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Response to Ottawa protests ‘an abject failure’: MP Cannings

An interview with South Okanagan-West Kootenay New Democrat MP Richard Cannings, conducted by Vista Radio Tuesday afternoon concerning the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa.

What have things been like in Ottawa over the past few weeks?
For me and everyone else in Ottawa, all the citizens, it’s been a very challenging two and a half, almost three weeks now. I arrived just before the end of January. For the first two weeks it was very noisy. Horns honking from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Very difficult to hear yourself think.

People have been trying to tell me this is a very peaceful thing. Well, yes, if I pick my routes I can walk certain streets and get to work without incident. But other people have had very different experiences.

The police say it’s been peaceful, but when asked to break it up they say no, we don’t want to do that for fear of violence. That tells me they know something about what’s behind this, or what’s behind parts of this convoy. It’s been very much like a siege, like an occupation. It’s been very hard on the nerves and I’m sure many protesters are happy to hear that.

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But it’s not the way to make decisions in this country. It’s not the way to run the country. Certainly the people of Ottawa are completely fed up. That sentiment is spreading across the country as we’ve seen other protests across the country. The polls are showing people are getting more and more fed up with these protests. And they’re more resistant to getting rid of mandates. So it’s been a bit counterproductive. It’s been a very hard two weeks.

What do you make of the protests themselves?
Most of the people I’ve been talking to are from my riding. I’ve been contacted by many, many people on both sides. The ones who are supporting the protesters, who want the mandates lifted, point out that data is showing the Omicron wave is going down, that perhaps mandates are becoming less effective and Dr. Bonnie Henry is saying we should review some of these mandates and restrictions, and Dr. Teresa Tam is saying the same. I said fine, let’s listen to Dr. Henry and Dr. Tam. When they say it’s safe to lift these restrictions, let’s do that.

But I don’t want to lift them all right now and just hope for the best. We still have a big stress on our health care system. I hear from a lot of health care workers who are at their wits’ end about this. I think either way we are close to [lifting] some of the restrictions. That will happen hopefully in a way that’s based on science, data, and those decisions come from the public health experts and not from politicians and certainly not from mob rule.

We all are fed up with COVID. We’re fed up with the restrictions that we’ve had to put up with for two years. But my highest priority is saving lives and keeping people healthy. I just hope we can be patient enough over the coming days and weeks to see the ends of a lot of these restrictions. But I want those decisions to be made on the basis of science by the experts.

What do you think of the government invoking the Emergency Measures Act?
I think it points to a real abject failure of response early on. I think if the government had responded right away, in the proper way, to this protest and all the protests, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

If the police and all the other enforcement could have been brought to bear on this as they would in most protests I think the protesters would have made their point and moved on, gone home, and we would know the feelings of people who believe we should lift these mandates right away. We get that message.

But right now we have a downtown core in Ottawa full of very large trucks and a police force that’s very reticent about acting. I hope we can do this peacefully.

Now that we’re in this place, the Emergency Measures Act does provide for powers that can put some force on the protesters that will hopefully convince them to get up and drive away. I certainly do not want to see this ending in violently. Nobody wants that. The Emergency Act does not provide for that. We’re not talking about taking away anybody’s civil liberties here or bringing in the army. That is not what the government is talking about, at least right now. I’ll take them at their word that that’s not what they’re going to do. It’s mainly putting financial and other pressures on [protesters].

We didn’t have to be here. I think the government has completely failed in that regard, bringing us to this place. But when the government decides to come to Parliament and tell us why they had to do this and what it will accomplish, we’ll listen and see what to decide then. Getting to this place is really all on the federal government. They have failed. The city government has failed to deal with this. We’re in a very unfortunate, uncomfortable position. Hopefully we can get out of this as soon as possible in a peaceful manner.

How much have you heard from constituents about this?
I would say it’s certainly one of the biggest campaigns … Yesterday morning we probably got 5,000 emails into my office. That’s a volume that’s impossible for us to go through and see who those people are and where they’re from. A lot are from the riding. A lot are not. We’re getting a lot of calls.

I’ve talked to a lot of people. Some are polite and some are not. The polite ones I can have a long, detailed conversation with I do. I understand their frustration and how they feel set apart. But my main goal is to keep as many people out of hospital, as many people from dying as possible. We’re getting there.

There are other aspects to this pandemic that are more difficult and long-lasting. It’s a pandemic. It’s around the world. It’s out there. If we want to stop it we should be sending vaccines to every country in the world. To poor countries that can’t afford vaccines. If we don’t do that, we’re going to have yet another variant and it will all start again. We have to listen to the scientists. Hopefully we’ll be out of the serious woods in just a matter of weeks.

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