Today the small cars, passenger trucks and a much smaller number of transport trucks than advertised started to roll into downtown Ottawa. Yes, the moment is before us, and after the disturbing turn of events from last night involving Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, a moment of truth appears to be before us. This feels more and more like the hours before the rally that took place in Washington on January 6th, 2021, the one that sparked an insurrection and an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power in the United States.
It was a moment that I couldn’t believe I was witnessing when I saw what was happening before my very eyes. It was the kind of thing we never thought we’d see, yet there it was running live on international television and all-over social media. Yet it wasn’t until afterwards that everything that happened sunk in, and some moments especially stood out after we all took stock of what had just happened. Some of those moments have come to personify those who did them, and as I’ve watched things starting to play out in Ottawa today, this image below from that fateful day last year is sticking in my mind:
Yep, the raised fist of Republican Senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley. That image showed Hawley, a highly educated lawyer who clearly knows how the American constitution works and how their democracy functions, raised his fist in support of the mob of Trump supporters and varied other far-right groups. He did that as he was walking into the United States Capitol building, as he was going to the Senate to try to stop the legal counting of electors, using what he knew to be misinformation and lies to try to stop that peaceful transfer of power.
In the moment, that raised fist of privilege looked pretty bad. But after the events of that day, the storming of the Capitol, the deaths that came from it and the danger that Americas Congresspeople, Senators and Vice President was put in, it looked terrible. It’s the kind of image that spoke many thousands words and became a signal for how low he was willing to go to achieve his partisan goals. It was an image that spoke to the wounding of American democracy, and you’d think that it would be the kind of thing that most self-respecting politicians would want to avoid.
Yet here we are, with some of the people gathering in Ottawa looking to have a maple syrup version of the Capitol Insurrection and we’re seeing a disturbing number of elected Members of Parliament from one particular party apparently about to have their own Josh Hawley moment. According to a report from iPolitics.ca, a significant number of the Conservative caucus have publicly voiced their support for this convoy, regardless of its composition and completely ignoring the dangers it possesses. iPolitics identifies 13, including O’Toole himself. On top of that, I’ve identified at least another few. That makes at least 10% of the Conservative caucus to date, with more that are likely to come. Out of those, here are some of the worst examples:
Folks, none of those postings, photos or messages were a mistake or a slip of the tongue. For some of those posted there, like Martin Shields, Garnett Genuis, Andrew Scheer, Marilyn Gladu, Jeremy Patzer or Michelle Ferrari. If anything, those fit neatly into their views of everything they’ve shown us time and again. That is just showing us who they are. Those people know exactly what they are doing, exactly who is mixed in with this group, who is organizing it and what they stand for. As an elected person, you don’t show up to their event if you don’t know that, let alone go taking selfies and doing live social media interviews with one of the most notorious ones like Jeremy Patzer did.
Some others, I must admit I am a bit surprised by, mostly because I’ve come to know them through personal experience as a bit more level-headed and rational. Melissa Lantsman would be my best example of that group, with her Tweets promoting her petition on the vaccine mandates that others have jumped upon being the subject of my surprise, showing misleading photos of empty grocery shelves from the UK. Before her election, I had done panels with Melissa and I found her to be someone who was very informed but also very principled. Her speaking out against homophobia within her own party was a great example of that. While I likely don’t agree with her on much when it comes to policy, I had found her to work in realm of facts and trying to win her argument with them. That petition, as misleading and somewhat inflammatory as it is, is not that. Sure, she’s not out there going to meet these protestors or photobombing them like some of her colleagues (and that’s a credit to her), I must admit that this did vex me quite a bit. If this were a moment that were more normal moment that wasn’t so fraught given the malign influences involved, I would likely not even mention it, nor would I have noted it from other more level-headed members of her caucus.
But the reason why I can’t ignore it in the context of what’s happening is because of what we saw happen south of the border last year. If things hadn’t gone off the rails on January 6th last year, if those Trump supporters hadn’t turned violent at all or breached the capitol, it’s likely that raised fist of Hawley’s would have been remembered much differently. If things hadn’t jumped off that day, we likely would have seen it as a thoughtless, overly partisan thing that had been done but didn’t matter in the end. But as we know, that’s not how it all played out.
So where am I going with all of this? Ottawa is on a knives edge this weekend and we know that tensions are high because of the malign influences that are looking to overthrow the government. As I’ve said before, when the demands of this group and their MOU are not accepted, do we honestly expect them to just go home quietly and accept it? I have a hard time picturing that. I pray that I’m wrong, but we can’t discount the danger right now. For those Conservative members who have either latched themselves to this group with zeal, or who have given them mild support publicly rather than repudiate the threats of violence towards their colleagues in the House of Commons, through their words and actions they have opened themselves up to their own potential Josh Hawley moments.
And folks, they know it. They know the decision they have made, and they have done the political calculus in their minds and hearts. They either don’t care or are ready to accept what comes with it. I don’t know how any of that will help any of their party get to government, as they chase the PPC and further fringes around while more than 80% of vaccinated Canadians look on in stunned silence. I hope and pray for the best this weekend but if my prayers are not answered, this group of Conservative MPs have opened themselves up to joining Josh Hawley in the history books, and not in the best of ways.
UPDATE: 7:30 PM EST: No sooner than I posted this piece above, another prime example of a potential “Josh Hawley” moment happened with none other than Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.