Photo of two trucks in the night time decorated with Canadian flags and protest posters. Man in reflective jackets walks nearby trucks.
The Ottawa occupation lasted for weeks. Credit: Ana Krach | Ottawa Graphics / Pixabay

To those of us who live in affluent countries the year 2022 seemed particularly tumultuous. 

That’s because this past year we experienced some of the conflict and contagion that routinely afflicts poorer countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic continued unabated throughout the year, lasting far longer than any medical expert or political leader had expected. 

In the global South communicable and infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, cholera and tuberculosis are commonplace. 

COVID-19 broke the mould. It has attacked the affluent West more fiercely and with a greater death toll than it did most developing countries. We are not used to being so favoured.

Nor are we used to active and bloody wars waged in our part of the globe.

Since the end of World War II there have been multiple wars in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Western countries, especially the U.S., were deeply involved in most of those. 

But until the Russians invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, none of those wars took place on European or North American territory, with the exception of the localized ethnic conflicts of the 1990s in parts of the former Yugoslavia.

The Ukraine war has shaken our sense of security here in the normally sheltered and affluent North. 

The war in Ukraine has so discomforted us that at its outset some U.S. reporters noted how out-of-the-ordinary and, indeed, shocking, it was for such a war to be happening not in some primitive and backward place such as Iraq or Afghanistan but in civilized Europe. 

Television comedian Trevor Noah attacked that bigoted and condescending view in a cutting monologue  . 

The story of a convoy

The pandemic and the Ukraine war dominated news in 2022, even here in Canada. 

In this country, government-mandated COVID health measures provoked some of the most virulent backlash anywhere in the world – in the form of the truckers’ convoys that blocked border crossings and occupied Ottawa for nearly a month. 

The recent hearings of the Public Order Emergency Commission have confirmed what many suspected at the time, back in January and February of 2022. 

Politicians and public officials at all levels of government were at a near total loss as to how to deal with this new kind of illegal activity.

READ MORE: Absence of leadership to resolve Ottawa occupation is glaring, especially from Ford

Ontario premier Doug Ford refused to take part in meetings with the city of Ottawa and the federal government.

Ford’s minister in charge of the provincial police, Sylvia Jones, flagrantly gaslighted the city of Ottawa when she claimed falsely the province had assigned 1,500 Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers to Ottawa to assist the overwhelmed local police. The true figure was closer to 100.

People in politics have short memories, or, perhaps, can be very forgiving. After the provincial election in June, Ford rewarded Jones’ stellar performance with a promotion to the health ministry.

The Ottawa police chief during most of the convoy occupation, Peter Sloly, seemed genuinely fearful of the occupiers. There were intimations, at the time, Sloly could not count on the loyalty of many members of his force. Evidence to the Commission has subsequently confirmed that suspicion.

As for Jim Watson, mayor of Ottawa during the occupation, his idea of leadership was to emulate British pre-World-War-II prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who thought the best way to deal with Adolf Hitler was to appease him.

Watson used the good offices of Doug Ford’s former chief of staff Dean French to try to reach a back-channel deal with the occupiers. 

Watson wanted the truckers to move their giant idling vehicles out of residential areas and onto the streets immediately adjacent to Parliament, which were already crowded with pollution-spewing trucks.

It was a fruitless effort because the occupiers did not constitute a coherent group with which one could negotiate anything. 

The city could have taken legal action to end the incessant honking and idling, but did nothing, out of a ridiculously misplaced desire to avoid offending the invaders. A young downtown resident took matters into her own hands and succeeded in getting an injunction that stopped the honking.

At the outset of the convoy affair, federal Conservatives decided to imitate their Republican counterparts south of the border by vocally and visibly supporting the occupiers. 

Canada’s Conservatives thought there would be political benefit to them, just as such Republicans as congressman Mo Brooks and Senator Josh Hawley thought they could earn the gratitude of Donald Trump’s supporters by egging on the mob that invaded Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021.

The man who would become Conservative leader in the fall of 2022, Pierre Poilievre, was one of the most active in support of the convoy. Poilievre’s only concrete suggestion to the prime minister was that he should legitimize the tactic of illegally invading the centre of Canada’s capital by negotiating with the occupiers.

In mid-February, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act. Shortly after that, police forces from around the country joined with the RCMP and Ottawa police to oust the occupiers. The operation was conducted professionally and with virtually no violence.

Then, mere days after the streets of Ottawa were once again clear and open to all, on February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ukraine not about defending “western” values

Russia’s Vladimir Putin thought it would be a short and quick operation, but the war is still going on. 

Following Putin’s invasion, the West rallied quickly to Ukraine’s defence, but the rest of the world took a more cautious stance.

