The Freedom Convoy and the Meritocratic Malaise

Over my lunch break yesterday, I decided to take another walk through the convoy. This time, equipped with my DSLR. My interest was to capture the messages and ideologies underlying the occupation. What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they propose to get us there? In this post, I’d like to share some of my personal reflections.

Again, like I said in my last post about the Siege of Centretown, this isn’t journalism. I’m not attempting rigorous, unbiased analysis. I’m thinking out loud with the limited information that I have at hand.

In its most simplistic form, those involved in the “Freedom Convoy” have been characterized as hateful, misogynistic, racist, violent, and incompetent. 

The organizers, a motley crew with varying agendas and temperaments, had initially set out to undermine our democratic process by subverting the legitimacy of our elected representatives. They did so through a written M.O.U. (find full version here), which named its authorized signatories: James Bauder, Sandra Bauder, and Martin Brodmann. These individuals are also organizers of the trucker occupation from Alberta and Nova Scotia.

I know I covered this before, but just to close the loop.

The M.O.U. sought an accord with unelected members of government (i.e., Senate and Governor General), which Canada Unity identified as “the highest authorities representing the federal government” and who they recognized exclusively as the “Government of Canada” (see Article 1).

By limiting the scope of the accord to these unelected members of government, and intentionally omitting the elected MPs (including the Prime Minister) and the judiciary, this accord categorically booted the electorate’s voice (who voted for this government twice since 2019) from our parliamentary system.

Through the mandate of the M.O.U., Canada Unity sought partnership with these unelected members of government in order to make decisions on behalf of Canadians (Article 3, sections a-c), and to issue “cease and desist” orders to all levels of government (Article 3, sections e-h).

This sidestepping or, as cartoonist Michael de Adder illustrated it, trampling of our democracy was intensified by an “inundation” of calls to the Governor General demanding that Trudeau be fired.

The M.O.U. had received roughly 30% of it’s required 1 million signatures, that is, before it was taken down on February 8th. 

In their withdrawal notice (see above), Sandra and James Bauder conceded the following: 

“We represent the voice of many Canadians who desire to have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms upheld. We are everyday Canadians, not lawyers or politicians.”

This could be interpreted in different ways, but it’s clear to me that they’ve recognized the importance of expertise. In fact, the events over the past few days suggests that – like the pigs of George Orwell’s, Animal Farm – the organizers of this occupation are slowly becoming the shrewd bureaucrats they so abhor. From seeking legal representation and scrapping a seditious M.O.U., to complying with court injunctions and distancing themselves from “bad actors” who taint the legitimacy of their crusade.

But the demands initially brought forward by Canada Unity are just some of the diverse aspirations whispered between the men and women occupying the downtown core. 

This time, as I walked through the crowds and took my photos, I also listened. I listened carefully to the conversations that people were having with each other. As I listened, I found a few themes that dominated the informal discourse: Religion, Libertarianism, Patriotism, Freethought, Anarchism, and a general malaise of the working-class.

What they all appeared to have in common, however, was hate of “Liberal” hubris, directed specifically at Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. 

The sort of hubris that scholars like Professor Michael Sandel have long warned us about. 

“Finding our way beyond the polarized politics of our time requires a reckoning with merit. How has its meaning been recast in recent decades, in ways that erode the dignity of work and leave many people feeling that elites look down on them? Are the winners of globalization justified in the belief that they have earned and therefore deserve their success, or is this a matter of meritocratic hubris?

At a time when anger against elites has brought democracy to the brink, the question of merit takes on a special urgency. We need to ask whether the solution to our fractious politics is to live more faithfully by the principle of merit, or to seek a common good beyond the sorting and the striving.” 

Source

I’ll let you explore Sandel’s arguments on the “Tyranny of Merit” for yourself. However, I think it describes a social fracturing that is worth exploring in the context of the Freedom Convoy occupation.

Those with credentials are valued and promoted to positions of decision making and authority, while those without “merit” are ignored and effectively disenfranchised. “Unskilled” and “Uncredentialed” individuals are expected to work quietly while the meritocracy makes decisions on their behalf. It would seem that they are now demanding a place at the table.

Yes, there are other more nefarious agendas at play, I believe that. And they’re significant. These occupations need to end partly because they enable and embolden these nastier elements. However, I’m talking about the large contingent of participants who I encountered during my stroll. The “good, hard working, Canadians.” The guy who approached me to talk about his camera lens while he admired mine. 

