By Parry-Sound Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison
There’s a growing divide in Canada.
A divide between those with salaries, benefits, and a pension and those without. Between those who have been to university, and those who have learned through an apprenticeship. Between those who work with their hands on a jobsite and those who can work on the computer in their living room. Between those who have gotten vaccinated and those who for whatever reason have chosen not to.
I first ran at the age of 21 for Huntsville Town Council because I believed then, as I still do now, that public service is one of the highest callings—that politics can be a force for good and that government should be a place where we all come together to ensure that nobody gets left behind. That steadfast belief in what good people in politics can accomplish has guided me throughout my career. I’ve always believed in the simple principle that every citizen has a right to be heard and respected, whether I agree with their perspective or not.
But as our country grows further polarized, I worry that more and more Canadians feel as if they are unable to voice their perspectives—or that their government simply does not want to hear them.
The past two weeks in Ottawa, we’ve seen protesters from across the nation converge on Parliament Hill to express their opposition to federal mandates that require truckers be vaccinated in order to cross the border. And while we’ve all condemned the hateful symbols used by a small group of individuals, the peaceful protests have generated discussion and debate on all sides of the political spectrum.
I want to be clear: I support vaccination. They are safe and effective. I’ve never budged on my belief that we should encourage as many people to get vaccinated as possible. However, I also understand for a wide variety of reasons that some in our society will not get vaccinated. I believe calling those individuals names, banishing them from society, and using them to score cheap political points is just wrong.
At the height of COVID-19, we were “all in this together”. In fact, the prime minister of Canada was on his front porch every single day talking about how Canadians had each other’s backs. Then, the 2021 federal election rolled around and the prime minister changed his tone. He saw an opportunity to use those who had yet to be vaccinated as a political prop in order to win an election. We went from a united front against the pandemic to a society deeply divided over the “vaccinated versus unvaccinated”.
That divisive attitude from his Liberal government has continued up to this day. An attitude of stubbornness, an attitude of being unwilling to hear any opposition to their beliefs as a government. In fact, at a time where we see hundreds of truckers in Ottawa who are here because they believe they are not being heard, what did Justin Trudeau do? Well, rather than meet with Canadians who hold a different perspective than his, the prime minister called them “racists and bigots” which further dumped fuel on the fire.
Look, we all want to see the protest end. We all want to see a peaceful resolution so that Ottawa residents can go back to their lives and truckers can go back to their jobs. I firmly believe that this protest should have never had to have happened in the first place. No Canadian should ever have to resort to parking their truck in front of Parliament because they feel like their perspective is unworthy of being heard by their government and every Canadian should be able to rely on the leadership from a prime minister who shows up during the tough times, rather than going into hiding as he has done over the last two weeks.
The hard truth is that Justin Trudeau has stopped talking to Canadians he disagrees with. He slices and dices the electorate for political points. He always looks to find a way to pit Canadian versus Canadian and I believe that needs to change. We need to bring people together rather than split communities and neighbours apart.
Canada is at a crossroads. I have never seen our country more divided and I believe that there are two paths our country can travel down.
The first is a road of anger, hatred, fighting, and rhetoric. It’s a road of only listening to our own tribe and being unwilling to listen to other people’s ideas. Or we can travel down a second road and choose our better values. We can choose a road of hope, optimism, pluralism, and creativity. We can choose as Canadians to hear the other side, we can choose to respect differences of opinion. We can choose to value individual responsibility over static groupthink.
Canada was built on the idea that we will disagree with each other. We are not always supposed to see eye-to-eye, and, as Canadians, we should welcome an honest, constructive and respectful debate on the great issues of our time. To paraphrase a quote from one of my favourite screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin, “You want to claim this land as the True North Strong and Free? Then let’s see you acknowledge someone whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”
My message to the prime minister is simple: show some leadership, listen to those you disagree with, and let’s work together to find a peaceful resolution to this protest. To the protesters: continue to remain vigilant and call out acts of hatred and disrespect. Remember that people live in Ottawa and deserve to be able to live their normal lives. Be open to a constructive discussion on ways you can go back home while allowing us as elected representatives to continue the fight for the government to show a concrete plan to get out of the constant lockdowns and mandates. To everyone else: let’s tone down the heat. Let’s be open to hearing opinions other than our own and let’s try to find it in us to see the other side.
This is Canada. We are supposed to disagree sometimes, but we always find a way to be able to have a pint afterwards. Let’s do it again this time.
(Photo of Parliament Hill by festivio on Pixabay. Photo of Scott Aitchison courtesy of Scott Aitchison.)
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