There are few world leaders, anywhere, be it in the North or South, who would openly approve of one country so blatantly breaching another’s sovereignty as Putin did in February of 2022. 

If the Russians succeed in their action and eliminate Ukraine as an independent country, most believe it will set a terrible precedent.

But countries in the global South have a hard time swallowing the pretense of the wealthy North to the effect that what is happening in Ukraine is a struggle to uphold “our western values.” Historian Margaret MacMillan is among many in the West who has used that phrase.

People around the world would have the right to ask which noble western values motivated the slave trade, the seizure of land from Indigenous peoples throughout the world, and the Holocaust?

Canada has strong ties with Ukraine and its people. We have the largest Ukrainian diaspora outside of Russia. But our influence is limited. We are not a major military player. If peace ever returns to the region, we could have a greater role to play in reconstruction.

NDP-Liberal agreement, and victories for the right in two largest provinces

In 2022 the domestic political agenda included an unprecedented confidence and supply agreement between the governing Justin Trudeau Liberals and Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats signed in March.

This deal does not create a coalition government; there are no NDPers in Trudeau’s cabinet, and the two parties do not caucus together.

Singh got Trudeau to agree to enact a number of NDP policies in exchange for the New Democrats’ voting with the Liberals on crucial measures where defeat would mean an election.

The deal is to last until 2025. A few months in, the New Democrats could point to some achievements, such as a dental care payment for children of uninsured families and an increase to the Canada Housing Benefit.

Of late, the crisis in health care, especially for children, has rattled the NDP. It is now echoing the provinces’ demand that the governing Liberals contribute a lot more money for heath care.  

New Democrats say the Liberals must live up to their 2021 election promises on health care.

Those include: a $6 billion top-up to the Canada Health Transfer to support the elimination of health system waitlists; $3.2 billion to the provinces and territories for the hiring of 7,500 new family doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners; $4.5 billion to establish a Canada Mental Health transfer; and $1.7 billion to ensure personal support workers are paid $25 an hour.

The Liberals are, perhaps, justifiably leery of handing over money to provincial governments without any guarantee of how they will actually spend it. 

Ontario’s Doug Ford gleefully caused his government to forego billions in revenue each year when, on the eve of the provincial election in June, he abolished the province’s automobile registration fee.

Other premiers, including those of Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec, have courted voter support with similar populist payouts. They handed out cheques worth multiple billions of dollars, regardless of recipients’ actual need or income. 

What guarantee would the federal government have that Ford – or any other provincial premier – would not take increased federal health transfers with one hand, while cutting taxes or capriciously handing out billions in bribes to voters with the other?

Ford’s registration fee gambit worked last June. He was re-elected with an increased majority which has allowed him to shed the kindly Uncle Doug persona he adopted during the pandemic and pursue divisive policies hostile to workers’ rights, the environment, and democratic norms

In October of 2022, Quebec’s François Legault also won re-election, and also with a massive, increased majority.

While Ford fashions himself as the friend of real estate developers, small business people and, especially, the car commuters of suburban Ontario, Legault has modeled himself, in large measure, on Maurice Duplessis, who was the near-dictator of Quebec for nearly a quarter century, from 1936 to 1959.

Duplessis fashioned an ideology that combined a sort of backward looking, negative and defensive nationalism, with cultural conservativism and laissez-faire economic policies.

Legault has focused on reducing the size of the Quebec state and demonizing immigrants, and it has worked, except on the island of Montreal.

In the years to come Legault and Ford will constitute a formidable right-wing duo, managing the governments for 60 per cent of Canada’s people.

The deaths of two giants

Elsewhere in Canada, with the exceptions of Newfoundland and British Columbia, governments of the right are in power at the provincial level. But in Alberta and Manitoba that might soon change. 

There is a chance that by the end of 2023 three of Canada’s provincial governments will be led by New Democrats.

And while we’re on the subject of New Democrats, 2022 saw the deaths of two giants of the movement for social democracy in Canada.

Bill Blaikie was a long-time federal NDP MP from Manitoba and, for a while, a provincial cabinet minister. He was one of the last of a dying breed, a progressive United Church minister who was inspired by the doctrine known as the social gospel. 

Alexa McDonough led both the Nova Scotia New Democrats and the federal NDP from 1995 to 2002. 

Arguably she helped save the political movement for social democracy in Canada. In the election of 1997 she revived the NDP, and helped it win 21 seats. In the previous election her party had lost party status and almost disappeared from the political map. 

Younger Canadians will now have to carry the torch those two passed on for progressive ideas and policies. 

We’ll see what they can accomplish in 2023.

Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover Canadian politics. He has worked as a journalist and filmmaker for many decades, including two and a half decades at CBC/Radio-Canada. Among his career highlights...