The United We Roll convoy to Parliament Hill this week was a success on so many levels.
It highlighted some important issues. The problem is they may have been the wrong ones.
This convoy was meant to deliver a large, loud and clear wake-up call for Ottawa to get its act together on resource legislation. No issue in Canada is more important today. The convoy’s goal was to build on the success of massive resource convoys in the West and take this same message and momentum to Ottawa.
But that didn’t happen. I could clearly see that from my seat in a truck parked on the Hill on Tuesday morning with a Suits and Boots supporter who had driven 3,400 kilometres from southern Alberta to Ottawa to join the convoy.
Crowds were thin. On Wednesday, the second day of the event, more than half the convoy had left and only a few dozen people showed up to hear the speeches on the Parliament grounds. The noise and distraction over immigration and other non-resource issues lingering with the convoy clearly took its toll.
“I didn’t come here for this,” my friend said, looking out the window of his Kenworth. “I’m not here to protest immigration. I want to get a goddam pipeline built, and that’s it!”
Red Deer’s Glen Carritt is to be congratulated for getting this convoy safely to Ottawa. Let’s hope the journey home goes as well. Everyone involved has invested huge amounts of time, energy and money into an ambitious grassroots project.
But it came up short. There’s a reason for that.
Almost all of the organizers and many of the truckers and supporters of the convoy wore yellow safety vests. In France, those vests have been worn by masses of protesters fighting against government fuel tax hikes.
Here in Canada, the yellow vest has been adopted by a smaller circle of populist protesters, a subset of which is more often than not portrayed as being racist and anti-immigrant. Most of the general public and a large part of the media have zero interest in making the distinction between the two yellow vest groups.
This Ottawa convoy’s birth was a difficult one. The yellow vest participation in it resulted in several changes in leadership of the event, as mainstream people who didn’t want to be associated with that movement dropped out.
So, the remaining convoy organizers adopted the United We Roll name to clear away the yellow vest stigma. They said that while people on the convoy to Ottawa may wear a yellow vest, it wouldn’t be a “Yellow Vest” event.
But it was.
Support for pipelines was indeed there, but immigration and other concerns clearly were top of mind for many of those clad in yellow vests, and they were happy to speak about that in the news media.
They demanded an end to a non-binding United Nations declaration on global migration. They railed against “global governance.” They were calling for the prime minister to be tried for treason.
All of this was catnip for the media. The focus of media coverage inevitably became immigration issues, with only passing mention of resource support. Phone calls and emails from friends at home watching media reports from the Hill confirmed that for us.
What does a UN global migration accord have to do with Bill C-69? How is calling for the prime minister to be put on trial for treason going to encourage the Senate to rethink or re-write its impact assessment legislation? What does this all have to do with logging, mining, railroads, oil and gas?
What’s the answer?
Maybe the key is this: let’s make sure future resource sector rallies or convoys stay in one single lane.
The national conversation about resource issues is too important to be muted by other matters, so they need to stay on the side of the road.
The result would likely a bigger show of force and wider, deeper support.
If yellow vest supporters want to join the fight for more responsible resource sector policy, they are more than welcome to do so.
But next time, let’s pick a lane. One lane only — the responsible resource sector support lane. And stay there.
Rick Peterson is the founder of Suits and Boots, a not-for-profit group of investment industry professionals who support Canada’s resource sector workers and their families.