.

Police trucked convoys arrive in Ottawa as they prepare for ‘important’ protest on Parliament Hill

Why a vaccine-mandated truck driver convoy called the Freedom Rally is driving across Canada

Truckers are not coming to Ottawa to protest new federal border crossing restrictions. Americans have imposed similar restrictions. They are coming to vent their anger against the lockdown, masks, passports, mandatory vaccination for essential staff and all other restrictions that we have put on and off over the past two years.

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“Truckers have been our heroes, period,” said Mr. O’Toole in a Video Released Thursday evening. “Canada does not function as a trading nation without them.” But most truck drivers, Canadians and Americans, are vaccinated and can cross the border freely. Mr. O’Toole is throwing his lot with the refusers.

The Conservative leader portrays the protesters as a distressed minority under attack from a tyrannical majority. But these truckers and their supporters are not some persecuted religious or linguistic or ethnic sect that needs protection from the mob.

By refusing to vaccinate, they are asserting their rights on the rights of patients who are in dire need of cancer or heart surgery but who must wait because the ICU is full of largely uninfected people. They jeopardize the mental and physical health of doctors and nurses who must care for seriously ill people. They put everyone around them in danger.

Elections are won and lost among middle-class suburban voters. It’s hard to imagine Mr O’Toole’s support for a victory without vaccination over many of those voters, and it’s easy to imagine that it alienates most of them. Conservative leaders know this.

“The pandemic and the measures are particularly challenging for conservative parties,” he said. “We are a party to individual freedom, responsibility, limited state encroachment in your life. And in the pandemic, there has been some degree of encroachment, and it is hard to find balance.”

He believes the wise solution is to encourage vaccination while relying on testing rather than mandates to keep work and the community safe. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and most premiers prefer stronger measures, and polls show the public agrees.

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The split within the Conservative Party reflects the division within the country.

Erin O’Toole’s days as Conservative leader seem numbered

The cynic may assume that conservative leaders are merely trying to topple their own party’s opponents. Former leader Andrew Scheer, deputy leader Candice Bergen, finance critic Pierre Poiliver, MPs Leslyn Lewis and Mark Strahl and many others have declared their solidarity with the protesters. Many of them also publicly or privately oppose the continued leadership of the Durham MP.

Is Mr O’Toole hoping to accommodate conservative populists who have grown impatient with his more progressive stances on the environment and minority rights by catering to anti-Semitism? He refused.

He speaks of a “bright red line” from the election campaign to the present day in which he has consistently encouraged vaccination, testing and other forms of protection, while opposing vaccine mandates.

“Try to accommodate people so that they don’t lose their livelihood, because your livelihood is part of your identity, is for your family, is for your loved ones,” he said.

We may be nearing the end of the pandemic phase of COVID-19. By spring, many restrictions could be lifted and life could more or less return to normal.

When it’s all over, will people remember Erin O’Toole as the leader who supported the rights and freedoms of all Canadians, or as the man who sided with truck drivers?

we will see.

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Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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