Nora Loreto is a Canadian freelance writer and author of “From Demonized to Organized: Building the New Union Movement.”
Canada’s version of France’s “yellow vest” movement has had a big week. A trucking convoy, under the banner United We Roll, has traveled from Alberta to Ottawa and grabbed national headlines. Their demands: build more pipelines, resume oil tanker traffic and cancel the planned carbon tax.
The Canadian movement bears little resemblance to its French counterpart. From the beginning, it has been a far-right gathering space, acting as an umbrella for renegades and misfits who are united in their hatred of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and their love of Canada’s extractive industries.
As a result, the movement also opposes “globalism,” as represented by a nonbinding U.N. pact on migration, and “open borders.” “Make Canada Great Again” hats and swag from various hate organizations dotted the convoy’s welcome rallies. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has said that the convoy has attracted “extreme anti-Muslim groups in Canada.”
The United We Roll convoy is admittedly small. CBC News reported that the convoy had 200 trucks in it, but the Ottawa rally appeared to be barely 100 individuals. To put that into perspective, in May 2018, 3,500 truckers in Quebec staged a provincewide protest against nonregistered truckers. It didn’t make national news.
What they lack in numbers, they make up in influence in the Conservative movement. They are Canada’s tea party, and they can’t be ignored.
The presence of the word “unite” in the convoy name is a nod to Alberta’s United Conservative Party, which is hoping to oust the current New Democratic Party government sometime before May 31. UCP leader Jason Kenney supports the convoy. In Ontario, the convoy gave populist cover to Premier Doug Ford, whose video welcoming it to Ontario repeated his anti-carbon tax position. Progressive Conservative MPs publicly embraced the arrival of the convoy.
But, most importantly, the convoy has done something that the Conservative Party of Canada has struggled with this past year: uniting a portion of the right that crosses the divide between Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier, who founded the People’s Party of Canada last year.
With the Liberals struggling with a corruption scandal, and a federal election in October, the timing couldn’t be better for the far right to exert power on Canadian politics. And they have a road map.
The tea party in the United States, started by a relatively small group of far-right activists, had an important influence over the rightward shift in rhetoric in the Republican Party. Bryan T. Gervais and Irwin L. Morris, professors of political science, have explained how the tea party helped pave the way for Trump’s election.
“Trump’s conservative positions on immigration — from the construction of the border wall to the revitalization of ICE — and his strong support for stronger voter identification laws resemble the conservatism of tea party Republicans, even as other Republicans stop short of endorsing Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants or policies like family separation,” they write.
Any Canadian following the rhetoric coming from the United We Roll convoy will find this paragraph eerily similar to the Canadian context. Replace the border wall and ICE with anti-U.N. and closed border sentiment, and it’s the same thing. Except, unlike in the United States, the Conservative politicians who likely oppose this rhetoric aren’t making their opposition to it public.
Bernier and Scheer both spoke at the convoy rally in Ottawa.
Feb. 25 is election day in three byelections in Canada, and it will be a big moment for Bernier’s new party: How much of the Conservative Party vote will it absorb? On Twitter, the People’s Party of Canada has made collecting signatures to oppose the nonbinding U.N. Global Compact for Migration a priority.
It’s easy to see the relationship that this movement has both in uniting conservatives and in pulling politicians even further to the right. What scares me is that nothing seems to be getting in its way.