News from Ottawa: 15 Feb 2022
While the international incident in Canada has been largely resolved, domestic politics continues
Programming note: the week’s news will not be broadcast this week at its standard time of Thursday 1510GMT. Instead, we have this piece now, and will have a piece on the Ukraine situation “when it is ready”.
A Three Alarm Fire
the Yevaud Newslettr, as an editorial policy, deliberately adopts an “alarmist” tone for some of its writing.
In simple English: if everybody thinks something is impossible, and the Newslettr feels it has a 10% chance of happening, the editorial position will be that it is nearly certain it will happen.
This is, roughly, how our coverage of the situation in Canada should be viewed. Our live estimate of the chance that Trudeau would be unable to quell the situation without the collapse of the government peaked at about 15%. But as nobody seemed to appreciate that this was a live possibility, our editorial position was that it was, while not 100% certain, at least 90% certain.
There is still every possibility1 that this does bring down the Trudeau government. But the odds of it happening are back below 5%. The sirens are off.
A Twitter thread from yesterday. It is described as “too good to check”.
The details are unbelievable. Quite literally — Mr. McLeod discovers during the thread that the “emergency meeting” is not a pro-blockade meeting hijacked by anti-blockade performance artists, but an anti-blockade performance event attended by a critical mass of pro-blockade people who weren’t aware of the joke.
Premier Doug Ford, in action
Canadian Politics looks like2 a weird hybrid system to people familiar with both US and UK political systems. In the United States we have governors to run the states, but in Canada they are called provinces — and the provinces are run by a ministerial3 position titled as “Premier”.
Our estimate of Mr. Ford’s capabilities was quite low. the Newslettr is familiar with Justin Trudeau’s rise to power through the use of incompetence and nepotism, and we considered it plausible that Doug Ford did the same. His late brother, the former mayor of Toronto, was a notorious crack-smoking idiot.
And Doug Ford, as late as February 4, was accused of emboldening the protesters in Ottawa.
Yet at some point4 he realized the gravity of the situation. By the time the legal process for obtaining injunctions was completed, Ford was fully on board with the government policy that the protesters must stop disrupting5 commerce.
Doug Ford also announced that he was lifting all COVID restrictions for reasons entirely unrelated to the protests. I’m impressed he claimed this was “in spite of” the protests — and did so no more than 12 hours after the Ambassador Bridge re-opened.
Canadian Culture, in action
Meanwhile, in Alberta, the situation at the Coutts border crossing has also resolved itself. According to the Calgary Herald, on February 14, around a dozen protesters were arrested, and a small arsenal6 of weapons were seized.
In response, the rest of the protesters decided they didn’t want to be associated with “criminal elements” and went home.
Very roughly, I would not expect Etatsunisien7 protesters to have agreed they didn’t want to associate with “criminal elements”. And I would have expected Etatsunisien “criminal elements” to actually fire their weapons before being arrested.
The Occupation of the Ottawa Capital District
The situation in Ottawa continues. On the one hand, these continue to be peaceful and friendly protests. After negotiations, the protesters have agreed to move out of residential neighborhoods and focus their efforts near the federal government office complexes.
It is still alarming that the government cannot tell the protesters what to do, it must negotiate them into doing things.
It is still alarming that the response has been so fickle that a resignation has just occurred — that of the Ottawa Chief of Police.
But, once again, the worst thing that could happen is the collapse of the Trudeau government. And, to repeat an extremely important point, while “the collapse of the government” in American English generally would mean something like “Congress is abolished”, in Canada the government can collapse far more peacefully — either by calling an election, or by Trudeau resigning10.
Looking South of the Border
There is much talk in the US conservative press about duplicating these protests locally.
I am not particularly concerned that this will happen. Quite simply, there are no good targets.
Any protest to shut down the Mexican border crossings would be about trade and immigration, not COVID.
Any protest against state policy would have to be in a blue11 state, as the red states already have gotten rid of COVID restrictions. The local authorities will be coordinated from the very start on a policy of “symbolic protests only”.
Any multi-day protest against Washington DC would require the army to be called in. This would be terrible for Biden. But, for a variety12 of reasons, there aren’t really any federal COVID policies to repeal.
So no, I do not expect any effective protests in the US along these lines. I know better than to speculate about whether there will be ineffective protests.
the Newslettr has complained previously about how the ACLU may be morphing from an organization focused on “protecting civil liberties” to an organization focused on “protecting the interests of the Democratic Party”.
It would be nice if the ACLU came out with a statement on the various “bank account freeze” policies going on in Canada.
The phrase “every possibility” is used here to mean that there is a non-zero probability. If it does actually happen, the probability will become one. If it does not happen, the probability will become zero. As both are plausible, every possibility can happen.
Of course, to Canadians, it is the US and the UK systems that are “weird hybrids”.
A ministerial position here means that the premier is elected by the legislature, not the public. The public only elects the legislature.
That point was, roughly, when the style and substance of the protests started morphing from “Occupy Wall Street” to “the protests could bring down the government”.
There are three border crossings between the US and Canada in the Detroit area. One, the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, is physically incapable of accommodating large trucks. The second was the much-discussed Ambassador Bridge. The third, the Blue Water Bridge near Port Huron, was seeing massive traffic delays. Other than that, the options are “ferry”, “airplane”, or “drive via Buffalo or Sault Ste. Marie”. (it’s pronounced “Sue Saint Marie”)
A reasonable question to ask is “why isn’t there another bridge”. The answer is that the Gordie Howe Bridge is under construction, but was delayed a decade because of lawsuits filed by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.
Of course, even a small arsenal contains dozens of guns.
It is extremely awkward to refer to citizens of the USA as “Americans” in this context. As terms like “Yankee” and “gringo” have other connotations, we use a loan word from the French. As this is Canada we are talking about, it is allowed.
Any statement like this is caveated with “if there is a new variant, throw out the playbook”.
The one restriction most hated by the truckers, a vaccine requirement for crossing the international border, is one of the few restrictions that the government plausibly would not lift by the end of June. I’m not sure if that’s ironic or not.
Nobody would say that Joe Biden’s resignation was the “collapse” of his government. I have a sense that nobody of any political disposition thinks that Kamala Harris replacing Biden would be an improvement in any way. It would be unlikely to be even a meaningful symbolic gesture.
I quite dislike “red state v. blue state” as terminology. However, anyone reading this will know exactly what is meant, and I don’t have a better term to use instead.
Very roughly, Congress can’t get around to passing non-emergency COVID rules, and the Supreme Court has more-or-less ruled that the Biden administration cannot claim COVID is an emergency any longer outside of a few specific contexts. If protesters complain on TV that they can’t vacation to Cancun because of Biden’s policies, they will simply be laughed at.