Crowd of port strikers marching down highway.
Port strikers in Victoria, Vancouver. Credit: ILWU Canada / Facebook Credit: ILWU Canada / Facebook

It was almost two weeks after the trucks rolled into Ottawa and blockaded the Canada-U.S. border at Coutts, Alberta, before Canada’s Conservative Party leaders began to admit there might be a wee problem with the convoyers’ illegal activities.

Meanwhile, it took less than 24 hours for almost the entire Canadian Conservative ecosystem to start screeching that the legal strike by longshore workers in Vancouver and other B.C. ports must be crushed and crushed immediately lest the entire country be left in smoking ruins. 

What’s with this, anyway?

Support for the convoy

According to Candice Bergen, who would become interim Conservative leader four days after the occupation of downtown Ottawa began, the convoyers were a bunch of fine fellows, who were “passionate, patriotic, and peaceful.”

We know now that Bergen had been privately urging her Erin O’Toole not to ask the insurrection-minded truckers to go home, just before she took over his office: “We need to turn this into the PM’s problem,” she had said.

Other Conservative MPs publicly expressed their support for the blockaders along with Bergen. They include former leader Andrew Scheer, Garnett Genuis, Michael Cooper, Martin Shields, Warren Steinley, Jeremy Patzer, Leslyn Lewis, Damien Kurek, and current leader Pierre Poilievre.

Some members of Alberta’s provincial United Conservative Party trooped down to the border at Coutts to support the highway blockade there. Cooper and Kurek even shared photos of them serving coffee to the insurrectionists in Ottawa.

Changing their tune

Finally, on February 10, 2022, Bergen began to mildly express some doubts. “The time has come for you to take down the barricades, stop the disruptive action and come together,” she peeped at the protesters, some of whom she’d dined with earlier. “You protested because you love your country and you want your freedoms back. That message has been heard.”

February 10 was also the day after more convoy protesters closed the Ambassador Bridge at Windsor, closing truck traffic and blocking the shipment of auto parts there between Ontario and Michigan. That prompted Ontario’s Conservative premier, Doug Ford, to change his tune about the insurrection. 

I was reminded of Bergen’s timid rebuke when I re-read Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid’s column about the convoy that was published the same day. “The protesters should listen to their pal Candice Bergen and clear out before they do lasting harm to Canada,” Braid concluded gingerly. 

Reactions to the port workers’ strikes

Braid’s column on the B.C. strike on July 4, 2023, meanwhile, reads “the message is universal. This is big economic trouble for Alberta and the country.” Unless a settlement comes immediately, he proclaims, “Ottawa needs to stop it cold.” 

There have been no confirmed sightings of MPs or MLAs of any party walking the picket line with the striking members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada.

By now, less than a week after the strike began, business voices across Canada are piping up to warn about the allegedly devastating consequences of the strike and demand its immediate end. 

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has called for it to end. Her transport minister, Devin Dreeshen, has explicitly demanded federal back-to-work legislation. 

In other words, reactions to the strike is unfolding exactly as predicted in this space on July 6. 

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...