It’s not a hammer, but for Trudeau, the Emergencies Act could prove just as cumbersome

When it was her turn to speak on Thursday morning, caretaker Conservative leader Candice Bergen said MPs faced “one of the most serious decisions a parliamentarian can make”.

She hinted that “history will not be kind” to New Democrats who choose to support the Liberal government’s decision to trigger the Emergencies Act to quell protests against the vaccine mandate that have obstructed border crossings and occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks. She called it “the sledgehammer approach.”

Bergen’s or his speechwriter’s choice to use the word “sledgehammer” was probably not accidental. In October 1970, when former NDP leader Tommy Douglas and most of his caucus chose to oppose Pierre Trudeau’s decision to roll out the War Measures Act to end the October Crisis, Douglas celebrated the government’s approach of “using a hammer to crack a peanut.” “

Pierre Trudeau’s response is less well known. “This criticism ignores the facts,” Trudeau said, before listing how the threat posed by the FLQ was not like a “peanut.”

“And as for mace,” Trudeau added, “that was the only tool at our disposal.”

These words can be read as an appeal to imperfect necessity – the argument that something had to be done and that it was the best option available.

Half a century later, Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act — a humbler cousin of the defunct War Measures Act — may spring from a similar practical imperative.

The Prime Minister was not so colorful on Thursday morning in defending his government’s decision. There were no analogies with the sledgehammer. There was also no comment on the swastikas or Confederate flags that have been spotted in downtown Ottawa, or the opinions of some protesters.

“Blockades and occupations are illegal,” Trudeau said. “They pose a threat to our economy and our relationships with our trading partners. They pose a threat to supply chains and the availability of essential goods, such as food and medicine, and they pose a threat to public safety. “

The situation, he said, “could not be resolved under any other law in Canada.” The deployment of the emergency law, he said, is intended to “deal only with the current threat and bring the situation under full control”.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defends decision to roll out Emergency Act

Trudeau defends use of Emergencies Act in House debate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the Emergencies Act will not impede the rights of Canadians, but will allow the dismantling of ongoing lockdowns in Ottawa and across the country. 1:17

He offered empathy, then drew a line.

“Some protesters have come to Ottawa to express their frustration and fatigue with public health measures, and it is their right. As I said, it is a right that we will defend in this free and democratic country” , did he declare. “However, illegal blockades and occupations are not peaceful protests.”

Conservatives are fiercely skeptical. They believe that the actions of the Trudeau government are neither necessary nor wise. They insist the Prime Minister has been unnecessarily provocative in his actions and words and is now going too far to fix a mess of his own making.

Instead, the Conservatives reportedly asked the prime minister to meet with some of those who came to Ottawa and then release a plan to lift all federal vaccine mandates. Bergen said on Thursday she would “guarantee these people would have moved on if the prime minister decided he actually wanted to listen.”

WATCH: Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen slams NDP support for triggering Emergencies Act

Bergen says it’s ‘shameful’ for NDP to support Emergencies Act

During a debate in the House of Commons this morning, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said it was “shameful” for the NDP and its leader, Jagmeet Singh, to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act. 1h30

When NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rose to remind the House that the convoy had publicly announced its “mission” to “overthrow the government”, he was loudly mocked and heckled.

Singh asked Bergen if she regretted “approving a convoy that attacks our country’s fundamental democracy” and “an occupation that harasses citizens.”

“Obviously, no one in this House believes a government should be overthrown,” Bergen replied, before accusing anonymous New Democrats of participating in “pro-Communist marches.”

WATCH: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calls on PM to take some responsibility for protests

Singh calls on Trudeau to take responsibility for protests

During a debate in the House of Commons, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he would take responsibility for the situation in Ottawa. 1:14

In Singh’s view, Parliament got there because of a “leadership failure”. Governments, he said, wasted time arguing over jurisdiction or failed to take the protest seriously at first, while police abandoned the public.

Calls for “leadership” can be a bit simplistic. It is possible that the Emergencies Act would never have been necessary if municipal or provincial authorities do more or act faster. Although Trudeau insisted that the Liberal government was there to help other levels of government from the start, federal officials may not have done what they should have done.

Regardless of how we got here, reasonable people can and should debate the justification for invoking the Emergencies Act and whether the resulting measurements have been properly calibrated. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has already announced that it will challenge the government’s actions in court.

Police walk among protesters gathered near a stage as a protest against COVID-19 measures continues to occupy downtown Ottawa Thursday, February 17, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ideally, members would have weeks or months for this debate. But the emergency order has already been declared by the cabinet and a vote to confirm the decision is scheduled for Monday evening. The Liberals and New Democrats have enough votes between them to approve the motion. Law enforcement may have evacuated Ottawa at this time.

The statement could last a few more weeks as a way to quickly deter or halt similar lockdowns. The details and the questions will be decided by a parliamentary commission which will be responsible for studying the situation.

Public opinion seems to be with Trudeau right now, just like he was with his father in 1970. But it all depends on how Canadians view what happens next.

That was all that came after invoking the War Measures Act – the massive violations of civil liberties – that tarnished Pierre Trudeau’s decision, no matter how much “leadership” he seemed to be showing at the time.

The Emergencies Act is not the War Measures Act. The actions authorized in 2022 do not approach the level of those the country witnessed in 1970. Justin Trudeau does not wield a sledgehammer.

But it’s still a hammer and it’s still a heavy decision – perhaps the heaviest of his six years in office.

Hopefully, the consequences will be as peaceful as possible. And then, with other tools, the work of building and maintaining peace, order and good government can begin again.

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