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.
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.