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The Morning Dispatch: About Those Truckers
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The Morning Dispatch: About Those Truckers

The 'Freedom Convoy' has riled Ottawans and attracted controversy, but also shifted Canada's conversation about COVID restrictions.

Happy Wednesday! Who’s ready for [airhorn noise] 🚨 1,700 words about Canadian truckers?! 🚨

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • U.S.-based computer graphics manufacturer Nvidia and Japan’s SoftBank Group announced Monday they are calling off a $40 billion deal that would have resulted in Nvidia acquiring Arm, a British chip-design firm owned by SoftBank. The Federal Trade Commission sued to block the transaction on antitrust grounds in December, and the companies cited “significant regulatory challenges” as the reason for the deal’s collapse.

  • The U.S. trade deficit reached a record $859.1 billion last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, with imports of goods and services increasing $576.5 billion in 2021 from 2020 levels while exports of goods and services increased $394.1 billion.

  • The House voted 272-162 Tuesday to pass another stopgap government funding package that would give congressional negotiators three extra weeks to hammer out a larger budget for fiscal year 2022. If the Senate passes the legislation as expected, the deadline to avert a federal government shutdown would move from February 18 to March 11.

  • An annual Department of Housing and Urban Development report released this week found that the number of sheltered homeless people—those without a home but staying in homeless shelters—declined 8 percent year-over-year in 2021 to the lowest level since at least 2007. The decrease was driven primarily by families with children—not individuals—as HUD said they were disproportionately benefited by the CARES Act and other pandemic relief measures. The report did not draw conclusions about homeless people not staying in shelters.

  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2022, dashing the hopes of many top Republicans who viewed him as the only candidate who could defeat Democratic incumbent Sen. Chris Van Hollen in November.

‘Freedom Convoy’ Divides Canadians

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images.)

Sen. Mitch McConnell wasn’t the only lawmaker to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon and call out members of his own party for being unnecessarily divisive.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to know when public health stops and where politics begins,” said Joël Lightbound, a Liberal member of Canada’s Parliament from Quebec. His remarks, clocking in at 13 minutes, were full of not-so-subtle jabs at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “A decision was made to wedge, to divide and to stigmatize. I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions,” he told reporters. “It’s time to stop dividing Canadians and pitting one part of the population against another.” 

Lightbound—who said that some of his colleagues, behind the scenes, agree with his remarks to “varying degrees”—made a point at the outset of his press conference to both call for the Freedom Convoy protesters to end their blockade of Ottawa and condemn the extremists within their ranks. But he almost certainly would not have staked out the position he did Tuesday without them.

A little more than two weeks ago, Canadian truckers in cities across the country began forming convoys and heading toward Ottawa, the capital, to protest the government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Trudeau’s administration announced several months ago that, as of November 30, vaccination would be required for “travel within and out of Canada,” but to minimize disruptions, certain groups were exempted from the mandate until January 15: Individuals reuniting with family, international students, temporary foreign workers, and essential service providers like … truck drivers. A similar Department of Homeland Security exemption for travelers entering the U.S. ran out on January 22.

For the vast majority of Canadian truckers, these mandates were not a problem: The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates 85 to 90 percent of drivers who cross the border regularly are fully vaccinated, a slightly higher rate than the eligible Canadian population as a whole, which is 83 percent vaccinated. But 10 to 15 percent in this instance translates to 12,000 to 16,000 drivers barred from delivering shipments across the U.S.-Canada border—more than enough to aggravate existing supply chain difficulties. More than $600 billion worth of goods are traded between the two countries every year.

“CTA strongly believes the health benefits of vaccines are unquestionable,” CTA President Stephen Laskowski said, weeks before the mandate went into effect. “But that does not change the fact that any substantial reduction of commercial drivers, when there’s already an acute shortage, would further disrupt a very fragile supply chain and the economy. Simply put, the supply chain desperately needs more drivers to deliver goods and products that consumers depend on—not less.”

The mandate went into effect regardless, and Laskowski conceded truckers need to “adapt and comply” if they wanted to cross the border. But hundreds, and then thousands, decided to head to the capital instead. A crowdfunding effort on GoFundMe to support the “Freedom Convoy” was organized by former Maverick Party leader Tamara Lich, and raised nearly $10 million from like-minded individuals around the globe.

“This [convoy] is not about vax or anti-vax or Covid,” Lich said in a statement, resigning her Maverick Party position to focus on the protest. “It is about restoring Canada’s rights and freedoms. Freedom to open businesses, freedom to hug your friends, go to restaurants and movies, etc.”

That may be how it started, but the convoy has since attracted thousands of truckers and non-truckers alike, and—as large, riled-up crowds are wont to do—things have spiraled a bit out of control. The procession reached Ottawa in late January, and has been extraordinarily disruptive in the week and a half since. 

