The depth of Freedom Convoyers’ discontent is misunderstood

It’s easy to dismiss motives of supporters of the Freedom Convoy that paralyzed Canada’s capital last January. Their grievances seem so inchoate, like a primal howl.

image: Vox

There must have been more to it than a lark; more than a fun time in bringing Ottawa to a standstill and blocking the Ambassador Bridge to the U.S. for six days resulting in a loss of $3 billion in trade.

What motivated so many to give up their time, energy and resources? They were so determined. The media’s reporting on their behaviour has been largely empty of meaningful explanations.

Some of the supporters felt that vaccine mandates were an imposition on their freedom; others wanted Prime Minster Trudeau to resign.

That’s all superficial -their anger is deep-seated.

Many Canadians supported the sheer audacity of the convoy. In a survey taken during the occupation of Ottawa, nearly half (46%) of Canadians said that while they “may not agree with everything the people who have taken part in the truck protests in Ottawa have said but their frustration is legitimate and worthy of our sympathy.”

The highest support came from18-34-year-olds (61 per cent) and Conservative voters (59 per cent).

A year later, support for the freedom convoy is still substantial at 25 per cent. Prime Minister Trudeau dismissed them as a “fringe group.” Some fringe.

In an attempt to explain the deep support for the freedom convoy, Conservative leader Poilievre offered:

“I don’t like the flags, and I don’t like the rage,” said Poilievre in response to former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s tweet. “But I think we have to ask ourselves: ‘Why are people so angry?’ And the answer is that they are hurting.”

Poilievre was responding to O’Toole’s wish for fewer ‘f–k Trudeau’ flags. ‘These flags and the hyper-aggressive rhetoric that often accompanies them are slowly normalizing rage and damaging our democracy,” said O’Toole.

Indeed, we have to ask “Why are people so angry?” as Poilievre suggests. But his answer “that they are hurting,” doesn’t go deep enough.

Freedom convoy supporters are hurting because they feel disconnected and betrayed to society.

They are lashing out in a way they have seen effective. American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has attributed Donald Trump’s improbable rise to the U.S. presidency in 2016 to his mastery of the dynamics “in which outrage is the key to virality, stage performance crushes competence.”

The roots of these new forces are complex but ultimately laid bare by the collapse of shared prosperity and inclusive economics says pollster Frank Graves:

“Those drawn to this new movement are most likely to be males under the age of 50 who are lacking university educations and are experiencing an erosion of social status. They are dramatically more likely to lean toward an authoritarian, or ordered, populist outlook, be dramatically less trusting of institutions such as government, media, academics and other professionals, dramatically more disinformed – and they are also dramatically more economically insecure.”

For freedom convoy supporters, the middle-class dream has collapsed – the dream of doing better than their parents, buying a home, retiring with a pension and having their children inherit a secure middle-class future.

In the winter of their discontent, recognition of a lost future is the key to understanding their visceral anger.


Poilievre repeats misinformation about B.C.’s safe drug supply

I just watched Conservative leader Poilievre’s tacky video set in front of a tent city in Vancouver. For dramatic effect, his video is interspersed with drive-by shots of street people. Grainy effects, except when Poilievre speaks, are added to provide a supposed gritty vérité.

image: The Hill Times

He makes sweeping statements in which he claims these people in the background are hooked on drugs. And some probably are.

But it’s more likely they are homeless because they have no homes: they can’t afford to buy and the rents are outrageous.

Rather than exploit the homeless as props for his populist rant, he could explain just who the homeless are. Rather than characterizing them as drug users, he could tell the truth but that wouldn’t suit his sensationalized video. The fact is that Vancouver’s homeless are overrepresented by indigenous Canadians and racial minorities.

The sad reality is that the homeless are victims of racial discrimination.

Despite accounting for only 2.5 per cent of Vancouver’s population, Indigenous people make up one-third of all those experiencing homelessness.

He could point out that Blacks and Latin Americans are disproportionately represented among the Vancouver’s homeless population.

But no, Poilievre prefers to ignore the racial and Indigenous discrimination represented by the tent city in his seedy video. He exploits those already discriminated by further tarring them all as drug addicts.

Poilievre spouts more populist drivel when he claims and that the “tax funded” safe supply of drugs is a failed experiment.

The opposite is true.

Prescribing drug addicts a safe supply of drugs saves tax dollars. The drugs are far cheaper than the cost of policing and to our health care system of treating addicts who overdose.

In fact, no one has died from a drug overdose at a safe consumption site. The BC Coroners Service looked into illicit drug toxicity deaths between 2012 and 2022 and found that no one had died of an overdose at a supervised consumption site. They said there was “no indication” they were contributing to the rise in narcotic-related fatalities. In fact, 56 per cent of overdose deaths in B.C. this year happened in private residences.

The safe supply of drugs to addicts saves lives because it lowers the rates of overdose and reduces in the use of fentanyl and other street drugs. It reduces the cost to the taxpayer of health care for addicts through reduced hospital admissions and emergency room visits. It improves connections to care and treatment for people who have not had support services in the past. The safe supply of drugs reduces police costs by decreasing criminal activity.

Poilievre adds to his misinformation but saying that injection sites are also to blame. B.C.’s safe injection sites do not use “tax paid drugs.” Users bring their own drugs and staff stand by in case of a bad reaction.

B.C. is leading the country in fighting the stupid laws that led to the problem in the first place.

Starting in January, 2023, adults in B.C. will not be arrested or charged for the possession of up to 2.5 grams of opioids (including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl), cocaine (including crack and powder cocaine), methamphetamine (meth) and MDMA (ecstasy).

Drug abuse is a medical issue. Shame on Poilievre for exploiting the homeless and spreading misinformation.

Poilievre’s new voodoo economics

Pierre Poilievre has gripped the Conservative Party in a way that no other Conservative leader has since Stephen Harper.

image: library of congress

But if he wants to seize power of the government of Canada, he better get real about economics.

His love of cryptocurrency denies the fact that they are not viable currencies and are a dubious investment. There’s his threat to make central bankers walk the plank. His clever “Just-inflation” slogan is just too cute.

His vague grip on economics smacks of U.S. president Reagan’s supply-side economics. Reagan’s “trickle down” theory was bogus. In response to a prolonged period of economic stagflation Reagan called for widespread tax cuts, the deregulation of domestic markets, lower government spending, and a tightening of the money supply to combat inflation.

Reagan believed that the savings generated by companies from corporate tax cuts would trickle down to the rest of the economy, spurring growth. He also assumed that companies would eventually pay more taxes, boosting the government’s coffers. Get real.

Before becoming president, George H.W. Bush derided Reagan’s economic delusions as “voodoo economics.”

Even when Poilievre sticks to the traditional Conservative line of reducing inflation and the budget deficit, he’s out to lunch.

It’s pretty hard to argue that the Bank of Canada is pursuing a policy that ignores inflation. In the past six months, it has raised its key interest rate five times, by a total of three full percentage points. Poilievre hasn’t noticed, or prefers not to notice, that the Bank of Canada is perusing one of the most aggressive efforts to quell inflation in the bank’s history.

Poilievre wants to tighten the money supply too. He argues that the Bank of Canada is “printing money” through quantitative easing. That claim is so yesterday.

While the central bank’s balance sheet swelled by an astounding $450-billion in the first year of the pandemic, since then the balance sheet has shrunk by more than $140billion. Our existing central bankers are doing precisely what Mr. Poilievre prescribes.

The new Conservative leader wants to dump the governor of the Bank of Canada. In other words, he wants to politicize the very institution that should remain at arm’s length from elected governments. He wants to copy the disastrous effect that politicizing government institutions has had in the U.S.

“Meanwhile, the fiscal deficit has also gone into full-speed reverse,” says business reporter David Parkinson, “helped by a combination of a rapid economic recovery, tax windfalls from strong commodity prices and soaring corporate profits, and inflation (which, it turns out, does have some positive uses) provided an enormous $47-billion improvement over the same period a year earlier (September 19 Globe and Mail).”

Gross domestic product, which is a measure of total economic activity including inflation, is on pace to come in about $300-billion higher than the government assumed this year.

The Bank of Canada is doing a good job of fighting inflation and reducing the deficit, something Poilievre seems unaware of.

Poilievre’s populist appeal has propelled him into an enviable position of having won the leadership of the Conservative Party. But he’s going to have to move beyond his new Voodoo economics to form the next government.