The past ten days in Ottawa have been some of the most historically important days in my lifetime. I equate the trucker protests on the same level as the 1980 and 1995 Quebec referendums. Our country is at a crossroads and effective political leadership is the only way through these uncertain times. Sadly, my observations of the last 10 days have left me with a sense of unease and disappointment.
Every night for the last ten I’ve gone to sleep with honking horns in the distance. My experience is undoubtably less arduous than those much closer to the protests, but Ottawa plays a dual role: We are both the City of Ottawa and the Nation’s Capital. As such, truckers, and other citizens from all over the country have a right to bring their concerns to Ottawa.
On most days, I’ll go for a run and pass by Parliament Hill to get a sense for myself about what’s happening. Although loud, I’ve observed with my own eyes thousands upon thousands of proud Canadians in a festive mood with many children, elderly and people of all backgrounds and social classes united by the desire for a return of our Charter freedoms. One day, I witnessed an emotional and riveting indigenous cleansing ceremony and the next day was an “East versus West” hockey tournament right near the Supreme Court – It doesn’t get more Canadian.
The people want to know when these restrictions to our basic rights and freedoms will be lifted. There is a valid sense that the rights we give up today will be the same ones our grandchildren will never know. Of course, with rights comes responsibilities, and my experience suggests that most protestors understand this dynamic.
Having worked in politics in different capacities for 15 years, I know first-hand that many come to it motivated by acquiring power, often in pursuit of helping the most vulnerable. Undoubtably, many people attracted to politics believe that they are helping. But politicians, like everyone else, are fallible and rarely capable of predicting the unintended consequences of their actions.
My hope is that Canadians can have an honest and mature conversation about what’s happening to our country. I believe both our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our public health systems are being challenged in ways that require new thinking and ultimately adults to stand up and take charge. But instead of these themes and discussions, we are presented with vitriol, rhetoric and division on a scale that will drive us further apart. Canadians are better than what our politicians and legacy media are feeding us. In fact, simply by stating this I know I will be alienating myself from those who subscribe to the narrative.
As a management consulting firm, Rise Up Strategies often evaluates risks. Applying a similar frame to pandemic-related policies should be the role of government and must be continuously monitored and re-evaluated. I believe Canadians are willing to risk a lot if it allows us to save a lot. This has been on display throughout our history and over the last two years. Repeatedly, in the actions of everyday citizens and most notably our health care workers, we have seen the best of Canada. Canadians are grateful for the sacrifices these brave health care professionals have made and most of us would do it all again if we had to. But we also have an expectation that the systemic issues facing our health care systems will be addressed.
The tragedy of our long-term care facilities shows all of us the fragility of our systems. However, restricting our rights in the unproven belief that this will somehow correct or sustain our inadequate systems is preposterous. The public policy contradictions are piling up. So, we need to turn down the volume and begin earnest conversations about how we fix the mess. Canadians know that we can do it when our best and brightest are called to action for the betterment of society.
We’ve been blessed to have lived in mainly peaceful times, but where is the will to defend our values should fundamental documents like the Charter be allowed to be challenged with no end in sight? What is our society when those who question the restrictions to our rights are labelled, racists, misogynists, terrorists, and many other terrible names? Sadly, what we’re witnessing is the demonization of millions of Canadians, many of whom are barely hanging on to the Canadian dream and have all but been abandoned by the political parties who beat the drum of compassion the loudest when discussing the most vulnerable.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed that, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” I subscribe to this belief and take considerable offense to those who would prefer demonizing or dehumanizing certain Canadians, as opposed to trying to hear them and work in the great Canadian traditions of compromise and understanding.
If our country is to internalize the reality and merits of diversity and inclusion, then we must also accept those with differing opinions. Until such time as our federal, provincial, and municipal leaders engage in an earnest conversation regarding the future of our Charter Rights and Freedoms and our public health care systems, I will choose to stand with those willing to defend our freedoms through peaceful protest.