Are trucker protests start of Canadian populism? AFP report

AFP , Thursday 10 Feb 2022

Pro-Trump flags, angry rhetoric and claims that Canada is turning communist -- strong right-wing views among some at the trucker-led protests could grow into a new populist movement, say experts.

Truckers and supporters block the access leading from the Ambassador Bridge, linking Detroit and Windsor, as truckers and their supporters continue to protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions, in Windsor, Ont., Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. AP

Unlike in Europe and the United States, populist ideas have never managed break through in Canada during elections.

But the trucker demonstration, which has been occupying the streets of the capital Ottawa for two weeks and blocking border crossings, could be a first step.

"It's an opportunist coalition, because they don't have much in common (but) they reject democratic institutions and are targeting (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau," said Daniel Beland, politics professor at McGill University in Montreal.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has analyzed the movement, originally dubbed "Freedom Convoy," saying "if you look at its organizers and promoters, you'll find Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and incitements to violence."

Among the organizers, there are members of the nascent fringe Maverick Party, which has called for oil-rich Alberta province to secede from the rest of Canada.

It is led by Tamara Lich, one of the protest organizers who launched an online fundraising campaign that brought in 10 million Canadian dollars before it was shut down by GoFundMe.

Another group behind the protest is Canada Unity, founded by James Bauder, who has publicly endorsed the QAnon movement and called Covid-19 "the biggest political scam in history."

'Wipe (liberals) out completely'

Played down at the start by Trudeau as a "fringe minority," the protest group has mushroomed and drawn significant financial support.

It has also attracted people who are not usually political, but are simply tired of two years of lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions among the strictest in the world.

The movement have been boosted support of US Republicans, from Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who called the protesters "heroes" and "patriots," to former president Donald Trump.

"We never expected this to go beyond a couple of hundreds trucks. And now, we've somehow created a worldwide wave," said Lloyd Brubacher, a self-proclaimed "extreme rightist" and Trump admirer.

Determined to "fight to the bitter end, no matter the outcome," he voted for the Conservative Party in the last elections but now finds them too centrist.

Bernhard Rempel, 55, from Manitoba hopes to overthrow Trudeau's Liberal government. "I want to wipe them out completely. That's what I'm standing for," he told AFP.

With a sprinkling of religious references, Rempel, who is unvaccinated, added "we don't need a government to control us and to condemn us. We need a leader that leads us."

In last September's election, he backed the People's Party of Canada (PPC), a right-wing party led by former Tory minister Maxime Bernier, who railed against vaccine passports, immigration and Canada's vaunted multiculturalism.

It got almost five percent of votes cast, but failed to win a seat in Parliament.

Reshaping Canada politics?

"This movement is now well-funded, has executed a successful operation and earned the support of some politicians," said Stephanie Carvin, a Carleton University international relations professor in Ottawa, noting its effective use of social media.

Their impact is already being felt on the Canadian political landscape.

Outside parliament, truckers cheered last week when main opposition Conservative leader Erin O'Toole was ousted for having tracked the party too close to the political centre to try to appeal to mainstream voters, leaving MPs divided.

He was also accused of waffling in his support for the protesters.

"In the future, will they be able to do the same and galvanise people around issues that can command the same attention? It's hard to say," Carvin said of the protesters.

"But there is the potential to change the Canadian political landscape out of this in the years to come if the organizers, who have historically been pretty fractious, can keep themselves together."

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