Much like Trump south of the border, the opportunistic PPC panders to all of these groups, which probably explains why they have such a large following among the occupiers.

Source: Abacus Data

For the well-meaning folks caught up in the protests, they see evidence of this “hubris” on display by the meritocratic elite in their lack of serious engagement, how they are collectively dismissed as tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists, and often treated as working-class, knuckle-dragging, buffoons. 

I’m guilty of this as well. 

In fact, many of us who are in opposition to the occupation are complicit. It’s in what we don’t say as much as what we do say. The memes we share. Our thoughtless reference to the Dunning–Kruger effect, which is essentially another way of saying that “these people are so stupid that they don’t know they’re stupid.” 

Well, that’s not nice. 

The further we push these folks to the margins, the more they clamor to be heard, the more they position themselves in opposition and adopt militant slogans, methods, and manners. Nobody wins here – it’s a race to the bottom. 

There is another approach. It was recently demonstrated by the Liberal MP for Louis-Hébert, Quebec, Joël Lightbound. You can read his full remarks here. I want to draw attention to the following lines:

“I think we must hear these concerns, and I think we must respond to them. …

I’ve heard from people worried that those making the decisions seem at times to have been blind to the fact that we’re not all equal for lockdowns that not everyone can earn a living on a Macbook at the cottage. I’ve heard people worried that a few might have lost sight of the quiet and discreet suffering of the many.

Now, I firmly believe governments would do well not to dismiss these legitimate concerns, not to demonize those who voice them. To the contrary, I believe these concerns need to be addressed head on. …

I think it’s time to stop dividing Canadians, to stop pitting one part of the population against another. I can’t help but notice with regret that both tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve and during the last election campaign.

From a positive and unifying approach, a decision was made to wedge to divide and to stigmatize. I fear that this politicization (of) the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in public-health institutions. This is not a risk we ought to be taking lightly.”

This sort of engagement, really, could have started the process of de-escalating this situation. A sincere, but firm voice of reason and understanding. Condemning the wrong, discrediting the inaccurate, and acknowledging the concerns. Even conceding to what may have been overlooked. Mr. Lightbound’s leadership in this regard demonstrates how the temperature can be turned down with a gesture of empathy and good will.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos.

3 Comments

  1. Again, excellent writing and a well balanced view. I think the tide is turning, both in the pandemic and the political scene. But most heartening is the coming together of both sides to call out the divisive actions of our Pm.

    You’ve closed comments on your Siege of Centretown post where you talked about how “The painstaking process of passing laws through parliament and judicial oversight ensure that our democracy is protected.” I’ve been trying to find out the political mechanism followed to bring in a “mandate” but the internet has let me down. It is not the same as a law, I believe, so doesn’t follow the first reading, second reading, send it to the Senate process, but, are mandates debated in the House and voted on? If not (and I’m not sure if they are or not) would they not then be “autocratically” enforced? I would like more information on this if you have any insight.

    Cheers!

    1. Hey, thank you so much for the feedback!

      “Unfortunately, I can’t give this response the time it requires right now. It just so happens that our office is tabling an important report before parliament this morning and I’ll be really busy providing support to my agency head in the coming days.

      I can, however, give you some general direction of where to look. I don’t have any specific knowledge on how the vaccine mandate for Canadian truckers was introduced and rolled-out, BUT I don’t think it required debate in parliament. The federal government has authority under the Health Act, Quarantine Act, and the Canada Labour Code to impose quarantine measures on trucks that cross provincial or international borders. The Health Act specifically delineates certain authorities with regards to public health to the provinces and territories, so you would have to look to them to see how such decisions are made. But generally, the legal authorities for imposing quarantine or mandatory lockdowns in response to communicable diseases are already in place and don’t require debate in the House (as far as I understand!).

      Also, keep in mind that these authorities are subject to constitutional restrictions and cannot violate other established laws. So generally, mandates are required, but not obligatory. You can refuse to obey them, but then you assume the risks of doing so. Our charter protects our liberties, but not unconditionally. We curtail freedoms for public safety all the time in Canada: it’s called prison. Professionally, my area of expertise is prison oversight and monitoring as well as human rights in places of detention, so I often encounter situations where the curtailment of liberty is disproportionate to the offence. Where less restrictive measures could be used to achieve better results while protecting human dignity.

      I’m glad we’re having that conversation in Canada, I just hope the bad actors don’t ruin this for the rest of us.

      Hope that answers your question!

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