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Canada's conservative movement threatens the country more than non-violent blockades

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Image: David J. Climenhaga

We do face a serious national crisis in Canada. It is not caused by a few rail and road blockades by First Nations activists and their allies, however. Nor is it caused by environmentalists to some of whom the grave issues facing Indigenous Canadians may be secondary but who view any enemy of their enemy as their friend.

It is the result of the apparent fact many adherents of Canada's conservative movement seem to have lost their faith in democracy and due process, essential ingredients to the rule of law they keep talking about.

Anybody reading their mad utterances about the "crisis" caused by a small number of blockades in support of opponents of a pipeline across traditional Wet'suwet'en territory in northern British Columbia by, as they keep saying, a small number of activists, has to know this is true.

Seriously, prominent people here in Alberta, and this would include holders of responsible elected office and members of the Order of Canada, are publicly advocating full-blown military suppression of opposition to major hydrocarbon projects, and in a few cases getting very close to calling for open treason and the violent removal of our elected national government.

This may represent an extreme fringe -- although a well-funded and well-connected one. But I doubt there is a single Conservative politician in the province of Alberta who is not advocating military or paramilitary police action to bring an immediate end to the blockades on the dubious and speculative grounds they are "costing Canada billions" in lost business revenue.

I challenge any Conservative politician who thinks I am wrong about this and agrees that a violent end to the blockades will cost Canada far more in treasure, blood and reputation, not to mention public safety, to speak up now as a patriotic imperative.

This really is a situation serious enough to warrant the prime minister cancelling a Caribbean holiday. And, given the number of people who seem to be drinking this poisonous brew, he may need to give up several.

Rail traffic appears to have been stopped in eight locations across the country. At least two of these disruptions have ended, and only three or four could be called honest-to-god blockades, the rest not much more than disturbances that slowed rail traffic for a short time.

So how much are these disturbances actually costing Canada? I have no idea, but I can guarantee it is nothing like the economic apocalypse claimed by high-profile Conservative politicians and their media echo chamber to support their demand for an immediate violent end to this situation.

Moreover, if there is an actual economic crisis brewing, there is some reason to suspect it may be the result of manipulation of the blockades by rail companies that have stopped operating in areas where there are no blockades and no extraordinary safety concerns. We saw this same specious threat used by big business during last fall's rail strike by Canadian National rail crews, which also had Conservatives screaming for an instant and authoritarian suspension of the collective bargaining process. Who says it isn't happening again?

If you think I'm nuts to suggest this crisis isn't as severe as we're daily being told, I challenge you to consider how many times Alberta Premier Jason Kenney alone lied in the past couple of years. And his is actually one of the more reasoned voices in this right-wing cacophony!

Instead of propaganda like this disgusting recent CTV report, which actually predicts a national shortage of bread, Canadians need a reasoned assessment of how much the blockades are really costing, and how long-term the impact will likely be. I would suggest this should be a matter of urgent national priority for the federal government or even some honourable media organization, if such a thing still exists.

A violent response to these peaceful blockades will lead to violence in response, and far more economic damage, than the prime minister's strategy of letting the situation peter out. And remember, there are nearly 50,000 kilometres of rail line in Canada, so it's not as if there is a shortage of targets.

Indigenous Canadians have been lied to, betrayed and abused so many times their forbearance and patience with those of us of immigrant stock is truly remarkable. A military "solution" to suit the desires of an extremist minority concentrated in Western Canada is exactly what our country does not need.

So what is going on? I suspect Canadian movement conservatives collectively started to lose their minds circa 2015, when they lost two major elections, one nationally and the other here in Alberta, that despite voter fatigue with their rule they thought they had a reasonable chance of winning.

This set in motion the double reverse hostile takeover of Alberta's conservative parties by their extremist wing, in particular the more moderate Progressive Conservative party that had ruled Alberta for more than four decades. A purge of "Red Tories" from positions of influence that had already happened federally under Stephen Harper's rule followed in Alberta.

There are now very few moderate voices left in the United Conservative Party or the Conservative Party of Canada, and the latter's current leadership candidates obviously feel they have no choice but to truckle to the party's extremists.

Moreover, they seem to have become persuaded the easiest route to power is constant lazy and destructive vilification of the prime minister and our compatriots in Quebec and British Columbia. After all, this almost worked last fall for Andrew Scheer, possibly the weakest Conservative leader since Confederation, an assessment that includes Joe Clark and even Kim Campbell, who was dealt a terrible hand by her predecessor Brian Mulroney.

After the Canadian Conservative electoral losses of 2015 came the Trump revolution in the U.S. Republican party from which they concluded, to rephrase the late Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, that extremism in defence of power is no vice, let alone an impediment to electoral success.

Then, to complete the perfect storm, came Doug Ford's 2018 success in Ontario and Kenney's in 2019 in Alberta, followed by the federal election campaign that, despite a weak and vulnerable leader, Conservative party activists had convinced themselves they were going to win thanks to their 24/7 attacks on Justin Trudeau.

The two provincial elections gave the impression a manipulative campaign characterized by outright lies and extremist rhetoric would work. The result of the second was bitter disillusionment when the same tactics failed nationally, although, as the Duke of Wellington said of the Battle of Waterloo, it was the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.

The narrow loss in the federal election was the moment, I think, Canada's conservatives completely lost their stuff.

We now have a national opposition party that has lost faith in the democratic process, demands violent and authoritarian responses to any and all economic frustrations no matter how insignificant, gins up regional separatist movements in hopes of short-term political gain, and has almost entirely put its electoral and public engagement strategies in the hands of extremists and dishonest social media manipulators.

That truly is a national crisis with the potential to cause great harm, economic and moral, to our country.

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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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