Gurney: All these truckers, and no one at the wheel

One of the better commentaries on the failure of political and bureaucratic foresight and leadership (although Friday federal and Ontario government showed some):

At time of writing — and, gosh, things have been moving fast today — Ottawa remains the site of a major protest, in several locations. The Ambassador Bridge, linking Windsor and Detroit, has been blockaded. Two other U.S-Canada border crossings have also been shut. The federal public-safety minister has said that the RCMP is sending reinforcements to the closed border crossings. We’ll see what we run out of first: Mounties or blockades. Or, given the threat to our supply lines, critical supplies.

I think the most important thing to understand about the convoy-protest crises now unfolding in this country is that many of our leaders are overwhelmed and confused by a situation that they were not prepared for. It has echoes of the beginning of the pandemic, right? In early 2020, we had weeks or even months of notice that something was happening in China, and then in the Middle East, and then in Europe, and then in North America, and then here. And right up until the moment we dropped the hammer for the first lockdown, the official position remained that the risk to Canada was low.

The protests now rocking Canada aren’t a virus. But it’s the same leaders — in many cases, literally the exact same people in the same roles in the same institutions — who yet again had early warning that something was brewing, had a pretty good idea of what was planned, and then were still stunned to find it happening in Ottawa. In conversations all this week with sources at both the provincial and federal level, I got the overwhelming sense that, while a full understanding that we are in a crisis is now taking firm root across our governments, there’s still a lot of confusion and denial among senior bureaucrats and elected officials. The information is there. They just can’t accept it yet. And, until they do, there’s no chance of action. 

Canada has been a blessed country for generations. There haven’t been major consequences, on a societal level, for a degree of unseriousness among our political leaders. As a country, we are rich, well-fed, militarily secure, and well-tended to by a health-care system that, at least pre-COVID-19, could have been a lot better but wasn’t terrible, overall. It was solidly decent. 

The problem with a degree of unseriousness is that the world can be a pretty serious place. Future historians will probably marvel at the complacency and mediocrity we tolerated and eventually grew to expect and accept as normal amid our political class and in the functions of government. But whatever conclusions they draw after all this, we’re stuck in it now. This is where we are, these are the problems we have, and you’ve all met the leaders we’re living with. So what do we do?

We have to accept their limitations. Most of our politicians today never imagined they’d be living through times like this. They wanted a bit of power and status in a happy, stable, wealthy peacetime country. Now they’re being asked to lead that country during an emergency. Not only is this not what they signed up for, but it’s also something they probably never even thought about before putting their name on a ballot. They probably aren’t the right people for this moment. Those who may have it within them are going to have to learn on the job and won’t have much help doing it. I don’t think most of our bureaucracy or political staffers are more up to speed on these compounding challenges than most of the elected leaders.

So all I can ask of them, all I can advise (beg?) them to do, is to try to remember that the public is looking to them to make the best decisions they can in the public interest. The public doesn’t care about partisanship right now — well, okay, fine, some of them do, because they want to make sure the blame lands on the other guy. But most of us just want to see our governments working together. Most of us don’t care about the mistakes that brought us here (or are at least willing to postpone the blame game and focus on solutions). And we really don’t want to see people buck-passing or hiding from hard decisions behind jurisdictional fig leaves. 

On Thursday, reports emerged that the Ontario government wasn’t sitting down with federal and municipal counterparts regarding the Ottawa situation, because the meetings “don’t accomplish anything.” Then show up, dammit, and pound the table and throw your shoes around the room and toss chairs through the window until something is accomplished. If the feds and Ottawa are too stunned to make a call, someone from Queen’s Park needs to take the wheel.

Or from Ottawa! Or from the federal government! Who cares?! Lock them in a room until someone discovers a spine and starts leading the effort. This is literally the least they could do — and the least they owe the people.

We need leaders now, not politicians content to avoid any action and let someone else take the blame. I’m not sure we have any. And it looks as if the so-called leaders at Queen’s Park won’t even show up. History is watching. Hell, the present is watching. You are all failing this latest challenge. Avoiding the meetings and shunting your calls right to voicemail isn’t politically savvy, guys. It’s just gutless. 

Source: All these truckers, and no one at the wheel

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

One Response to Gurney: All these truckers, and no one at the wheel

  1. gjreid says:

    A state which does not control its frontiers and its territory is no longer a state.

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