Truckers, honking their horns incessantly, have brought entire sections of the city to a standstill and forced businesses to close by blocking traffic with their rigs on several downtown streets and the Ambassador Bridge that connects Ontario and Detroit. Canada Unity, one of the organizations behind the convoy, issued—and then retracted—a call to dissolve the Canadian government. Protesters have desecrated monuments—including Canada’s National War Memorial and a statue of cancer research activist Terry Fox*—and a local shelter claimed a handful of demonstrators “verbally harassed” its employees into giving them food that was intended for the homeless. A leader of Ottawa’s Paramedic Service said rocks were thrown at an ambulance, and racial slurs yelled at the EMT driving it. At least one individual was spotted carrying a Confederate flag. (Some of the truckers called him out.)

“[It] appears that a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements,” the CTA said in a statement distancing itself from the convoy and encouraging the truckers present to demonstrate peacefully and then depart the city. “Your behavior today will not only reflect upon you and your family but the 300,000 plus fellow Canadians that, like you, take great pride in our industry.”

There’s not much authorities can do to move hundreds of trucks that don’t want to be moved, but law enforcement and other entities have begun to crack down on the demonstrations in recent days.

On February 4, GoFundMe announced it was removing the Freedom Convoy fundraiser from its platform for violating its rules against “violence” and “harassment.” It initially said it would allow donors to request a refund and distribute the millions of unspent dollars raised—which were earmarked for the truckers’ fuel, food, and shelter—to charities chosen by the Freedom Convoy organizers. But after coming under fire from U.S. lawmakers—Sen. Ted Cruz accused the company of “effectively steal[ing] $10 million”—GoFundMe instead decided to automatically refund all contributions. The fundraiser has since moved to the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, where it has raised more than $7 million.

On Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency, requesting support from other levels of the government after more than a week of the convoy “holding our city hostage.” Facing calls from residents to do more to bring the siege to an end, the Ottawa Police Service announced Tuesday it has issued more than 1,300 tickets since the occupation began, for infractions ranging from excessive noise and use of fireworks to driving on a sidewalk and seatbelt violations. More than 20 people have been arrested on charges of resisting police, controlled drug and substance possession, disqualified driving, breach of probation, and “mischief.” Police published the pictures of two individuals related to an arson investigation, and have arrested several protesters attempting to ferry food and fuel into the demonstration zone. “We are going after the fuel,” Police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters Monday, estimating the size of the protest had shrunk by a two-thirds over the past week. “We are turning up the heat every way we possibly can.”

Trudeau—whose Liberal Party won enough seats in last September’s election to form another minority government—has seized on the protest’s excesses to categorize those frustrated with pandemic restrictions as a “small fringe minority” that is unrepresentative of Canada as a whole. “We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers, and steal food from the homeless,” he said from a remote location last week after he and his children tested positive for COVID-19. “We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags, we won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans.”

“A few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are,” he added Monday

But Trudeau brushes away the truckers’ concerns at his own peril; Conservative MPs voted last week to oust their leader, Erin O’Toole, in part due to his lack of support for the protesters. Canadians, by and large, do not support the Freedom Convoy itself—a recent survey from Canadian pollster Leger pegged the group’s net approval at -30 percent. But the group’s cause—at least with respect to restrictions—is much more popular. More than 4 in 10 respondents agreed that Trudeau “shares the blame” for the protests because of his “condescending attitude” toward Canadians, and 44 percent said that, even though they are vaccinated themselves, they “sympathize” with the truckers’ frustrations. In a recent Angus Reid Institute poll, 54 percent of Canadians say it’s time to end pandemic restrictions, up 14 percentage points from just a few weeks earlier.

“When it comes to the broader demonstrations we’ve seen … I will abstain from the kind of generalizations that we’ve heard these last few days,” Lightbound said yesterday. “I’ve seen an interview with what seemed to be a very kind grandmother who demonstrated for her grandkids. She looked, and sounded, nothing like a white supremacist. Nor did the black, Sikh, and indigenous Canadians I saw demonstrating on my way to Parliament these last two weeks.”

“I have heard from hundreds of constituents and citizens,” he continued. “Folks who have nothing to do with these demonstrations, who are for the most part vaccinated, who have done everything as they should these last two years. … They’re worried that measures which ought to be exceptional and limited in time are being normalized with no end in sight, like vaccine passports, mandates, and requirements for travelers.”

The extent of the pandemic restrictions vary province to province, but—in addition to near-universal vaccine requirements, including on trains and planes—millions of Canadians are still subject to capacity restrictions at most businesses and events, limits on the size of both indoor and outdoor social gatherings, and prohibitions on singing and dancing at bars and restaurants, among other measures.

Trudeau defended Canada’s pandemic response from Lightbound’s critiques Tuesday afternoon. “This government has been focused every step of the way on following the best science, following the best public health advice, to keep as many people safe as possible—and quite frankly, it’s worked,” he told reporters. “I can understand frustrations with mandates, but mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions.” On a per capita basis, about three times as many Americans have died of COVID-19 than Canadians—913 per million compared to 2,791 per million.

