I have questions about that massive truck protest convoy in south Edmonton yesterday, the one that tied up commuter traffic and prevented people from reaching Edmonton International Airport and just happened to take place at the same time as a visit to the neighbourhood by federal Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer.
Some people will think me rude. I'm sorry about that, but inquiring minds need to know!
The first question is, how much did this cost? I'm not talking about the fuel wasted by commuters or the taxi bills run up by air travellers, but the fuel and vehicle costs of the protesting truckers.
Another is, who paid for it? And another important one is, what was the real purpose of this motorized rally?
Given the average fuel economy recorded in Alberta for a Class 8 diesel trucks like those used in the protest, the cost of diesel yesterday in Edmonton, and a conservative estimate of both the kilometres driven and the number of trucks involved, about the least that could have been expended on fuel costs for this protest was $70,000. In reality, the number was likely far higher.
According to the CBC and other media, more than 1,000 heavy trucks were involved. RCMP said the convoy -- which at one point blocked all lanes of the highway southbound from Edmonton -- caused "extreme traffic delays" in several areas near the airport.
Exactly where the massed truckers drove, or how far, isn't entirely clear from news reports -- which nowadays seldom provide answers to all the obvious questions. They certainly snarled traffic around Nisku, the industrial area south of Edmonton that is home to both numerous oilfield-servicing companies and the airport.
Late in the day, as truckers tried to slow traffic on Edmonton's 77-kilometre ring road, organizers of the event claimed those snarls weren't caused by their truckers, but by other truckers. Well, there's no way to verify that claim, so let's just accept it. Whoever they were, police directed big trucks off Anthony Henday Drive at some points. This had the effect of causing snarls elsewhere.
The purpose of the protest was supposedly to demand a pipeline to tidewater, immediately, thereby improving the fortunes of Alberta's oil industry. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to be a popular target.
I have no doubt that many of the truckers involved are sincerely concerned about the state of the oil industry and its impact on their business. Still, notwithstanding the quality of political discourse in Alberta, this kind of protest doesn't really make sense to achieve any gains on this issue.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is stalled at the moment because of a court ruling, but even if it were proceeding apace, it would take several years to complete. So a protest of this sort might make sense if, say, the truckers wanted the government to end a tax on fuel or raise a speed limit. But how does this in any way advance the TMX project?
As for Scheer's involvement, he had a speech scheduled at the same time as the convoy at Ensign Energy Services Inc. in Nisku. "The convoy coincided with a meeting hosted by federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer," was how the CBC put it, with admirable neutrality. (Emphasis added.)
Traffic was so bad, Scheer told the CBC, he had to walk the short distance from the airport -- which didn't seem to trouble him unduly. He professed to have felt "emotional" about the size of the convoy, although apparently not so emotional about the plight of the commuters stuck in the mess trying to get home or to the airport.
When he finally got to his meeting, Scheer said that when it comes to the woes of the oilpatch, "all it will take is for government to get out of the way of what hard-working Albertans have wanted to do for generations." Which is kind of weird when you consider that during the decade the Conservatives were in power, no pipeline made it close to tidewater -- and their Liberal opponents are the ones actually pushing one through.
Certainly Conservative MPs from around the Edmonton area knew all about their leader's plans. "As I try to make my way to @AndrewScheer townhall in Nisku I am caught in middle of large convoy of oilfield workers," tweeted St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper as he drove south from St. Albert. "Albertans have had enough of PMJT's devastating anti-energy development policies & are taking to the streets literally show their disgust."
Huh? This raises some interesting questions too. Was it just a meeting, or a political town hall? Were the organizers of the convoy in communication with the organizers of the town hall?
This is why the questions of the cost of the protest -- fuel, the use of million-dollar vehicles and more -- and who paid it are relevant.
Was there communication between the Opposition leader's staff and the protesters?
Was the convoy in fact organized to bring publicity to Scheer's visit to Edmonton and embarrass the prime minister?
Were the fuel and vehicle costs, which certainly run into tens of thousands of dollars, therefore political contributions?
Were the fuel and vehicle costs paid by independent protesting truckers, or by oilpatch employers? If my back-of-the-envelope calculation is right, it would cost about $2,000 to fill all the tanks on a typical Class 8 truck. That exceeds the legal annual federal political contribution by $500. Of course, most fully loaded trucks don't fill their tanks to the brim -- weigh stations, you know.
Just the same, if a fill-up were were paid by a corporation, and it is in fact a political donation, it's flat out illegal.
So who paid?
Will there ever be an accounting for this by the Canada Revenue Agency? Highly unlikely.
Canadians have a fundamental right to protest. Sometimes protests slip into legally iffy areas. You know, like blocking traffic. It looks as if in this case the police took it pretty easy on the truckers who were intentionally snarling traffic.
Usually, I imagine, professional truck drivers aren't all that sympathetic if other groups of protesters get in the way of their travel. So turnabout is fair play. Let's all stay calm and reasoned, truckers, when some other group blocks a road you need to drive down.
And let's take the same lenient attitude, police, in dealing with roadblocks created by protesters who don't happen to be driving million-dollar trucks.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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