Janet Bufton on the Canadian Truckers’ Protest

Yesterday, a libertarian friend in Ottawa, Janet Bufton, posted an article on the truckers’ protest. It’s titled “Canada’s Freedom Convoy Is Undermining the Cause of Freedom.”

She makes some of the points I made in my critique of the protestors closing down the Ambassador Bridge. But she goes into much more detail, probably because she lives in Ottawa, about some of the goings on. She has the advantage of local knowledge. Some of the goings on are not pretty.

I recommend that you read her post.

Here’s one excerpt:

Meanwhile, truckers have taken to blaring their horns in shifts from early morning until late at night. They stopped for four days last week after a court injunction, only to resume again in defiance of the injunction. They’ve heckled pedestrians, harassed homeless shelters, encouraged supporters to overwhelm 911 lines, and closed downtown retail stores and restaurants. And, of course, there have been multiple border blockades, including one where some protesters were heavily armed.

Janet argues that a group called Canada Unity planned the convoy even before PM Justin Trudeau imposed a vaccine mandate, which he had said in May 2021 he would never do (go to the 10:00 point in the video), on truckers. She seems to think that this makes the convoy suspect. That might be right. But there’s another way of thinking about it. Imagine truckers and others who really are genuine fans of freedom and are looking for a way to express it visibly. They hear about this convoy. They decide to participate. So their own sincerity is not at issue. A crucial question is “What percent of the protestors are genuine believers in freedom and what percent are people with a very different agenda?” Janet doesn’t address this.

She ends by writing:

Sticking up for the rights of protesters does not mean giving them a pass on their tactics or their delusions. The Freedom Convoy is actually hurting the cause of freedom. Valorizing it is a mistake.

You should never give people a pass on their delusions. But you should give them a pass on their tactics if their tactics are peaceful. Much of what she described in her earlier paragraph I quoted may not be peaceful. Certainly, if they’re physically blocking people from going about their business, they’re not peaceful. That was my point in denouncing the protestors who closed the Ambassador Bridge. But I would bet that a lot of what the protestors are doing is peaceful. I would want more details and I think it’s important to judge people as individuals and not regard them as part of an amorphous group.

I think that Janet understates the good effect the protestors have had already. She does give them some credit, writing:

Convoy supporters might be right that Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba dropped restrictions as a result of the protests. Likewise, the premier of Saskatchewan has suggested strongly he was responding to the protest.

That’s nothing to sneeze at. Those provinces’ populations, added together, are 18% of Canada’s population. But I think she undercounts. Quebec’s government has not only dropped its plan to tax people who are unvaccinated, but also, on February 8, announced easing of Covid restrictions by mid-March. While Quebec premier Francois Legault claims he was not influenced by the protests, that’s hard to believe, given the direction he was going in–taxing the unvaccinated–just a month earlier. Quebec accounts for another 23% of Canada’s population. That’s 41% of Canada’s population living under provincial governments that arguably have been influenced by the protests. Not bad for a few weeks’ work.

Janet writes further:

But in other provinces across Canada, pandemic measures are being rolled back in line with long-standing plans. Ontario eased some of its provisions before the first trucks even hit the road. Moreover, the province’s announcement this week that it will end its vaccination passport requirements on March 1 is broadly in line with reopening plans set out last fall.

Maybe. We’ve seen a lot of “long-standing plans.” How about “2 weeks to flatten the curve?” Or how about mask mandates lifted in Californian and then reimposed? I would want to see more evidence for her confident claim. And notice the timing of the Ontario government’s announcement that it will lift its vaccination passport requirements. Should we really conclude that the protests had no effect on this announcement? Note that Ontario has 38% of Canada’s population. So now we’re up to 79% of Canadians living in provinces that the protests arguably influenced to drop restrictions.

I think some readers of Janet’s piece have been uncharitable, by suggesting that she is not against Trudeau’s taking on emergency powers. She doesn’t spend many words on it, but I think her statement “This is all terrifying” puts her squarely on the side of the people who oppose this totalitarian measure.

Janet says one thing that I don’t quite understand. She writes:

The cure would be to persuade the protesters to abandon the alternate reality they have created for themselves amid a hothouse media environment steeped in conspiracy theories. They need to return to a shared reality with their fellow Canadians. No polity can function without some such common ground and common understanding of basic facts. Unfortunately, this hasn’t proven an easy problem to solve anywhere.

I’m not sure that a polity can’t function without “a common understanding of basic facts.” Most people don’t understand the basics of gains from exchange. Most people don’t understand that Jeff Bezos’s wealth comes about largely from helping others and that those others, in total, gain more than he does. And yet our polity functions reasonably well most of the time.

I think it would be wonderful to have a shared reality based on understanding of basic facts. But I’ll settle for a government not imposing its understanding of reality, to the point of requiring vaccines and masks, on others.

Janet is pessimistic. She writes:

Some U.S. commentators believe that if Canada simply dismantled its mandates and restrictions, the protesters would melt away.

The problem is with her term “the protesters.” Some would melt away; some wouldn’t. How about trying it and seeing? And even if some protestors remain, the feds would be dealing with a smaller problem.