But with the Omicron wave subsiding—and political pressure building—Canadian leaders’ resolve appears to be wobbling. Premier Jason Kenney announced yesterday Alberta would on Wednesday become the first Canadian province to do away with vaccine passports, and Premier Scott Moe told reporters Saskatchewan would do the same next week. 

“It’s time for us to take a step back in living with COVID and to make every effort to get our lives back to normal,” Moe said.

Worth Your Time

  • Over the past couple of years, we’ve routinely linked to former American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks’ weekly column on happiness. That column turned into a book, which The Atlantic excerpted for the March edition of its magazine. “Time and again, I have fallen into the trap of believing that success and its accompaniments would fulfill me,” he writes. “On my 40th birthday I made a bucket list of things I hoped to do or achieve. They were mainly accomplishments only a wonk could want: writing books and columns about serious subjects, teaching at a top school, traveling to give lectures and speeches, maybe even leading a university or think tank. Whether these were good and noble goals or not, they were my goals, and I imagined that if I hit them, I would be satisfied. I found that list nine years ago, when I was 48, and realized that I had achieved every item on it. I had been a tenured professor, then the president of a think tank. I was giving frequent speeches, had written some books that had sold well, and was writing columns for The New York Times. But none of that had brought me the lasting joy I’d envisioned. Each accomplishment thrilled me for a day or a week—maybe a month, never more—and then I reached for the next rung on the ladder.”

  • The Biden administration in recent weeks has been leaking or otherwise publicizing a number of intelligence reports seeking to expose Russia’s plans vis-a-vis Ukraine before the Kremlin can act. “The best antidote to disinformation is information,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week. The strategy has its proponents, but some in the intelligence community are wary. “There have been so many revelations that some national security hands wish administration officials would just shut up,” Nahal Toosi writes in Politico. “‘I am concerned about the long-term credibility of our intelligence with all of these select declassifications,’ a former CIA officer with expertise on Russia told POLITICO. ‘If it turns out to be wrong, or partially wrong, it undermines how much our partners trust the info we give them, or, frankly, how much the public trusts it.’ … A former National Security Council official who dealt with Russia argued that the more intelligence the administration releases, the more likely that the Kremlin’s operatives can trace the sources and methods used to obtain it, endangering American assets, including human ones.”

  • Progressive writer Jonathan Chait supports affirmative action, but argues in his latest piece for New York Magazine that the left is “gaslighting” Asian Americans when it says racial preference admissions processes don’t discriminate against them. “I can accept the trade-offs as the necessary cost of this policy. What I can’t accept is the refusal by Harvard and its defenders to admit what the policy is,” he argues. “Harvard’s method for tamping down its Asian American applicants to an acceptable level has controversially involved using a subjective ‘personal’ score, gauging qualities such as ‘likability, courage, kindness and being ‘widely respected.’’ According to Harvard, Asian Americans systematically score worse by these measures than any other racial group, weighing down their admittance rate despite higher academic scores. Liberals have not denied these facts uncovered by the plaintiffs. Instead, they have engaged in a mix of evasion and deceit.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Did you know that, barring another continuing resolution, the federal government is slated to shut down next week? In yesterday’s Uphill, Haley assesses the likelihood of Congress cobbling together yet another stop-gap measure—and checks in on legislative efforts to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine with sanctions.

  • In this week’s edition of The Sweep, Sarah responds to a series of questions from a reader about the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act—better known as McCain-Feingold—and whether it is responsible for the dismal state of our politics. “Campaigns on both sides have gutted their ‘major donor programs’ and beefed up their online and digital fundraising,” she notes. “Only 3 percent of voters are ever going to give to a candidate (and that number gets lower the lower down the ballot you go). So how do you reach them? And how do you motivate them? Outrage.”

  • Crime is up, drug overdoses are rampant, inflation is here, Russia is threatening eastern Europe. The ’80s are back, David writes in Tuesday’s French Press (🔒), and there’s no Ronald Reagan knocking down the door.

  • Remnant regular A.B. Stoddard rejoined Jonah on the podcast yesterday for some rank, rank punditry. Does last week’s RNC meeting mean the GOP is now committed to normalizing January 6? Does Mike Pence have a constituency? What should we think about the economic recovery?

  • On the site today, economics professors Alex Horenstein and Noah Williams examine the history of price controls in Venezuela and South Africa to demonstrate that such policies are disastrous, countering arguments from U.S. progressives that such measures are useful in fighting inflation.

Let Us Know

How many of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture yesterday have you seen? How do you typically decide whether or not to watch a movie? Word of mouth? An interesting looking trailer? A particular film reviewer you trust? Its Rotten Tomatoes score?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Correction, Wednesday, February 9: This newsletter initially referred to Terry Fox as a cancer researcher. He was a cancer research activist.