LOWRY/Trudeau should give in to the truckers
The workers of the world should unite, so long as it isn’t against COVID-19 restrictions. In that event, they are hateful kooks who deserve whatever they get.
The political drama playing out in Canada, where truckers protesting a vaccine mandate are blockading the streets, is an expression of growing exhaustion with coronavirus restrictions, but also of a class conflict.
The criticisms of the truckers by Canada’s political and media establishment are heavy with contempt, reflecting an assumption that they are ignorant clods who can’t possibly have a point — when they clearly do.
On the narrow question that sparked the protests, the truckers are right. Despite the number of COVID-19 cases collapsing since early January, the government imposed a new rule the middle of last month requiring truckers crossing the border back from the United States to be vaccinated or to isolate for two weeks.
This would effectively make it impossible for unvaccinated truckers to work, and for what?
Truckers aren’t selling concessions at arenas, or waiters circulating at crowded restaurants —they work in a remarkably self-contained profession. And it’s not the case that the 10-15% of truckers who are unvaccinated — and who have obviously been unvaccinated during the entire pandemic — are going to start a new surge of coronavirus cases in Canada.
The vaccine mandate simply isn’t a very important policy, and a reasonable Canadian government would admit as much. Indeed, the government went back and forth on the mandate before finally deciding to impose it.
Yet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reacting as if the truckers must be fought on the beaches and landing fields like an invading force rather than regarding them as fellow citizens who deserve respect even if he considers them grievously mistaken.
“We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags,” he has intoned. “We won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.” No, according to Trudeau, “hate can never be the answer.”
The truckers are another sign of the class inversion in advanced Western countries. The left continues to lose working class voters and pick up college-educated voters, and the well-coiffed Justin Trudeau, fully attuned to haut progressive sensibilities, is the perfect paladin for the upper middle class. On the other hand, the right is doing the opposite, and sees blue-collar virtue in the truckers to whom it once would have felt no natural connection.
Usually, the left has championed international cooperation among aggrieved workers, but in this case, it’s the populist right in the U.S. and elsewhere that is promoting the truckers and importing the idea to their own countries.
The protest has had such resonance because it is the first significant break in Canada’s long-standing, far-reaching regime of coronavirus restrictions. Unlike in the United States, very few people, either in elected politics or the media, have made the case against restrictions — until now.
The populist eruption from the truckers has changed the politics of the pandemic response, emboldening or forcing conservatives finally to say “enough.” The conservative leader who lost to Trudeau last year and is a relatively conciliatory figure has been dumped and will likely be replaced by a more combative alternative. Alberta and Saskatchewan moved this week to lift various restrictions.
That said, the situation will have to be defused. Lawbreaking by the truckers, who have been blocking traffic on international bridges, shouldn’t be condoned or tolerated. Trudeau should give in to the truckers on the vaccination mandate, and then the protestors should declare victory and go home or, at the minimum, take a step back from any confrontation with the police.
The protests will likely be remembered as an inflection point in the response to the pandemic. In the U.S., it took worrisome polls for blue-state governors to break the ice on mask mandates; in Canada, it took an unlikely protest by a segment of sneered at and insulted workers.
Rich Lowery is editor of National Review, a leading conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley.