Justin Trudeau and the rise of the liberal strongman

His crackdown on the truckers heralded a new era of ‘centrist’ authoritarianism.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

Topics Politics World

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At first, I assumed Justin Trudeau was just a bit tragic. When the dashing Canadian PM rose to power in 2015, the man seemed too cringe to be real. A man who confused virtue-signalling with statesmanship and Tumblr talking points with a political ideology. A man who once chided a woman at a public event for using the word ‘mankind’ (‘We like to say peoplekind’, he retorted). But as a ruling of the Canadian Federal Court this week reminds us, beneath the colourful socks, woke bromides and disconcertingly long history of blacking up resides a dangerous authoritarian.

Remember the Freedom Convoy? This was the Canadian truckers’ revolt against Covid mandates which began two years ago this week. In January 2022, truckers blockaded major trade routes and rolled into Ottawa, beginning a month-long, often carnivalesque occupation of the Canadian capital. It was sparked by a change in vaccination rules that would have made life intolerable for unvaccinated truckers, even though most people were already jabbed and the threat from Covid was well on the wane. But it soon morphed into a much broader revolt against lockdown authoritarianism and the contempt it showed for blue-collar workers.

Trudeau’s response, you may recall, was enough to make Xi Jinping proud. He invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history, granting the government sweeping powers to freeze protesters’ bank accounts, break up demonstrations, crush crowdfunding efforts and compel tow-truck firms to clear the streets. The crackdown was all the more outrageous given many of the blockades were already in the process of being resolved amicably. Plus, those parked up in Ottawa had been peaceful. They held cookouts, honked horns and danced. Which is why there were remarkably few arrests. Before Trudeau sent the heavies in, that is.

Now, a top Canadian judge has decided that this outrageous clampdown was illegal to boot. Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act has been deemed an infringement on Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms. It was ‘not justified in relation to the relevant factual and legal constraints that were required to be taken into consideration’, the court ruled. All this gives the lie to the government’s absurd demonisation of the peaceful, multiracial truckers’ protests as a ‘dangerous’, ‘far right’ and even ‘insurrectionist’ movement. Indeed, so many of the claims made to justify the clampdown have turned out to be lies. At a separate inquiry in 2022, police had to admit that claims the truckers were ‘armed’ amounted to them having tools and tire irons. Not a single trucker was arrested in Ottawa for illegal possession or storage of a firearm, according to the Toronto Sun. While videos on social media showed a family friendly atmosphere, complete with bouncy castles, Trudeau talked darkly of kids being used as ‘human shields’. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sinister.

Imagine if Donald Trump had done this while he was still in power? There would have been a military coup. He’d probably be locked up right now, in some secretive facility buried miles beneath a mountain – the sort of place where they keep the Bond villains and the UFOs. And yet because the Western commentariat loves Trudeau and loathes the working classes his trucker crackdown was given a free pass. Even avowed left-wingers repeated the government’s absurd smears, dubbing the truckers ‘fascists’, ‘noxious reactionaries’ and ‘far-right populists’. I say ‘even’, but it wasn’t exactly surprising. After all, Western leftists have become so bourgeois, hysterical and historically illiterate that they now see any assertion of working-class power as fascist by definition.

For all the talk of populists and their simpleminded working-class voters ushering in a new 1930s, we now see where the true threat to liberty comes from. And not just in Canada. Indeed, we’ve seen the rise of what we might call liberal strongmen – sorry, strongpeople – right across the Western world. From the unhinged Covid authoritarianism of New Zealand under Jacinda Ardern to Emmanuel Macron’s brutalising of the gilets jaunes to Joe Biden’s banana republic to the speech-policing, women’s-rights-shredding rule of Nicola Sturgeon, all of the ‘centrist’ darlings of our age have turned out to be itching to shut up, lock up and even beat up their own citizens. Particularly citizens with the chutzpah to stand up for their rights and their livelihoods.

Of course, the technocratic elites have always been as illiberal as they are anti-democratic. But whereas in recent decades they could count on electorates who were fractured and disoriented – lacking the structure and muscle that the old class politics provided them with – voters are beginning to find their voice once more. Through populist movements of one form or another – either at the ballot box or, increasingly, on the streets – ordinary people are beginning to push back against the woke, green and technocratic strictures imposed on them from on-high. They are refusing to do and vote as they are told. And so they are experiencing the wrath of an increasingly rattled and vengeful ruling class.

Justin Trudeau’s unconstitutional assault on the truckers suggests that ‘illiberal liberalism’ is far too weak a term for the stark, authoritarian turn of our ‘liberal’ elites. These people aren’t just hypocritical or inconsistent or a bit unprincipled when it comes to fundamental liberties. When backed into a corner, they will happily carry on like your average despot, cracking down hard on those who dare to challenge their increasingly brittle authority. Like so many rulers in history, they are becoming more authoritarian the more their legitimacy ebbs. All the more reason to stand with the workers, truckers, farmers and everyday voters fighting for freedom and democracy and being met with the fury of the new elites. The attempt to put down the new populist revolts cannot be allowed to succeed. For that really would be tragic.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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