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I don’t want to excuse or debate or even really dwell on the Ottawa occupation or border blockades.

But I do want to talk about something underneath these incidents that is worth our attention.

Regardless of the precise motivations of the organizers – and I fully concede there are extremists, seditionists and an actual fringe to these groups – I want to focus on why ordinary Canadians lined overpasses to cheer on the convoy across the country.

It’s more than just anger about COVID-19 restrictions; on the whole, Canadians have shown great solidarity with public-health measures.

Rather, I suspect and worry we are fully in an era of tension and of disparity that our politics seems dumbfounded about. Millennials are now in our thirties, and many feel homeownership is an impossible dream of a simpler time. Retirees worry about the rising cost of living. Gen Zers fear climate change. A Russian president speaks of imperialist ambitions that sound more fitting to a century ago than the modern world.

Again, this is not to excuse bad actors; I am not writing a column about “economic anxiety” as some sort of culpability panacea.

But I do take as a very fair and important point what Jeet Heer wrote recently in The Nation: “The Freedom Convoy is speaking to discontent that is widespread… Those who have sympathy for the convoy tend to be poorer, younger, and less educated…”

He goes on to say, “The burden of the pandemic has fallen on the working class… As the pandemic enters its third year, many Canadians have become more pessimistic and feel that governments are dealing with the problem by imposing duties without offering economic relief or a path forward. This is producing stress and anger. The Freedom Convoy isn’t a working-class movement. But it will be able to harvest and exploit working-class anger unless the plight of poorer Canadians improves. The Freedom Convoy should be a wake-up call for not just Canada but the wider world as well.”

Our politics feels broken, unable to get important things done. I’ve commented before favourably about Ezra Klein’s writings and interviews on this subject, and agree with his thesis that we’ve built up processes that make improving transportation systems, building housing and other key infrastructure projects we once considered nation-building harder and delayed or reduced in scope or cancelled.

As Klein said recently on his New York Times podcast, “You have a country in which it is… harder and harder and harder to get anything done. And I think one of the unhappy equilibriums of that is that you end up with representation, but not action. Because representation is fairly cheap.”

No wonder identity and polarization have become such potent forces in our politics; we can debate and fight over beliefs, rather than coming together to get things done.

Our politics needs a reset, a focus on persuasion and getting things done and less on animating a sliver of the left or right that can be reved up into a motivated voter base, and more of a focus on getting important projects delivered. Our politics needs to be about results, not animus, making daily life easier and more affordable and restoring a sense of ambition, a belief that we can actually get ahead, what Tony Blair used to call “aspiration”.

Or, as Alexandra Ocasio Cortez recently told The New Yorker“That is the work of movement. That is the work of organizing. That is the work of elections. That is the work of legislation. That is the work of theory, of concepts, you know? And that is what it means to be in the arena.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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The “2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review” released this past November 4 at least seemed to make one thing clear.

With the next provincial election only seven months away, the document underlined the evolution of the original “For the People” regime advanced by Premier Ford back in 2018 into the reformed “Working for Workers” Ontario PC government today.

Working for Workers is only one of three main 2021 Outlook policy themes. The other two are “Protecting Our Progress” and “Building Ontario.”

But it is the lead implementing action of Working for Workers — “to increase the general minimum wage to $15 per hour effective January 1, 2022” — that has grabbed headlines.

As it happens, this is something the Wynne Liberals had scheduled for three years ago. And the original Ford For the People regime cancelled the increase in September 2018 (along with freezing the earlier $14 per hour  minimum wage for two years).

As urged by various observers in various ways, the Ford government’s earlier minimum wage policy can only cast doubt on the depth and sincerity of its broader Working for Workers theme in the fall of 2021.

At the same time, many were also surprised when two prominent union leaders showed up in support of Premier Ford’s pre-Outlook announcement of the minimum wage hike, on November 2 — Unifor’s national president Jerry Dias, and the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Smokey Thomas.

CBC News has suggested that this “can only be seen as a big political win for the PCs.”

A somewhat different report in the Globe and Mail urged that even the full slate of Working for Workers actions in the 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook “do not go nearly far enough … It’s like handing out lollipops when people need a three-course meal.”

Still, Jerry Dias and Smokey Thomas sharing a stage with Doug Ford can make even a cynical observer wonder about the current regional political mood.

Moreover, it is not just in Ontario that some conservative politicians are nowadays working to build new connections with workers. This past spring The Independent in the United Kingdom was asking : “The working class is voting Tory. Why?”

The headline went on: “The political world is turning upside down, with Conservatives winning more blue-collar votes and Labour seducing the middle classes.”

Just this past September another Globe and Mail headline advised Canada’s most populous province (with a Union Jack still in the canton of its old imperial-colonial provincial flag) that “Boris Johnson faces dissent in Tory ranks over his embrace of big government.”

Yet despite much apt criticism, the latest opinion polls are showing that Johnson’s worker-friendly Tories still have a slight lead over the Labour Party, with Liberal Democrats and Greens well behind.

Meanwhile, back in North America, the November 2 somewhat surprise election of Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin as Governor of Virginia can also be read as adding weight and heft to Working for Workers in the current Ontario PC lexicon.

In Virginia as in Ontario the working class in the 2020s is in some respects an increasingly rural/small town (and/or exurban/suburban) phenomenon.  (See also small-town Pennsylvania in the new US TV series “American Rust.”)

Ontario finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy alluded to this side of the broader picture when he presented his 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review to the Legislative Assembly.

As reported by the Toronto Star Mr. Bethlenfalvy complained that “Liberals and New Democrats are fixated on ‘downtown activists’ instead of suburban commuters. ‘It is time to get the 413 built.’”

This new superhighway strategy may remind a few much older voters that there was recently a large commemoration of the late widely (and justly) admired Ontario PC premier William Davis, in the provincial capital city.

And the Ford government’s fresh financial emphasis on building more GTA superhighways — 413 and the Bradford Bypass —  points to a 2022 election strategy almost the complete opposite of Brampton Bill Davis’s winning “Stop the Spadina Expressway” campaign of 1971.

All that, however, was 50 years ago. Times have changed, especially with the apparent newfound workers’ profile induced by the global pandemic. And maybe, in a global village where Boris Johnson is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Doug Ford does not seem quite so not-quite-right as Premier of Ontario.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.