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Freedom, politics, control and money — the many motivations of the ‘Freedom Convoy’

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Months before thousands of protesters rolled into Canada’s capital with the “Freedom Convoy,” gridlocking streets to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Canada Unity founder James Bauder had already staged a similar, but much smaller, protest in Ottawa.

Bauder’s mini-convoy of fewer than 100 protesters, called the “Convoy for Freedom,” arrived in October 2021 to flout public health rules in stores and restaurants and blockade streets in front of the residences of the prime minister and governor general.

On Thursday, he told the commission investigating the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act that he delivered a “memorandum of understanding” to the Senate and the Governor General on that trip. His hope was that they would agree to work with his group to overthrow COVID-19 measures and ask the prime minister to step down for “committing treason and crimes against humanity.”

“Had thousands vs. 100 shown up we would still be there and most likely the MOU would have gotten the much-needed pressure tactic we were seeking,” Bauder wrote to supporters on his Facebook page in December.

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Only a few weeks later, Bauder told the public inquiry, he  was working with a loose group of organizers who had never met one another to bring a much larger crowd of protesters to Ottawa.

Overpowering the authority of the elected government was just one of the disparate goals of the demonstrators, the inquiry has heard during a week of testimony from convoy organizers.

They have said that some of the participants simply wanted to be heard, while others were looking for a larger platform — and still others wanted to get their hands on the millions of dollars donated to support the cause.

James Bauder appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, on Thursday, Nov 3, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Public Order Emergency Commission is tasked with examining the Liberal government’s unprecedented decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to help clear protesters who were using vehicles to block the streets around Parliament Hill last winter.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a public order emergency on Feb. 14, more than two weeks after protesters entrenched themselves in downtown Ottawa.

“Protesters have varying ideological grievances with demands ranging from an end to all public health restrictions to overthrow the elected government,” the government said as it cited justifications for invoking the act.

Bauder’s memorandum, which he withdrew on Feb. 8, garnered about 400,000 signatures of support from the public, he told the inquiry. Bauder has been charged with mischief to obstruct property, disobeying a lawful court order and obstructing a peace officer in relation to the protest.

He was emotional during his testimony, breaking down in tears several times along with some of his supporters in the gallery.

Divisions within ‘Freedom Convoy’ leadership

Brendan Miller, a lawyer who represents some of the convoy organizers at the inquiry, said Canada Unity has never called for any form of violence and never called for the violent overthrow of the government of Canada.

Several of the other organizers have testified that they did not agree with Bauder’s memorandum, though at least one organizer signed it.

It wasn’t the only example of convoy organizers having clashing motives.

Another of the protest’s spokespeople, Benjamin Dichter, told the commission earlier Thursday that even the lawyer representing a core group of organizers appeared to have his own agenda.

“There were many different groups, right? It wasn’t just one group, and every different group had their own idea,” he said, adding that all participants agreed on ending COVID-19 mandates.

Benjamin Dichter appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov 3, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He told the commission he believed the lawyer, Keith Wilson, may have had political motivations, though he didn’t offer any details.

“We were all converging on the idea of ArriveCan and the mandates, but he seemed to be representing another group that wanted to go in a different direction,” Dichter said.

On Wednesday, Wilson, who represents Tamara Lich and other convoy organizers, testified that when he arrived in Ottawa during the protest, it became clear to him that several groups were jockeying for influence.

“What I observed and believed to be true is that some were trying to take control, because they saw the organic flat hierarchy, largely, of the convoy and wanted to make it more successful and felt they had the organizational capability to do that,” Wilson told the commission.

“Other groups seemed to want to reshape the Freedom Convoy into their own event, branded theirs, and I got the distinct impression from some others that they were trying to get their hands on what, at that point, was $10 million in donations.”

Tamara Lich attends the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov 3, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Lich, who is perhaps the most recognizable of the organizers, told the inquiry late Thursday that she joined the “Freedom Convoy” after failing to get a response from members of Parliament she emailed about ending COVID-19 restrictions.

“I was growing increasingly alarmed with the mandates and the harm that I was seeing the mandates inflict on Canadians,” she said.

“I never in a million years saw this coming and never had an agenda. I literally just wanted to help some truckers drive across Canada and stand in front of Parliament with some signs. That was literally what I had envisioned.”

More organizers and protest participants are expected to testify, including Jeremy MacKenzie, the founder of the online group known as “Diagolon.”

MacKenzie, who will appear virtually before the commission from jail where he is being held on unrelated charges, petitioned for a ban on the publication of his evidence on the grounds that his testimony could adversely affect his defence against those criminal charges.

The petition was opposed by several other participants in the public inquiry, as well as a consortium of media outlets that includes The Canadian Press.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau has dismissed the petition and MacKenzie has been summoned to appear Friday. The commission is set to hold public hearings in Ottawa until Nov. 25.

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Canadian and American Politics – Leger – Leger

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THIS SURVEY EXPLORES CANADIANS’ AND AMERICANS’ PERSPECTIVES ON CANADIAN AND AMERICAN POLITICS. 

Our latest North American Tracker explores Canadians’ and Americans’ perspectives on Canadian and American politics

It examines Canadians’ federal voting intentions and Americans’ approval of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.  

Download the report for the full results.  

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This survey was conducted in collaboration with the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) and published in the Canadian Press. This series of surveys is available on Leger’s website. 

Would you like to be the first to receive these results? Subscribe to our newsletter now. 


CANADIAN POLITICS 

  • The Conservatives and Liberals are tied: if a federal election were held today, 34% of Canadian decided voters would vote for Pierre Poilievre’s CPC and the same proportion would vote for Justin Trudeau’s LPC. 
voting intentions in Canada

AMERICAN POLITICS 

  • 42% of Americans approve of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president. 
  • 40% of Americans approve of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice-president.  

METHODOLOGY 

This web survey was conducted from January 20 to 22, 2023, with 1,554 Canadians and 1,005 Americans, 18 years of age or older, randomly recruited from LEO’s online panel. 

A margin of error cannot be associated with a non-probability sample in a panel survey. For comparison, a probability sample of 1,554 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.49%, 19 times out of 20, while a probability sample of 1,005 respondents would have a margin of error of ±3.09%, 19 times out of 20. 

THIS REPORT CONTAINS THE RESULTS FOR THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AND MORE! 

  • If federal elections were held today, for which political party would you be most likely to vote?  Would it be for…?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president?
  • Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way Kamala Harris is handling her job as vice president?​

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Legault won’t celebrate 25 years in politics

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Premier François Legault does not intend to celebrate his 25-year political career this year.

He became Minister of Industry in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government on Sept. 23, 1998, but was elected on Nov. 30 of the same year as the representative for L’Assomption, the riding in which he is still a member.

In a news conference on Friday at the end of a caucus meeting of his party’s elected officials in a Laval hotel, the CAQ leader said that neither he nor his party had any intention of celebrating this anniversary.

“I don’t like these things,” he said.

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He pointed out that he is still younger than the former dean of the National Assembly, François Gendron. And smiling, he alluded to the U.S. President.

“I’m quite a bit younger than Mr. Biden, apart from that!” he said.

Legault is 65 years old, while the President is 80.

However, Legault is now the dean of the House. According to recent data, he has served as an elected official for 20 years, 6 months, and 27 days so far.

The premier was quick to add, however, that he has taken a break from politics.

He resigned on June 24, 2009 as a member of the Parti Québécois (PQ), then in opposition. But he was elected as an MNA and leader of the then-new Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) on Sept. 4, 2012.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Jan. 27, 2023.

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Federal party leaders stake out political turf ahead of Parliament’s return

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre greet each other as they gather in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2022.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau called on his MPs to rally together to confront the country’s economic and health care crises, as Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the Prime Minister has already missed the mark and should get out of the way.

In competing speeches to their caucuses on Parliament Hill on Friday, the two leaders set the agendas for their parties heading into the winter sitting of Parliament and disparaged their opponents – a sign of the tone to come in the House of Commons.

