Conservatives now telling Ottawa protesters to go home
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This article was published 10/02/2022 (409 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA—Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen has ended days of support for demonstrators in Ottawa and elsewhere with a direct call for them to pack up and go home.
But she’s pledged her party will take up their cause: a call for the end to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
Bergen made the case on the floor of the House of Commons Thursday on a day where the opposition gets to choose a motion to debate.
The Tories’ motion calls for a plan to be implemented by the government by the end of the month to lift all federal mandates and restrictions, but in making that demand of the Liberal government, she also directly addressed the crowds who’ve been camped outside Parliament Hill for nearly two full weeks.
Their protests began on behalf of truckers angry about mandatory vaccination requirements for cross-border drivers and have become an international phenomenon, Bergen said.
But it’s time to move out, she said.
“To the protesters here in Ottawa. You came bringing a message. That message has been heard. Conservatives have heard you and we will stand up for you and all Canadians who want to get back to normal life. We will not stop until the mandates have ended,” she said.
“Today though, I am asking you to take down the blockades. Protest peacefully and legally, but it’s time to remove the barricades and the trucks for the sake of the economy and because it’s the right thing to do.”
Bergen’s comments mark the latest shift in the party’s overall response to the protesters, which has evolved since the “Freedom Convoy” went on the move last month.
Initially, many Tory MPs — including former leader Erin O’Toole — supported the demonstrators’ call to remove vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers.
Bergen herself has posed for photos with demonstrators and leaked emails suggested she didn’t think the party should initially call for an end to the convoy, but needed to figure out a way to make it Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s problem.
But as the motivations of the organizers were exposed as including the overthrow of the government, and as some elements within the larger group embraced racist imagery, as well as seemingly non-stop harassment of downtown Ottawa residents that took a court injunction to stop, the Conservative party’s certainty in supporting the movement began to break down.
Now, with the demonstrations in Ottawa nearing the two week-mark, and copycat movements springing up — including the blockade of key roadways between Canada and the U.S. — the Conservatives have shifted.
The Liberals accused the Tories of hypocrisy, and called upon them to take their call to end the blockades directly to the people on the street.
They also pointed to the widespread availability of vaccines, increased availability of COVID-19 therapeutics and other initiatives to help with the management of the pandemic.
“Our approach has been, and will continue to be, based on the best scientific evidence available and the lessons we learned over the past two years,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said during the debate.
The motion the Conservatives put before the House of Commons Thursday would not be binding on the government, even if it passes with the support of a majority of MPs.
The Bloc Québécois have indicated they are on side, but say any plan needs to include a strategy for dealing with ongoing pressures created by the pandemic — such as the overburdened health-care system.
The New Democrats said lifting restrictions makes no sense.
“No health expert I have heard from is saying we should be lifting all of these protections,” said NDP MP Heather McPherson.
“We have heard that we can examine them and we can look at which ones are appropriate and which ones we could ease, but no one is asking for all protections to be stopped and lifted except the Conservative party.”
Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz