By Lincoln DePradine
The controversial Ottawa street blockade, which included incidents of unlawful activity and paralyzed a section of the capital city for weeks earlier this year, is one of the platform planks in the bid by Leslyn Lewis to become the next elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
“I was one of the first Members of Parliament to come out in support of the trucker protest,’’ Lewis emphasized during a recent CTV television interview with Evan Solomon.
She repeated her boast at last week’s debate among contenders vying for the Conservative Party leadership.
Lewis confronted Pierre Poilievre about what she considered to be insufficient support for the truckers, who led the protest-turned-blockade.
She cut off Poilievre as he was making a claim that he supported the protest “from the very beginning’’, and that he was “among one of the loudest voices’’ backing it.
However, Lewis rebutted Poilievre’s claim. “You did not even go to the trucker protest,’’ she told him. “You actually went and you took a picture in your neighbourhood, at a local stop. You did not speak up for the truckers.’’
The May 5 unofficial debate, involving five of the six leadership candidates, was hosted by the “Canada Strong and Free Network’’, a political advocacy group started by former MP and founder of the Reform Party, Preston Manning.
Lewis and Poilievre – two sitting MPs – were joined at the debate by a third MP Scott Aitchison; Ontario MPP Roman Baber; and Jean Charest, a former leader of the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Charest also is a former Premier of Quebec.
A sixth candidate, who did not participate in the debate, is Ontario politician Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton.
What began as a weekend convoy of truck drivers, on January 28, extended for weeks around Ottawa, with similar activities in other places such as the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Ontario to Detroit, Michigan.
The bridge, which carries 23 percent of cross-border trade between the United States and Canada, was blocked for days, holding up $360 million of daily trade.
The protest began in opposition to COVID-19 vaccination and protocol mandates, including mask-wearing.
The lengthy, noisy occupation of the streets of Ottawa angered many residents and led to criticism of Peter Sloly, the 55-year-old Jamaican-born Ottawa Police Chief, who resigned from his job on February 15.
“We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue,” Trudeau said, as he invoked the Emergencies Act.
The Act granted police greater leeway to impose fines, imprison protesters, and tow vehicles that were blocking roads.
Police, in a three-day operation, towed away vehicles and dispersed and arrested protestors. Three of the protest’s key organizers were arrested and charged with “mischief’’.
Many Conservatives opposed the COVID health-precaution measures, and the leadership contenders have been using support for the Ottawa protest as a gauge for holding the party’s top position.
Charest, in interviews, argued that the rule of law “is not a buffet” from which Canadian parliamentarians can pick and choose.
But, Lewis has been unabashed in her support of the protestors. “These are law-abiding tax-paying Canadians,’’ she said in the CTV interview.
Lewis, a lawyer by profession, dismissed suggestions that some in the protest were intent on removing the Trudeau Liberal government.
While there were mischief charges, “nobody was charged with acts of sedition’’, she said.
“I support democracy,’’ added Lewis. “I don’t support invoking of the Emergencies Act.’’
A Jamaican-Canadian, Lewis is MP for Haldimand-Norfolk. It’s her second time seeking the leadership of the federal Conservatives. In a 2020 race, she placed third.
Should Lewis win in September, she’ll be the second Black woman to lead a federal party. The first was Annamie Paul, who was elected Green Party of Canada leader in 2021.
Paul, who ran unsuccessfully to represent the riding of Toronto Centre, resigned as leader last November, less than two months after national elections that were won by the Liberal Party.
According to Lewis, she openly backed the Ottawa protest “when it was not popular to do so’’, but insisted that she believes “in law and order. I do not support blocking critical infrastructures of any kind’’.
The truckers-led group of protestors was “in front of parliament and they wanted to speak to the people whom they elect. It was a huge lost opportunity that the prime minister didn’t send a contingent out to speak to these individuals’’, Lewis said.
Lewis, who is promising to ban so-called sex-selective abortions, refers to herself as “pro-life’’ and also as a “parental rights advocate’’.