According to Mr. Trudeau, the Conservative Leader exploits people’s anger and fears and twists facts for personal gain. Mr. Poilievre said the Prime Minister turns a blind eye to people’s suffering and dodges responsibility while leaving the country worse off.

Apart from the blistering attacks, both leaders focused much of their speeches on the same issue: the rising cost of living that is pushing households to the brink.

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“These are difficult times,” Mr. Trudeau said at the outset of his speech, which struck a sombre tone. He rolled out a new slogan for the governing Liberals: “Meet the moment.” The Prime Minister repeated the phrase several times, urging his MPs to rise to the challenge of strained health care systems and pinched pocketbooks.

“These are difficult times, but that’s why our Liberal team has decided to work even harder,” Mr. Trudeau said, promising a future with secure jobs, “where everyone has a real and fair chance of success.”

Mr. Poilievre made a similar pitch, speaking of a country where it doesn’t matter who you know, but rather what you can do. But the Conservative Leader struck a much more aggressive tone than Mr. Trudeau, launching into a scorching assessment of the Prime Minister’s tenure. He mentioned the country’s crime rates, its rising cost of living, its drug overdoses and its chaotic airports.

“Everything feels broken,” Mr. Poilievre said, adding the Prime Minister “gets very angry when I talk about these problems. He thinks that if we don’t speak about them out loud that Canadians will forget that they exist.”

While lobbyists and consultants have “never had it so good,” Mr. Poilievre said, other people are suffering. “There is pain in the faces you do not see,” he added, addressing Mr. Trudeau, who was not present.

Last year, The Globe and Mail reported that the total value of federal outsourcing contracts had climbed 74 per cent since Mr. Trudeau took office, from $8.1-billion in 2015 to $14.7-billion in 2022.

Turning one of Mr. Trudeau’s past slogans against him, Mr. Poilievre said: “You told us that ‘better was always possible.’ And yet everything is worse, and you blame everyone else.”

For his part, the Prime Minister lambasted Mr. Poilievre for pushing cryptocurrencies, which the Conservative Leader had championed as an investment that would help people “opt out of inflation,” just months before the crypto crash.

Mr. Trudeau also defended his government’s record, saying new child care spending means that higher mortgage payments are being offset by lower daycare costs, and that spending on the clean economy is creating new jobs.

Mr. Trudeau said the Liberal vision “could not be more different” from that of “politicians like Mr. Poilievre, who have no real solutions to offer, and who just try to exploit the anger and concerns that people do have.”

“It’s just plain wrong when you twist the facts, or make things up for political gain. That’s not responsible leadership,” he said of Mr. Poilievre.

Heading into the second year of his second minority government, Mr. Trudeau also floated the prospect of another election, telling his MPs to be “ready for anything.”

Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, said the Conservative Leader is already more polarizing than his predecessors were at the same times in their tenures. Mr. Poilievre has significant negatives among key voting demographics, including women and Quebeckers, she said.

Polling on the different leaders’ characteristics shows just how polarizing both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Poilievre are, Ms. Kurl added. Liberal voters view the Conservative Leader the same way Conservative voters view the Liberal Leader. “It’s like they’re on different planets,” she said.

For example, polling released by her firm last year showed that Conservatives describe Mr. Trudeau as arrogant, dishonest and uncaring. Meanwhile, Liberals describe Mr. Poilievre as arrogant, bullying and dishonest.

Polling released Friday by Leger for the Canadian Press showed the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 34-per-cent vote intention, the NDP sitting in third at 19 per cent and the Bloc Québécois at 7 per cent.

Neither Mr. Trudeau nor Mr. Poilievre mentioned NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh at all in their speeches. Mr. Singh ended the week in Victoria, where he told reporters he had heard from people feeling squeezed on housing costs and unable to access health care.

He said more health care workers need to be recruited, properly compensated and trained. And he said expanding for-profit health care services, as Ontario and Alberta have proposed doing, will only exacerbate staffing shortages.

“While the Prime Minister has been applauding private, for-profit delivery in Ontario, and not taking the crisis seriously, the Conservative Leader, Pierre Poilievre, has also been cheering on the privatization and for-profit clinics that make things worse,” Mr. Singh said.

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