Photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing the use of the Emergencies Act
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announcing the use of the Emergencies Act on February 14, 2022. Credit: Justin Trudeau / Facebook

Most of the day on Wednesday, the voices of Canada’s Conservative hive mind were screaming in unison for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to lift the emergency and lift it now.

Some of them, like would-be United Conservative Party leader Brian Jean, even had scheduled tweets set up to automatically demand an end to the state of emergency that Mr. Trudeau had declared nine days earlier on Valentine’s Day when Ottawa still seemed like a city under siege.

When the PM unexpectedly revoked the national emergency declaration on Wednesday afternoon, the Conservative social media anger machine was not struck dumb. On the contrary, it was almost as loud as the “Honkies” in their trucks when they were still occupying Ottawa a week ago. 

Their message discipline, however, immediately crumbled. 

A large group angrily accused the prime minister of flip-flopping. “Emergency Monday. Gone by Wednesday. A flip-flop for the ages,” complained Conservative-leaning CTV commentator Don Martin on Twitter in an early example of what would become a common theme.

An even large number, probably, predictably took credit for the unexpected revocation, or assigned it to one of their allies. “BREAKING: Trudeau backs down,” screeched Conservative Party leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre in another early tweet. “Will drop Emergencies Act. Thank you to all who fought this abuse of power.”

In addition, there was a smattering of more creative efforts. “Senators appeared set to refuse extension of emergency powers,” Sherwood Park-Ford Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who is no genius, tweeted speculatively.

Ummmm, probably not, responded Alberta Senator Paula Simons. “I have seen some conversation on social media, speculating that the Senate was poised to defeat the motion to confirm the Emergencies Act. Of course, with no vote, we can’t ever know what would have happened. But I think that would have been a rather unlikely outcome.”

Senator Simons, with whom I am acquainted, is unfailingly polite. What she really meant, I am pretty sure, was … you’re so full of it, Garnett! 

Notwithstanding her moderate and mannerly tone, Simons was immediately sniped at by a number of well-known Conservative trolls. Well, that’s the (ill) temper of the times, and she signed up for it when she mailed in her Senate application in what I’m pretty sure she thought at the time was a journalistic lark.

Meanwhile, the tweet by Jean—who is running on the UCP ticket in the Mar. 15 Fort McMurray—Lac La Biche by-election on a vow to unseat and replace Premier Jason Kenney—went out on schedule about 10 minutes after Trudeau announced he had renounced the declaration. 

If nothing else, this proves the man’s ability to do things at exactly the wrong moment remains undiminished after a three and a half year hiatus from politics.

Naturally, Jean didn’t have the good sense just to pull his tweet, but replaced it with a new one to remind Albertans of his blunder, which in the great scheme of things would otherwise have been immediately forgotten. 

Well, Jean isn’t the only Alberta politician who doesn’t know when to zip his lips. It wasn’t long before Kenney was tweeting that Alberta would proceed with its sure-to-be expensive and unpopular court case against the invocation of the emergency. 

He must have realized that the potentially embarrassing inquiry required by the act will proceed anyway even with the revocation, so he might as well spend more public money on an effort to discredit the whole exercise. “Those whose rights have been violated, and provinces whose jurisdiction has been violated without justification must have their day in court,” he grumped.

There is, of course, a legitimate argument to be made about whether using the Emergencies Act was necessary or the right thing to do. 

Anyone who was paying attention to what was happening in the streets of Ottawa and at several border crossings scant days ago knows there was a real enough crisis that needed to be dealt with promptly—whether or not the Emergencies Act was the right tool to use. 

But if Conservatives are going to continue to accuse Trudeau of being a communist dictator trying to force us all into slavery to a shadowy new world order, as a surprising number of seemingly mainstream Conservatives appear to think, “your messaging has completely jumped the logic shark,” as my northern Alberta neighbour Shawna Gawreluck reminded them

Notwithstanding Kenney’s bluster, one hopes the inquiry will proceed and identify just how serious a threat the country faced, what the true cost of the “Freedom Convoy” was, who was really responsible for it, and what can be done to prevent a similar situation in future—other than never again electing a Conservative federal government, which should be obvious, at least until that party has dealt with its extremist right. 

Perhaps if Kenney had had any sense of what the news would bring a few hours hence he would have wisely kept his own counsel about his legal plans. 

With Vladimir Putin’s announcement and the news clips soon after of Russian shock and awe unfolding near Kyiv in Ukraine, I imagine the attention of most Canadians along with the rest of the world will be focused for a long time on a far bigger tragedy than the crisis successfully resolved by Trudeau this week. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...