Former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff said trucker protests against COVID-19 restrictions reveal how fractured political discourse has become in Canada.
“Why the hell did we get into a situation where hard-working men and women in Canada felt so alienated that they had to shut down our country’s capital for three weeks? said Ignatieff on an upcoming episode of The Hub’s Hub Dialogues. “That doesn’t excuse what they did – I felt police action needed to be taken to clean this up – but, boy, is it an indictment of the failure of liberal democracy .”
Ignatieff was the Liberal leader from 2008 to 2011, and it was his resignation that led Justin Trudeau to finally win the leadership of the party. An academic and author, Ignatieff most recently served as president and rector of the Central European University.
Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on February 14, and for the first time in Canadian history, to end the protests by truckers. According to Trudeau, the use of the law was important in giving the federal government and police forces more powers to break up protests and border blockades, although most of them ended by then.
“There is a high level of frustration that this situation has gone on for so long,” Trudeau said. “These people have gone from protesting and disagreeing with these (COVID-19) measures to limiting and blocking the freedoms of their fellow citizens.”
Ignatieff went on to say that governments need to listen to mass protests and democracies need disagreements. He also said that Canadians like to avoid conflict and that such avoidance leads to hoarding. The problem with Canadians, he said, is that “we decided the solution to this problem was to be very, very nice and avoid saying anything that upsets anyone.” .
Ignatieff said a liberal society should prioritize individualism over separating people into identity groups. He said liberals put freedom before equality and solidarity.
He also said that this belief distinguishes liberals from socialists and social democrats. and that it separates liberals from conservatives since “freedom means change”.
Ignatieff is not the only Liberal to have broken ranks with Trudeau over his response to both the pandemic and the trucker protests.
Quebec Liberal MPs Joel Lightbound and Yves Robillard both spoke out against their government’s actions in February, with Lightbound taking aim at Trudeau’s characterization of protesters as violent extremists.
“I have enough respect for my fellow Canadians not to get into these easy and nonsensical labels,” Lightbound said.